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Starting Saints defensive tackle suspended for Week 1 game against Packers

Green Bay will face a softer interior line than expected in the season opener.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints will look different in 2021 than they have the last several years. Drew Brees’ retirement has shaken up the franchise, forcing the team to hold a quarterback competition this summer between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. One of those two players will likely start under center in week one, when the Saints will host the Green Bay Packers in the two teams’ season-opening game.

However, the Packers will also face a Saints team without one of its key interior defenders in that contest. On Friday, defensive tackle David Onyemata announced on Instagram that he had tested positive for a banned substance and will serve a suspension under the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Although the NFL has not yet announced the length of the suspension, it will at the very least take effect for week one and keep him out against the Packers.

UPDATE: The NFL announced later on Friday afternoon that the suspension will last for six games.

Onyemata, a fourth-round draft pick by New Orleans in 2016, has become a very good player for the Saints, spending each of the past two seasons as a full-time starter. However, he has been a consistent part of the Saints’ defensive line rotation for four of his five years, taking the field for at least 53 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in each season since 2017. In 15 games during the 2020 season, he set career highs with 6.5 sacks, 44 tackles (10 for losses), and 24 quarterback pressures, according to Pro-Football-Reference.

Interestingly, the one game Onyemata missed last season was the Saints’ week 3 loss to the Packers. He was inactive that Sunday after dealing with a calf injury during practice on the Friday before the game. However, even with Onyemata out, the Packers’ running game was only modestly effective, with Aaron Jones totaling 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and Jamaal Williams adding 14 yards on six rushing attempts. Onyemata did play in the Saints’ victory at Lambeau Field in 2017, recording one solo tackle and one assist in 32 snaps.

The Packers have one player facing an early-season suspension of their own. Tight end Jace Sternberger will sit out the first two games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Sternberger addressed the situation in a public apology on Twitter last month.