New Orleans Saints' defensive big man, Will Smith bit the dust during Sunday's preseason matchup with the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
Everything seemed fine after he walked off the field unassisted, but it was just the opposite. The team announced on Monday that the 32-year-old veteran will miss the entire 2013 season with an unfortunate knee injury. The former Ohio State Buckeye was assumed to play a major role in that new 3-4 scheme commanded by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Smith was relocated to the outside linebacker position to help execute the pass rush, an area where the Saints have been quite ineffective over the last few years. Losing Will Smith is a major blow to the New Orleans defense.
However, with injury, comes opportunity and somebody is going to need to fill that big hole left by the long time Saint. Keep in mind that outside linebacker Victor Butler had his season come to an early end as well. With the Black and Gold's defense in a bit of a dilemma, there is only one question, who's ready to step it up?
I could name a handful of players who would love to get a shot or two on Matt Ryan come September 8th, but two really stick out in my mind. Junior Galette and Martez Wilson have both been with the team for a few years now, but either one can seem to play a full season. They have the potential to be great players for the Saints organization and with the recent injuries, it is time for the guys to step their game up. Galette was already named one of the four starting linebackers for the 2013 season, but with Will Smith gone, he will need to bring his A-game. Last year, he showed signs of his excellent pass rushing ability. He played in twelve games, started in only one, but managed to get to the quarterback five times. Coaches, players and fans have extremely high hopes for the young, energetic talent and if he stays healthy, look for the big man to be a major disruption to opposing offenses.
Martez Wilson seemed to be a steal when New Orleans selected him in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. Unfortunately, the former University of Illinois standout has been plagued by injuries since entering the National Football League. Since joining the Saints, he has only started in one game. If he wants to remain a part of the Who Dat Nation, he is going to need to dominate at that outside spot. The former First-Team All-Big Ten linebacker was second on the depth chart, behind the now injured Will Smith.
Healthier than ever, Wilson has to prove himself and show the coaches what he is capable of accomplishing when on the field. In the very little amount of time that he has played, he has showed incredible pass rushing and coverage ability. The speedy big man stands at a towering 6'4 and if he can figure out how to get around his blockers, he can be a quarterback's nightmare. Martez Wilson may be just what the doctor ordered.
It will take some time for the defense to acclimate to the new 3-4 scheme, but I do believe players like Galette and Wilson were born to excel in that type of arrangement. Again, there are high hopes for both men in the Big Easy, and with the recent injuries, now is their time to shine. It will be interesting to see what the Saints' defense can achieve this season with all the new faces on that side of the ball and Sean Payton back in the mix. Positive results are a definite possibility. Here's to 2013.