The two themes for the 2021 New Orleans Saints seem to be "embrace changes" and "accept new leadership."
The Big O, defensive tackle David Onyemata, enters this season as the elder statesman of the defensive interior in New Orleans. He had his best season as a Saint in 2020.
His emergence as a leader could explain why the club was comfortable moving on from defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Roach.
ONYEMATA SINCE 2016
Ebuka "David" Onyemata has been a fixture on the defensive line since his New Orleans arrival from Manitoba in 2016.
The Saints took a flier on David as their fourth-round pick because of defensive line coach Bill Johnson's recommendation following a workout with him in Canada during the 2016 offseason.
“We tested him athletically on runs, jumps and then put him some football-specific drills and thought he faired well and represented himself well. He had a lot of people here with a lot of eyes on him, and I thought he did a good job of handling it and going right back-to-back. I thought he was in good condition. I think it is remarkable in what he has done in far of learning the game of football in four year period, and I think he’s got a glimmer of hope to continue this process and just see where it takes him.”
Under Sheldon Rankins, Onyemata slowly matured and evolved into one of the league's most steady performers at defensive tackle.
Onyemata, 28, is effective as both a pass rusher and run-stuffer. His career numbers in 78 games are 167 combined tackles, 16 sacks, 42 QB hits, 21 TFL, five passes defended, one interception, and one forced fumble.
Onyemata fielded questions from media at Thursday's Saints minicamp.
ONYEMATA ON DT MALCOLM ROACH
I asked Big O about the growth of second-year DT Malcolm Roach. "A lot. Based off the drills, we've been doing and working with our coaches. You see the improvement. You see someone who's getting comfortable, comfortable in his skin, comfortable in the things we do out here. So, you see a lot of changes. A big improvement from his rookie year," explained Onyemata.
ONYEMATA ON PAYTON TURNER
Next, I followed up on his first takeaways on New Orleans' first-round pick DE Payton Turner. Onyemata smiled and said, "He's a strong, quick, twitchy guy. Tall as well. So, based on the weight room and leg drills, he's been doing amazing. You can tell he's got the work ethic. He's going to be awesome."
ONYEMATA ON LORENZON NEAL, JR.
Last, I wanted get David's viewpoint on the young 'son of a Saints player,' Lorenzo Neal, Jr.
"He's got the strength and size. The most important thing is going to be, camp, and getting a feel for what actual NFL football is. I think that's the thing for every young person right now."
David Onyemata on rookie DT Lorenzo Neal, Jr.
The New Orleans defensive line remains a force to be reckoned with this season.
The team is returning pieces inside with defensive tackles Shy Tuttle, Malcolm Roach.
Adding Ryan Glasgow, Albert Huggins, Jalen Dalton, Josiah Bronson, and Lorenzo Neal, Jr. to the camp battles to mix it up should make the final defensive line roster very young and very interesting.
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SNN Saints Associates