The 2012 season shapes up as a crucible for the New Orleans Saints defense. Between the stigma of the league's "bounty" findings and the loss of linebacker Jonathan Vilma (suspened for the entire season) and defensive end Will Smith (suspended for the first four ganmes), perhaps no NFL defense has ever gone into a season with more of a chip on its collective shoulder.
"He speaks with so much confidence, you have nothing to do but believe in this guy and know he's going to be great for us," safety Roman Harper said. "He's been a head coach in this league, had a lot of success as a defensive coordinator, and you've got to respect this guy. I'm looking forward to working with him more and more."
The man the players call "Spags" has a tough act to follow: His predecessor in the job, Gregg Williams, might have suffered incalculable damage to his reputation -- along with an indefinite suspension from the league -- for his role in the "bounty" saga, but Williams still enjoys the fierce loyalty of his former players.
"You know, Gregg lit a fire that a lot of us aren't going to let burn out. A sense of intensity," Harper said. "And now we understand what it takes to win. Before I don't think we understood it, and we didn't have that complete feeling. But now we've been to the top of the mountain. We know what it takes to get there. And that's what we're trying to do now.
"It's either Super Bowl or bust. And we won't take anything less this year, no matter what our circumstances are."
Spagnuolo has a different tactical approach than Williams, who was famous for his indulgence in blitzes. And he brings a different leadership style as well.
"It's a lot quieter," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "And there's a lot more teaching and other stuff going on. But Spags still has a way ... there's not a lot of cursing or anything like that, but he has a way of letting you know when he's serious and when he's disappointed. It gets across."