While New Orleans Saints safeties Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu found their groove near the end of last season, their connection has only strengthened since.
Both Maye and Mathieu joined the Saints last year from different teams. Immediately, they were tasked with holding down the backend of the field. They were two newcomers in an unfamiliar defense that requires constant communication.
"I definitely feel way more comfortable (now)," Mathieu said. "I definitely have a better understanding of the scheme and philosophy. … I definitely feel like we've grown closer outside of football, but I think when it comes to football, we definitely understand each other much better."
Mathieu came to New Orleans from the Kansas City Chiefs. The Saints are his fourth team since he entered the NFL in 2013.
Maye is onto just his second team since his 2017 debut with the New York Jets.
The offseason has worked wonders on their relationship. Not that is was bad. It was just new.
"We talk about normal things, not just always about ball," Maye said. "Now we check on each other's families and things like that. It's been great. We've been doing a great job on the field and off the field."
The Saints had the league’s second-best pass defense last season, allowing an average of 184.4 yards per game. They had seven interceptions, led by Mathieu’s three, and 67 pass breakups.
Mathieu was the only defensive back to start all 17 games.
"I’m happy he’s here," Saints coach Dennis Allen said during voluntary organized team activities. "I’m excited about him being here. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he’s probably more comfortable in the system and I think that will bode well for him throughout this process and training camp as we get to the regular season."
Maye and Mathieu aren’t alone in the Saints secondary. Players who filled in during Maye’s seven absences last year — such as Justin Evans, Daniel Sorensen and Chris Harris Jr. — are gone, but the Saints have plenty of other options at safety.
Smoke Monday has been working out in OTAs after missing his rookie season because of an injury. He was an undrafted prospect from Auburn.
New Orleans selected Jordan Howden out of Minnesota with a fifth-round pick, and he’s already impressing after rookie minicamp and OTAs.
"He seems to have a nose for the football," Allen said. "He's what we thought we were getting when we drafted him. Yeah, I think intelligence and instincts around the ball are two qualities that stand out to us."
The Saints also signed free agent Johnathan Abram for his fifth year. He split his time among three teams last year, still managing to play in 15 games, and is a former first-round draft pick.
"He's been doing a great job," Maye said. "He's excited to be here. We've had talks and things like that, and now we finally get to play with each other.
"You can put any one of our guys out there on the field, and you won’t be let down."