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LB Willie Gay Jr. brings “energy” to Saints

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By: mattmiguez

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The “Juice Man” looks to become a critical piece for New Orleans.

With the New Orleans Saints signing Willie Gay Jr to a one-year deal after winning a pair of Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs, many fans were looking for answers as to what the Saints were getting.

So, we figured we’d reach out to an expert to get his opinion. Ron Kopp Jr, a lead analyst for SB Nation’s Arrowhead Pride page, joined me for a Q&A about the 26-year-old linebacker.

Matt Miguez: What are your overall thoughts about Willie Gay’s time in Kansas City? What type of player was he for the Chiefs?

Ron Kopp Jr.: (Willie) Gay truly was the “Juice Man”, as many of his teammates called him. I attended countless training camp practices during his career, and he was the easiest person to hear on the field — high-pitch screaming in joy when drills broke to team period. Whether it was leading the sideline in the Swag Surf or celebrating a big play made on the field, Willie was the heart of the Chiefs’ defense in a lot of ways. That was especially true in the last two seasons, where he had to embrace a veteran role among a young defense. His playmaking to compliment the stars of the unit was one of the most important X-Factors to back-to-back titles.

MM: What were some of his biggest strengths and weaknesses as a player?

RK: Willie is going to be at his best when put in positions to make simple reads and make plays. He was the perfect outside linebacker to defend the Shanahan, outside-zone scheme that makes up so much of the NFL. He has the athleticism and range to track ball carriers down from the backside but also has the play strength to blow up the front side. He is a disruptor on run and pass plays; he will be active tipping or intercepting quick passes over the middle. As far as weaknesses on the field, he is just a volatile playmaker. For all his highlights, he will have lowlights, like blown reads against the run or lacking the feel of developing routes in coverage. He’s much better covering short and in the flat, rather than dropping into hook/curl zones.

MM: What do you believe he will bring to the New Orleans Saints as a young, rising talent?

RK: Willie Gay has the profile of someone who could still have his best, most consistent play ahead of him. After being a young, raw draft prospect, he was very honest about the learning curve he experienced through his first couple of years. His talents flourished in 2022 and 2023, but it was among a stacked linebacker position. On top of that, injuries and a suspension have also factored into his development being stunted to an extent in Kansas City.

MM: If you had to compare him to a player, who would be the best comp in your opinion?

RK: To give a familiar play-style comparison for Saints fans, I believe Willie Gay can be used in the way the Buccaneers have used Devin White in their recent defenses. Admittedly, White has special movement and attacking skills; he is a little more rigid and linearly explosive. However, his disrupting ability playing off the MIKE linebacker can be harnessed in a similar way as a blitzer and in coverage against running backs and tight ends.

MM: What has Willie been like off the field?

RK: Willie did get suspended four games during the 2022 regular season stemming from an arrest for misdemeanor criminal damages to property earlier in the year. The incident occurred during an argument that was considered domestic violence at first reporting. He had suspensions in college as well, but nothing about his actions in the media and with fans suggests he has bad character. He just turned 26 years old, and the maturing throughout his four years in KC has been noticeable. Hopefully, that continues on the same trajectory in New Orleans, which is a little closer to home for the Starkville, Mississippi native.

MM: Three words that best describe Willie Gay and why?

RK: Energy, for the things I talked about in the first point. He was always fired up, before, during, and after plays, and it was contagious.

Explosive, because he’ll look like he was shot out of a cannon into the backfield what feels like once a game.

Fun: He will fit the New Orleans vibe in so many ways, especially joining former teammates (and other fun dudes) Tyrann Mathieu and Khalen Saunders.

MM: Anything else you can share about Willie with Saints fans?

RK: Gay’s athleticism did not get utilized on passing downs in Kansas City to the furthest extent. Spagnuolo used only one linebacker in many of his third-down packages and never trusted Gay to wear the green dot and operate as the MIKE for those downs. Without knowing how the Saints’ defense operates on pass downs, I think Gay can be even more impactful in pressure packages and other unique ways to attack pass protection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gay can find his way past his career-high in sacks (2.5) with a new team.

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Originally posted on Canal Street Chronicles – All Posts