In case you haven’t noticed, Dennis Allen is putting his stamp on the New Orleans Saints.
Slowly but surely, the Saints are looking less like Sean Payton’s high-scoring, free-wheeling Krewe de Drew and more like Allen’s band of Texas-tough Junction Boys.
The Saints pegged Allen to succeed Payton, in part, because of his familiarity with the operation. Allen, who had been with the Saints for 12 seasons, knew the program — the players, the coaches, the support staff, and most importantly, the culture, which had been built and fostered in the Payton-Drew Brees era.
Like any leader, though, Allen needed time to retrofit the team into his image. He and general manager Mickey Loomis have spent most of this offseason doing just that.
It started with the coaching staff. Allen overhauled the defensive staff, in part, because he didn’t feel like everyone was rowing in the same direction. Some of the changes were out of Allen’s control. Ryan Nielsen, Zach Strief and Declan Doyle left for promotions. Other changes were initiated by Allen to get more of, as he called them, “my guys” on the staff.
Over the last two months, Allen and Loomis have directed their attention to the roster.
The first and most important change they made was at quarterback, where Allen targeted and pursued Derek Carr with the same ardor Payton did with Brees in 2006.
Allen drafted Carr when he was the Raiders coach in 2014. His familiarity with the four-time Pro Bowler was a major selling point during Carr’s free agent recruitment.
The Saints liked Carr for many reasons. But his leadership skills and field generalship were high on the list. Listen to Saints coaches, and it’s clear they value Carr’s mind as much as they do his arm. For a team built around defense and a ball-control offense, his ability to avoid mistakes and negative plays was attractive.
Allen’s plan to win games with bully ball was detonated last season by sloppy quarterback play. He addressed the matter expediently by signing Carr.
Likewise, his fingerprints have been all over free agency and the draft.
It’s not a coincidence that the first players signed when free agency opened in March were a pair of 300-pound defensive linemen and running back Jamaal Williams, a short-yardage specialist and touchdown-scoring machine.
Allen’s emphasis on the defensive line continued this week. The Saints used their first two draft picks on towering defensive linemen Bryan Bresee and Isaiah Foskey. He used his third pick on Kendre Miller, a power back from east Texas. The fourth went to Nick Saldiveri, a hulking mauler on the offensive line.
The 6-foot-6, 318-pound Saldiveri was the fifth lineman selected by the Saints in the first nine picks of Allen’s tenure.
Again, that’s not by accident.
“It’s a big man’s game,” Allen said. “There’s not a lot of big men walking the Earth right now that have that kind of athleticism. Philosophically, we believe that the ability to control the line of scrimmage is important in winning football games. It’ been a point of emphasis for us.”
Size matters to Allen. But so do intangibles like toughness, intelligence, character and grit, all words he used often when describing Saints draft picks the past three days.
“Character is important, in terms of the type of people that we’re bringing into the building here,” Allen said. “We feel like the guys that we brought in are our type of guys.”
More accurately, they’re Dennis Allen’s type of guys.
After a disappointing 7-10 campaign in his debut season, Allen knows he needs to turn things around to regain the confidence of the fan base. Time will tell if he’s able to deliver in his second season.
But one thing has become evident this offseason. He’s going to do things his way this season. On his terms. With his guys.