In the Saints’ first organized team activity open to reporters this summer, rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Batiste slapped the ball out of receiver Andy Tanner’s hands after he made a catch.

A few minutes later, safety Rafael Bush stripped Marques Colston as he tried to run with a reception.

Non-contact, late-May OTA workouts are not the best predictors of the future, but the Saints would love to carry that ball-hawking style into the 2014 season. Although the defense improved dramatically in yards allowed under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, finishing fourth in the NFL a year after giving up the most yards in league history, it plummeted to the bottom of the NFL in turnovers forced.

Well, almost. New Orleans ranked 29th of 32 teams with 19 takeaways — seven fewer than 2012 and the fewest in the NFC. That total was less than half of the 39 league-leading Seattle racked up while clinching homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs on its way to winning the Super Bowl.

The story did not change in the postseason. The Saints forced no turnovers in their win at Philadelphia and loss at Seattle.

“That was a glaring weakness last year on our defense,” Ryan said. “We did pretty decent as a unit, but we want to be great. And to be great, you have to take the ball away. We identified that. We presented it to our defense.”

They did more than just talk about it. They went out and signed free agent safety Jairus Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler who had 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in five seasons with Buffalo. His nine interceptions as a rookie tied for the NFL lead, and his 22 picks since 2009 are the most for any safety.

Although coach Sean Payton said Byrd likely would be out until training camp following recent back surgery, his availability for the regular season could make a huge difference.