METAIRIE, La. -- If the New Orleans Saints want to put back-to-back 7-9 seasons behind them, they must find a way to shore up two of the problem areas -- both front lines.
One of the team's woes during training camp and its winless exhibition slate for the second year is a row is quite foreign to them, while the other has been a source of concern for the past two seasons.
Saints coach Sean Payton brought them both up after a 27-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 26, which led him to take steps to remedy the situation before the final exhibition game and certainly the season opener Sept. 11 against the Oakland Raiders in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Payton was upset with the inability of his defensive line to put enough pressure on Ben Roethlisberger in the loss to the Steelers, a problem that dates back to recording only 34 and 31 sacks in the past two seasons.
Then, his offensive line has been a major concern, mainly because of an injury for most of the past month to left tackle Terron Armstead. After finishing the 2015 season with a knee injury, Armstead started camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
When he came off PUP and played in his first preseason game against the Steelers, Armstead was beaten for a sack and was called for a holding penalty before making a quick exit. He has not practiced since and sat out the preseason finale with the Baltimore Ravens.
His injury left 'Payton shuffling the offensive line, trying to find a solid group.
Second-year pro Andrus Peat has played left tackle, left guard and right guard, left guard Tim Lelito was shifted to right guard for the Ravens game with Peat moving in at left guard and veteran Tony Hills replaced Armstead.
On top of that, guard Senio Kelemete, who was battling Lelito for a starting job, was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. The only constants have been center Max Unger and right tackle Zach Strief, so the Saints signed veteran lineman Khalif Barnes to try and fill a hole.
At least the Saints locked up Max Unger four more years when he agreed to a three-year contract extension last week.
The extension reportedly averages just over $7 million per season for Unger, an eight-year veteran who entering the final year of his current pact that will pay him $4.45 million this fall.
Unger was a priority for the Saints considering he was part of a March 2015 trade with the Seattle Seahawks that brought him and a first-round draft pick which turned out to be linebacker Stephone Anthony to New Orleans in exchange for Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham.
The 30-year-old Unger, who last week was honored as the Saints' offensive MVP for 2015, has started all 83 games that he's played in since entering the league as a second-round draft pick in 2009.
Unger was a first-team Associated Press All-Pro pick in 2012 and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2012 and '13 with the Seahawks.
Meanwhile, back on the front, the Saints at least showed some improvement even though they were going against the Ravens' backups. The first-team offense started the game with a drive that yielded a field goal and went on to average a preseason-best 4.5 yards per rushing attempt.
The other problem is on the defensive line, where the Saints have had trouble affecting the quarterback with outside linebacker/defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha out for the season with a torn ACL and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, their first-round draft pick, trying to work his way back from a fractured fibula that required surgery Aug. 16.
While they have two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan to provide much of the pass rush, they needed more.
To that end, the Saints signed former Ravens and Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger, a noted pass-rush specialist, to a one-year contract that will pay him $3 million in base salary. He could earn another $2 million in incentives.
It's too early to tell if the defensive changes will help, of course, but the Saints did not allow a play of 20 yards or more to the Ravens and gave up only one touchdown -- with that coming in the fourth quarter.
The 30-year-old Kruger was released last week by the Cleveland Browns, with whom he played the past three seasons, and visited the Saints on Tuesday.
A second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, he played there four seasons before signing with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent. He was courted by the Saints during before signing with Cleveland.
The Saints are hoping that Kruger can give their anemic pass rush a shot in the arm. After having just 31 as a team in 2015, they had eight in their four preseason games and rarely affected the passer.
Kruger has 33.5 sacks in his first seven seasons and recorded a career-high 11 with the Browns in 2014.