Listen: New Saints DT Nathan Shepherd loves aggressive defense, because that's football


Styles can vary across the NFL, but for new Saints defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd, he knows only one way to do it.

He’s going to play fast and play aggressive, because that’s what football is supposed to be.

"That’s just how I feel the way the game should be played,” Shepherd told WWL, "my position specifically.”

LISTEN: WWL exclusive with Nathan Shepherd

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And that position is one that will be overhauled going into next season, with the Saints hoping it's for the better after a 7-10 campaign. Three key contributors from the 2022 season have shipped out of town as free agents, including DE Marcus Davenport (Vikings), DT David Onyemata (Falcons) and DT Shy Tuttle (Panthers). Along with Shepherd, who spent his first five seasons on the Jets, the Saints have agreed to terms with the big-bodied Khalen Saunders, who spent four highly successful seasons with the Chiefs, to rebuild that group.

Both players will be looking to break out in expanded roles from what they saw on their previous teams. Shepherd appeared in 73 games over his Jets tenure, starting 12, while logging 104 tackles (52 solo), 13 TFLs and 6 sacks.

Saunders is self-described as more of a run player, and the differing styles between he and Saunders is notable and almost certainly intentional. Saunders has the bulk -- and he's an impressive athlete in his own right, considering he can execute a perfect back handspring. They'll join a group that features versatile DEs in Cam Jordan, Payton Turner, Carl Granderson and Tanoh Kpassagnon. It's likely the team makes another addition or two, possibly through the draft, but by and large this appears to be the group the Saints will lean on in 2023 after an at-times frustrating season where the traditionally stout Saints ranked 24th against the run. The team had ranked no worse than No. 4 in that category over its previous four seasons.

It's a position that had to be reworked one way or another, and Shepherd underscores why when asked about his approach to the game.

"The defensive line, that’s where everything starts. The team goes as the defensive line goes, can’t win a game without that," he said. "Everyone needs to contribute, don’t get me wrong. But defensive line, we’re the tip of the spear, and the team goes as we go.”

Shepherd is another member of the Senior Bowl alumni that have been such popular targets for this Saints group. In fact, all six members of the defensive line currently on the Saints active roster were present in Mobile in their respective draft years. That includes Cam Jordan (2011); Tanoh Kpassagnon (2017); Shepherd (2018); Saunders (2019); Carl Granderson (2019) and Payton Turner (2021).

The Saints were one of the teams that spoke with him at that event, but it was ultimately the Jets that drafted him in the third round that year. He'll now join a new Saints DL coach in Todd Grantham as this group is rebuilt, though he's still yet to be able to sit down with him or many of his teammates quite yet. That will come in the next few weeks, and really pick up steam when OTAs arrive. Either way, he says he's ready for the challenge.

“I know the standards for their defense. Just something that I can appreciate, something I recognize coming from New York," he said. Definitely looking forward to bringing what I have to this table and helping this team.”

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