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NFL AM: New Orleans Loses Hau’oli Kikaha For Season to Torn ACL

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Now that OTAs are well underway and some teams are already into minicamp, it was only a matter of time before season-ending injuries began to crop up and the New Orleans Saints are one of the first teams to be dealt a significant blow.

Saints second year defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha suffered a knee injury during an OTA practice earlier this week and on Thursday the team confirmed what was feared when it happened. Kikaha suffered a torn ACL and will miss the 2016 season. It’s a tough setback for both the team and the 2015 second round pick, who played outside linebacker as a rookie and logged four sacks and four forced fumbles.

This isn’t the first ACL injury for Kikaha, who suffered two ACL tears during his four-year college career at the University of Washington. But he came back stronger each time, including a senior senior season that saw him produce 19 sacks in 14 games to lead the nation in the category.

Though he didn’t have that level of impact for New Orleans as a rookie in 2015, Kikaha was still one of the few young foundational players on a bad Saints defense that finished with the most points allowed in the league and the second most yards allowed per game. Despite logging just four sacks, he finished third on the team in the category for the season.

As New Orleans sought to rebuild that defense this season, they decided to move Kikaha from outside linebacker up to defensive end, to better utilize his skills as a natural pass rusher.

“He was headed in the right direction,” fellow Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said of Kikaha. “We hope to be closer as a defensive unit this year. I think that’s key.”

But it’s going to be even more difficult for the team to get after the quarterback now. One thing they hoped to accomplish by moving Kikaha to defensive end was to take pressure and attention off the two-time Pro Bowler Jordan, who had an outstanding season in 2015 despite the lack of group success from the New Orleans defense. However, due to his status as one of the lone impact players on that defense, he routinely saw offenses stacked to stop him from getting to the quarterback. The hope was that pairing him with Kikaha as bookends of that defensive line would’ve made both players better.

Instead, the Saints will have to turn elsewhere, and the in-house options are limited. The team did not address the defensive end position in free agency and with Jordan and Kikaha in place, they chose to address the interior of their defensive line with the selection of Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

The most likely replacement appears to be Kasim Edebali, who was second on the team in sacks last season with six last season while also operating for the outside linebacker position and playing mostly in reserve. The 26-year-old undrafted free agent from Boston College has shown promise in two seasons with the Saints, but is also dealing with his own ailments and hasn’t been on the field during OTA.  After Kikaha went down, Obum Gwacham, a 2015 sixth round pick who New Orleans picked up last season after he was cut loose by Seattle, took over the first team reps, but despite the fact that the Saints like what they’ve seen from the 24-year-old, he’s more of a rotational piece than a starter.

New Orleans could also turn their attention back to the free agent market, where Dwight Freeney looms and sees his name attached to every team in need of a pass rusher, but the Saints aren’t likely the situation he’s looking for in the twilight of his career. Regardless, New Orleans will have to figure out a solution because Jordan can’t carry the pass rush load on his own, they saw what happened when he was asked to do that last season as, despite a phenomenal individual effort the team still struggled. A similar outcome could see the team suffer the same consequences in 2016.

BUCS DISMISS SEFERIAN-JENKINS FROM PRACTICE

Sticking in the NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has the talent to be a huge piece in the growing Bucs offense, but his struggles to put that talent to good use continue.

On Thursday, the tight end was dismissed from Tampa Bay’s OTA practice in the middle of drills and sent to the locker room. After practice, head coach Dirk Koetter told reporters that Seferian-Jenkins “didn’t know what he was doing.”

But the tight end knew full well what he was getting into when, while the rest of his team continued practice, he logged into Twitter to post some vague allusions to the incident. He first tweeted “MOVING ON!!!!” but deleted that before taking a more mature stance.


He also tweeted some not so kind things to Bucs fans reacting to the incident.

Seferian-Jenkins has been a bit of an enigmatic presence in Tamp Bay over two seasons since he was drafted 38th overall out of the University of Washington. When he’s been on the field, he’s been productive, hauling in 42 passes for 559 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games. He opened last season with a bang, hooking up with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston for five catches, 110 yards and two touchdowns, showing promise and hope for a great connection between the two.

But he’s quite literally been it of the lineup as much as he’s been in it, missing seven games as a rookie and nine more last season due to various injuries that have kept him from building any sort of continuity. After that monster opening week game he played just once more before sitting out til December with a shoulder injury.

Early this offseason, Koetter suggested Seferian-Jenkins could be in danger of losing his spot at the top of the depth chart to Cameron Brate, but the ceiling of Brate, an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, is limited while Seferian-Jenkins has proven, albeit in fits and starts, that he can be a player of significant impact on an offense that could use just that at the tight end position. Koetter’s words were likely a motivational tactic, but they haven’t worked so far.

One way or another, the Bucs need to figure out how to get Seferian-Jenkins right, because that offense is set to take off, but they could really use a player of his caliber on the field at the tight end position, someone Winston can go to and rely on in big spots, especially in the red zone. It’s the type of thing that makes a good offense great, and Tampa Bay has that right in front of them right now. The player just has to want it as much as his teammates and times like now, it’s fair to wonder if Seferian-Jenkins does.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys