As had been suspected, Saints nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley will miss what’s left of his team’s season because of a leg injury, New Orleans coach Sean Payton announced Thursday.
Bunkley injured a quadriceps in Monday night’s 34-27 loss at home to Baltimore and is now on year-ending injured reserve. Payton said the roster spot freed up by the move will be occupied by defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil, an undrafted rookie out of Valdosta State who was promoted from the Saints’ practice squad, as The Advocate reported Wednesday evening.
The Saints added rookie defensive tackle Garrison Smith to the practice squad to fill in the slot opened up by Virgil’s promotion.
Payton spoke Thursday about why the Saints chose Virgil to preserve the depth on the defensive line.
“He’s a real good worker, a good technician, he’s young obviously, and I think it was an easy decision,” the coach remarked. “You’re … able to measure (his progress) even though he’s running a lot of scout-team work (in practice).”
Bunkley injured his leg on a second-and-7 for the Ravens at midfield trying to stop a rush by running back Justin Forsett. The nose tackle walked off the field with the help of trainers but didn’t return. On Tuesday morning, the NFL Network reported Bunkley tore his quad.
Under Bunkley on the Saints depth chart were 2013 third-round draft selection John Jenkins and Brandon Deaderick, an NFL veteran in his first season with New Orleans.
Jenkins saw significant action at nose tackle in five regular-season games that Bunkley missed with a calf injury at the beginning of last year. The Saints won all five.
This season, Bunkley played in nine of the Saints’ 11 games (all starts), and under him Jenkins has handled slightly more snaps (209) than Deaderick (185).
Jenkins’ snap count might be higher had it not been for a pectoral injury that limited him in training camp and could have been a reason why he was held out of three games in September.
“He was a real good contributor as a rookie,” Payton said. “He was one of those young players that came in and acclimated himself real quickly.”
Jenkins viewed it as a positive that Deaderick was around this year to split snaps up with him if necessary in Bunkley’s absence.
“It was (just me) last year (when Bunkley was out), but … now we got somebody else who’s a versatile player,” Jenkins said. “He can play my spot, and other spots on the (defensive) line, so that helps out a lot.”
Jenkins also described it as hurtful to see Bunkley go down.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” said Jenkins, who explained that his main NFL and Saints mentor has been Bunkley.
Bunkley finished with 17 tackles on the season, eight of which were solo. This was his ninth season in the NFL and third in New Orleans.
Bunkley became the third New Orleans defender to suffer a season-ending injury in as many weeks. That only makes things more difficult for a team that is ranked 27th on defense and surrendered a staggering 1,184 yards as well as 88 points in three consecutive setbacks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in November.
Rookie backup safety Vinnie Sunseri broke his left forearm attempting to make a special-teams tackle in a 27-24 loss at home against San Francisco on Nov. 9. Safety Rafael Bush, a fourth-year pro, fractured his right fibula in a 27-10 defeat at home against Cincinnati a week later.
A fourth defender, three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, has been out of action since sustaining a meniscus tear in one of his knees in a practice prior to an Oct. 5 victory at home against Tampa Bay.
The Saints (4-7) will travel to Pittsburgh (7-4) and face off against the No. 5 offense in the NFL this Sunday.