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Draft questions: Can Saints build contending defense?

With the 2013 NFL Draft approaching, Around The League will examine one big question facing all 32 teams. Next up: The New Orleans Saints

Can the Saints build a contending defense?

The New Orleans Saints have an offense ready to win a Super Bowl now. They need a defense to match. The unit posted horrendous numbers in every category last season -- No. 32 in total defense (440.1 yards), No. 32 in run defense (147.6), No. 31 in pass defense (292.6) and No. 31 in scoring defense (28.4 points).

The Saints dumped defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his 4-3 scheme after the season. Enter former Dallas Cowboys coordinator Rob Ryan and his 3-4 scheme. The problem is the Saints need the pieces to fit the new look. The encouraging part, I guess, is the holdover pieces weren't all that successful in the 4-3 anyway.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis has been the most significant addition on defense. He'll fit perfectly in as an aggressive press-man corner. Lewis led the NFL with 16 passes defensed last year and will pair with the 31-year-old Jabari Greer. Defensive end Will Smith restructured his contract, but how will he fit in the 3-4? Will Jonathan Vilma remain inside, and how many miles does he have in him?

Former Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler was signed and showed flashes as a backup pass rusher. He knows the system, but is unproven. Junior Galette was re-signed to a three-year contract in March, but has to move to outside linebacker from defensive end.

Plainly, there are needs across the front seven and in the secondary at safety. Defensive end Cameron Jordan was a 3-4 defensive end at Cal when he was drafted No. 24 overall in 2011. He'll fit fine. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was a surprise third-round pick last season and is poised to start at nose tackle with the roster as is. He's an athletic defensive tackle but is tall (6-foot-5) for the position. Guys like Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton and B.J. Raji are in that 6-1 or 6-2 range. This is a deep draft for defensive linemen. Utah's Star Lotulelei could slide to the Saints at No. 15.

The linebackers will be freed up to attack once that line is solidified. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer combined for 48 sacks the last two seasons under Ryan with the Dallas Cowboys. Does the combination of Galette, Butler, Martez Smith and maybe Vilma have that same potential? Doubt it. The Saints have to find pass rushers. LSU's Barkevious Mingo is local and should be a first-rounder in that range. Georgia's Jarvis Jones also is in the discussion.

The Saints must quickly retool the defense to complement Drew Brees & Co. That truly begins with the front seven come April 25.

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.

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