Saints Roster Breakdown: Linebacker Core

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Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Craig Robertson (52) celebrates a third down stop in the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Cover 32 New Orleans writer Brenden Ertle, and Managing Editor Nate Williamson combine to bring you a complete-roster breakdown of the New Orleans Saints team heading into training camp. 

Welcome to our first edition of Saints Roster Breakdown! This will be a reccuring article series, and we hope you’ll enjoy it. Below, Brenden and I have both written our thoughts on the Saints depth, youth, versatility, and talent in the Linebacking core. Check back next week for another positional rundown.

Brenden (@BrendenE_Saints)

One of the Saints biggest needs this offseason was linebackers. Last offseason the Saints signed James Laurinaitis hoping he would fill the MLB void, we all know how that worked out. Saints also signed Craig Robertson who was a good surprise, they signed him to be a back up and play special teams. Well Craig ended up being Saints best backer last year. Injuries haunted the Saints backers, at the end of the year the Saints had three special team players starting at linebacker, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar, and Michael Mauti. The Saints don’t want a repeat of last season adding 3 new Linebackers to the mix, AJ Klein, Manti Te’o and rookie Alex Anzalone. Training camp will be key to see which linebackers start and at what spot.

Weak side linebacker is rookie Alex Anzalone’s, if he plays well and earns it. He played there at Florida and the only other Saint that is listed at WLB is Sae Tatutu. This is Anzalone’s spot all he has to do is ball out in training camp. Keep in mind the can move someone else over to WLB which they probably will have to do because of the lack of depth on the weak side.

Strong side linebacker looked to be Dannell Ellerbe’s till he was informed the Saints will waive him once he comes off IR. Sean Payton said “Ultimately, it came down to availability. There were far too many games he wasn’t available.” Stephone Anthony had a great rookie year at MLB, his second year he was moved to SLB and didn’t meet expectations. This year with the help of new linebackers coach Mike Nolan, Stephone will look to take on the Job of starting at the strong side position. Experience might play a big part for Steph, he plays fast, he’s good football player, he just has to translate that to another position and Mike Nolan will help him with that. Nate Stupar will also look to compete with Stephone for the strong side spot that Nate started at last season.

Middle Linebacker is a log jam.

This will be one of the best battles of Training camp. There are three main players that will battle it out for the signal calling duties. Those players are Manti Te’o, AJ Klein and Craig Robertson, also Canadian Football League standout Adam Bighill. There is no way for us to know who’s gonna start, the coaches don’t even know yet the job is up for grabs.

Manti has spent his whole career with the Chargers, he’s yet to live up to his college hype struggling through injuries with the Chargers. Manti looks to have a fresh start with the Saints. Manti spent all his college days at Notre Dame being the signal caller. His NFL career has been the same so far, but doesn’t mean he’s stuck at Middle Linebacker.


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AJ Klein spent his college years at Iowa and had played behind Luke Kuechly in Carolina. AJ was always a solid linebacker for the Panthers and could’ve started on many other teams.

Lastly Craig Robertson looks to pick up where he left off last season at Middle Linebacker. Who ever doesn’t get the starting roll may run the risk of being moved to a different position and they all have openly said they are okay with it. AJ expressed how much he loved New Orleans and came here because of the big hole at Middle Linebacker, he said he prefers Middle Linebacker but will do what’s best for the team.

Craig Robertson will also be a candidate to help add depth to other linebacking spots.

It’s so hard to tell who will start where before training camp but we will have a much better idea in a couple weeks. These are all my thoughts on who fits best where but obviously that’s the coaches jobs. Needless to say this will be a great battle that we all have been waiting for!

Nate (@ThatNateWGuy // @Cover32_NO)

The Saints have been trying to fill a void at the linebacker position for a few years in a row now.

They now have one of their fastest, and youngest on average linebacker cores they’ve had in years.
After not having a deep well of resources in the linebacker position recently, the Saints now have a whopping 10 linebackers. Most having NFL experience, albeit still being young, and/or the ability to play multiple positions.
The Saints acquired three new hopefuls in 3rd round draft pick Alex Anzalone (who Coach Sean Payton believes, can play all three LB positions) out of Florida.
They also acquired a solid player in A.J. Klein, and a heavily disputed player with a high upside in Manti Te’o. The Saints return Nate Stupar, Robertson, and Michael Mauti. Saints fans should be excited about the depth of the squad in the multiple linebacker positions,
Last year, them team picked up Craig Robertson for a boost to special teams play, and just maybe to slot in at the linebacker position.
Little did they know that Robertson would become their best player in the linebacker slot. As has been typical for the Saints in years past, they were rattled and rocked by the injuries, especially on defense. This allowed Robertson the chance to show what he had, and he definitely did. Robertson showed out in a struggling Saints defense, and he’ll have a good shot in the middle of this defense.
The past two years, Daniel Ellerbe has been someone that saints hoped would come on and help out a struggling linebacker core. Due to the same issue, injuries, Dan-El has been much of a nonimpact, and when healthy, will be looking for a new start with another team after being waived.
Coach Payton said it was much more about the availability of Ellerbe, and less about that of his talent. Ellerbe was a great player for New Orleans when he was healthy, but unfortunately for both parties, that wasn’t often enough.
On the plus side, Stephone Anthony had a breakout rookie season, and was moved to SLB last season. He’ll be hoping to return to his former standout ways and provide the Saints a large boost on the strong side.
As Brenden said above, linebacker positions, and especially that of MLB, will be one of the most anticipated and intense position battles of the Saints training camps.
I dont want to repeat too much of what Brenden said above, but as for who will take the spots when the season starts, you could honestly see anyone come through camp and shine. Don’t expect it to be an easily-won position, however.
Head Coach Sean Payton said “It’s an open competition–period.”
And that tells you all you need to know.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t guess who will win it.
For me, I think Robertson, Klein, and Te’o get the first crack in the middle, I think Klein will come out on top, at least at the start.
Anzalone ends up looking good in camp, and steals the weak side linebacker spot, after tough competition with Robertson and Stupar. Don’t sleep on CFL standout Adam Bighill, however, who could also have a shot.
The saints very rarely deployed a third linebacker last season, but if they should choose to do so instead of a third cornerback or safety, look for it to be Klein (meaning he’ll shift from the middle, leaving that spot to Robertson or Te’o).
To me, the Saints will continue the trend of not frequently playing the third linebacker, although, the new depth could force them to reconsider.
We hope you like this new article series, and find it educational. We’re looking to take a deeper dive into all Saints positions in our upcoming articles. This was one of the longer ones, so bear with us, they won’t all be this long.
More soon. Follow us on our Twitters listed above. You can also follow Nate’s Sports Blog “The Sports Guys” at @SportsGuysBlog on twitter and facebook.
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