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The New Orleans Saints will go the rest of the regular season without a key member of the defensive secondary.
Starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro is heading to injured reserve with groin and wrist injuries, a source familiar with the situation confirmed Thursday afternoon.
When Vaccaro suffered the wrist injury is unclear, as the Saints did not list him on on Wednesday’s injury report, signaling he put in a full practice.
He also played on all 74 defensive snaps in Week 15 against the New York Jets.
Vaccaro originally suffered the groin injury in Week 9 and left the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half, and he did not play in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills and Week 11 against Washington.
With Vaccaro now out of the lineup, the Saints are likely to lean heavily on second-year pro Vonn Bell to man the strong safety position alongside rookie free safety Marcus Williams.
The Saints also have safeties Chris Banjo and Rafael Bush on the active 53-man roster.
To bolster depth in the secondary, the Saints signed cornerback Sterling Moore, who can contribute in the team’s nickel package.
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The 6-foot, 214-pound Vaccaro finishes the season appearing in 12 games with 12 starts, totaling 59 tackles (47 solo), 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, seven passes defensed, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown.
Vaccaro, whom the Saints selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, is in the final year of his contract.
The New Orleans Saints’ improved defense suffered a blow.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported safety Kenny Vaccaro is headed to injured reserve, according to a source informed of the decision. Vaccaro has been playing with an adductor muscle (groin) completely torn off the bone and an injured wrist. He’ll undergo surgery on both, per Rapoport.
The 26-year-old safety started 12 games this season, compiling 60 tackles, seven passes defended, three interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Vaccaro missed two games earlier in the season due to the groin injury.
The Saints are deep at safety with Vonn Bell and rookie Marcus Williams. Chris Banjo and Rafael Bush are also options to rotate at the position. Corner P.J. Williams could be in line for more snaps against three-receiver sets, where Vaccaro often dropped to cover the slot.
Heading into free agency, Vaccaro had an up-and-down season while battling through injury. His versatility allowed the Saints flexibility, and for stretches he made plays — especially against the run — earning a career-high three interceptions. At other times, the safety played poorly against the pass this season and was benched in a Week 2 loss versus the Patriots. His play dropped off noticeably after the groin injury struck in early November. Pro Football Focus graded Vaccaro their 117th rated safety this season, lowest among qualifying players.
Even though Vaccaro struggled while battling through injury, his absence will harm the Saints’ best defense in memory. Since Week 3, New Orleans has allowed 18.1 points per game, 297.8 total yards per game, and an opposing passer rating of 69.4.
Injuries, however, have begun to pile up for the Super Bowl hopefuls. The Saints already placed staring defenders Alex Okafor, A.J. Klein, and Alex Anzalone on IR this season.
The Saints currently sit tied atop the NFC South, with tilts against the Falcons and Panthers to close out the season.