WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — As they prepare to face their former defensive coordinator for the first time since he left the team, the Saints fired up some infamous game film: the one where Gregg Williams ordered blitz after blitz in the 2011 preseason opener against San Francisco, All-Pro New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham said Wednesday.
“It was (an all-out) blitz like four times out of nine, so we know it’s going to be great work for the quarterbacks, for the (offensive) line, for the tight ends, for everybody,” said Graham, whose Saints play their first exhibition of the 2014 season on Friday at St. Louis, where Williams is now the defensive coordinator.
Williams was in his third and final year with the Saints when New Orleans hosted San Francisco in the first week of the preseason and unleashed a pass rush that racked up six first-half sacks and 10 quarterback hits en route to a victory for the black and gold. Riding an offense that set all sorts of NFL records, the Saints made it to the divisional round of the playoffs — and lost at San Francisco, where New Orleans’ defense failed to protect two leads in the last four minutes of the game.
Williams and Saints coach Sean Payton were then suspended from the NFL following the bounty scandal. In 2013, four seasons after they won Super Bowl XLIV together, Payton returned to the Saints, and Williams joined Tennessee as an assistant coach. Williams is now entering his first year coordinating St. Louis’ defense.
It remains to be seen how zealously Williams sends his charges after New Orleans’ quarterbacks. But, in reviewing film from the exhibition against San Francisco three seasons ago, the Saints are accounting for the possibility that he could throw everything and the kitchen sink at them.
The Saints also rehearsed blitz pickups for a period of practice Wednesday at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where training camp has been held since July 24.
“That’s who he is, and he brings it, so we have to be ready for that,” said Graham, who led New Orleans with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 touchdown grabs in 2013.
It’s not known how much that wariness of Williams will factor into this decision, but Payton on Wednesday said he hadn’t decided on the availability Friday of franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has been nursing a strained oblique since Aug. 1 but was feeling “much better,” Payton said.
Nonetheless, it would be surprising if Brees participated in Friday’s game at all. Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown — auditioning for the No. 2 quarterback job — have been alternating reps with the first-team offense in light of Brees’ absence.