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5 takeaways from Saints DT Khalen Saunders’ introductory press conference

There was a clear line drawn between the New Orleans Saints’ newest free-agent signers. Culture. Well, okay, two continuous lines: culture and leadership. New defensive tackle Khalen Saunders epitomized both qualities when he was unveiled on Friday.

The four-year-old centerback came to the NFL from a small school and was immediately part of two Super Bowl winners’ lists with the Kansas City Chiefs. So the Saints not only found a leader in Saunders, they also found a winner.

Saunders impressed in his opening press conference late last week. Both in his self-image and in the opportunity before him. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from his time in the media in New Orleans.

He wants to prove he’s more than just a big man in the middle

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“Obviously, on the field, you can tell by my body that I’m more of a running player,” Saunders said when asked about his on-field contributions to his new team. “Big body. You know, I definitely use force in my hands and stuff like that. And just athletics, too. Just raw athletics. I’m proud to be an athlete.”

Much like the team’s new running back Jamaal Williams, Saunders is keen to prove he’s more than just a big guy who can mess up the middle of the defensive line. The 324-pound lineman doesn’t mind being perceived as a “Mauler” by others. Because he has great confidence in his athleticism, his strong hands and “good feet”, as he called them.

Saunders sees itself as a unifier off the field

The emphasis on culture was the hardest to ignore as Saunders began discussing how he builds relationships with players in his dressing rooms. The former Chiefs defenseman exclaimed on social media how rough the free hand was for him. When asked on Friday about the fear he expressed, he went on to discuss that it was a mix of emotions that all stemmed from how ingrained the relationships he is forging are.

The story goes on

“I have a lot of brothers in my actual family, and as soon as I join a team, I see it as adding… What a 90-man squad? I am adding 90 new brothers. I will treat them as such no matter who stays or not. You can ask anyone I’ve ever been a teammate with, we’re still in touch. I don’t care if you spent two days in the drill squad. I don’t care if we played together for four years. I will treat you the same way.”

Saunders already has a few friends in the Saints dressing room

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The new Saints defender may be in a new city but he has many familiar faces in the dressing room. After agreeing the terms of his 3-year, $14.5 million contract with New Orleans, he turned to Saints defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon. The two overlapped in Kansas City during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He and Kpassagnon spoke over the phone.

On the other hand, he and another, now team-mate, safety Tyrann Mathieu met up for dinner on his arrival at the Big Easy. While their cuisine choices weren’t inspired by New Orleans (Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse), at least it wasn’t Chipotle. The two met over dinner to talk about the move to New Orleans and, of course, exchange ideas. The two spent time with the Chiefs from 2019 to 2021 until Mathieu signed with the Saints last year.

And it doesn’t stop there. While not currently on the roster as a full free agent, Daniel Sorensen was also in Kansas City from the 2019 through 2021 season. Now, all four could be reunited here in New Orleans unless Sorensen gets a deal elsewhere or doesn’t return to the Saints roster. But either way, Saunders will have chemistry with some of the defenders around him.

He can be a recruiting prodigy

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Saunders said he was often assigned recruits to host during his stay in western Illinois. He estimated he had housed about 20 recruits during his years there. Turns out he was pretty good at all. Saunders is fairly certain only two of his potential new teammates have signed elsewhere. He’s also pretty sure it wasn’t his fault.

“And the only reason I lost two of them,” Saunders said. “It was probably because you can do a partial scholarship in FCS. In FBS it’s either full or nothing. FCS you can go to 75% blah blah blah. I think that’s the only reason I lost two of them because they were full from somewhere. But otherwise I’m almost undefeated.”

In fact, almost undefeated. Perhaps after his NFL career, a future down the recruiting path for a university athletic program could be on the horizon. Or maybe the Saints could try to use his sales skills while they’re here in New Orleans for a few off-seasons.

He comes from an offensive team and looks forward to a defensive system

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Saunders says he spoke to Mathieu over dinner about the type of defense the Saints are running and where he will fit in. He stressed that he was particularly excited by the “attacking nature” of the system and how it will allow him and others to lay their ears and play with effort and aggression. But he went on to express how excited he is about the change in focus from Kansas City to New Orleans in terms of which side of the ball gets the glory.

“And then just that it’s such a historic defensive team,” he said. “A historic defensive city. It’s beautiful man. I’ve had the luxury of playing with an attacking team and that’s nice, it’s fun. But I’m definitely looking forward to a traditional defense.” You sure have come a long way since the 2014-2016 seasons, right?

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire