METAIRIE, Louisiana — Sack-less through two preseason games, the New Orleans Saints have ratcheted up concerns about their lack of a pass rush this week.
After releasing outside linebacker Junior Galette in July due to multiple off-the-field issues, they entered training camp with a huge hole to fill.
Galette made a team-high 10 sacks in 2014 and 12 in 2013. His departure left them with defensive end Cameron Jordan (20 sacks the past two years combined) and a bunch of unknowns in terms of getting after the quarterback.
"It's a work in progress, but certainly it is a point of emphasis," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Whether you are getting it from your four-man rush or whether you have to get it from pressure, it's something you have to pay attention to and something we have to continue to work on."
Jordan is the only player on the roster with four or more sacks in either of the past two years. He has moved to Galette's old spot as a pass-rushing end in the preseason, trimming a few pounds to make himself quicker.
"I've gotten down to where I needed to be," he said. "I really didn't worry about the number, more just about the feel and how I was running and moving."
The question is who will give him some help.
New Orleans drafted outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha in the second round after he registered an NCAA-best 19 sacks for Washington last year. He has made seven tackles in the preseason but zero sacks.
The Saints signed eight-year veteran Anthony Spencer, who has played end and linebacker, from Dallas in the offseason, reuniting him with former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but Spencer had only half-a-sack in 2014 after returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for more than a year. He also has missed practice with an unspecified injury after playing in the Saints' preseason opener against Baltimore.
End Parys Haralson, a 10-year veteran who made a career-high eight sacks with San Francisco in 2008, has 6 ½ sacks in two seasons with New Orleans.
The other candidates at end and outside linebacker are a collection of undrafted free agents or players with no history of productive pass rushing.
Jordan pointed to a few quarterback pressures in the first two preseason games but also said the Saints needed more results.
"It's one thing to hit a quarterback, but it's another thing to finish a quarterback," he said. "I think we're doing all right. I'll have more for you after the next game" against Houston on Sunday.
The pass rush would benefit from improved interior play, too. Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins, who are working with the first team, combined for three sacks last year while providing little help for Jordan and Galette.
Even with Galette, the Saints ranked only 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks last season, a significant drop from the 49 they made in 2013. The defense struggled across the board, plummeting to 31st in yards allowed from fourth a year earlier, and got a lot of the blame for the Saints missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
Jordan's own production slipped last year, too, down to 7 Â½ sacks from 12 Â½ in 2013.
"Clearly we didn't capitalize on last season when we had all the cards in our hand," Jordan said. "This season we don't have such heavy expectations from the world, but we have heavy expectations in our building."
Notes: Sean Payton returned to practice on Thursday after flying to California for his daughter Meghan's first day of college at Pepperdine on Wednesday. "It's a fairly small dorm room with three girls, so in the morning when you walk in you're just overwhelmed with clutter and shoes," Payton said. "I would say storage and space — organization — was at a premium. ... Kind of a lump-in-your-throat type day, too, when you leave." ... The Saints hold their final open practice of the preseason Friday night in Tulane's on-campus Yulman Stadium, which opened last year and holds about 25,000 spectators. The practice starts at 7 p.m. The Saints have a close relationship with Tulane, whose head coach, Curtis Johnson, was a receivers coach on Payton's staff. Tulane also routinely uses the Saints' indoor practice field to get out of excessive heat or rain. "Certainly on a Friday night it gives a lot of people the opportunity — that are otherwise maybe working — to come see a practice," Payton said. "Those guys have been practicing in our field house — shoot — for the last three years, so I told C.J., 'We can borrow your field for one night.'" The Saints have not practiced at Yulman Stadium, but when the NFL club was founded in 1967, it played home games in the old Tulane Stadium, on the same part of campus, until the Superdome opened in 1975.