New Orleans Saints: Linebackers And The Hard Knocks Search

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This upcoming season Saints fans may see a very different defense hit the field as changes have been put in place on the defensive line — defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was signed and defensive end Cameron Jordan was drafted — although a more drastic change is likely to be seen at linebacker.

Last season defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was forced to put together a collage of linebackers on the strong side after injury and free agency depleted some of the more viable options.

Scott Fujita departed in free agency to the Cleveland Browns, choosing a more lucrative contract to play for the re-building franchise.

The Saints did not pursue any real replacement options in free agency. It was widely thought they would be handcuffed to a linebacker in the draft, instead they took Florida State corner back Patrick Robinson with their first pick — not a single lineabacker was taken in any round.

Early in the pre-season second year undrafted linebacker Jonathan Casillas began to emerge as a force one the weak side. After a ten tackle performance against the Patriots, he was awarded the starting job, a move that allowed Scott Shanle to slide down and take over on the strong side.

As fast as Casillas was named the starter, a freak injury during the Saints final preseason game ended his season. Shanle was placed back on the weak side and Gregg Williams was sent back to the drawing board.

Veteran linebacker Danny Clark was signed after his release from the New York Giants and he, along with Jo-Lonn Dunbar, combined to produce decent production. As good as they where, and with respect to each, big plays where few and far between.

Casillas is near one hundred percent recovered after undergoing Lisfranc foot surgery.  It seems likely he will again take over as the starter at weak side linebacker. For the Saints, however, things get a little murky opposite him.

Shanle is out of contract and it’s questionable that he will be re-signed. Earlier in the pre-season, before the lockout, Shanle mentioned the team seemed high on bringing him back, he did however approach the situation with cautious optimism.

Danny Clark is also a free agent in flux, caught in limbo as the lockout lingers on longer than anyone expected. He’s thirty-four, making his chances at securing a decent deal seem rather unrealistic.

They may want to keep him around as a backup, but as a starter, well that’s a different story.

The Saints drafted a promising young linebacker out of the University of Illinois, selecting Martez Wilson with their first pick in the third round.

Wilson is a freak of an athlete at 6 foot 5 and 240 pounds, he has the necessary height, arm length and explosiveness (with an insane 36-inch vertical and 10-4 broad jump) to play outside linebacker (strong side) in a 4-3 defense.

Moreover he is lightning quick, notching an attention-getting 4.44 forty at the Combine. In Indianapolis he showed off his strength bench pressing 225 pounds 23 times and quick feet with a 4.28 short shuttle and a 7.04 three-cone drill.

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Tags: 2011 NFL Draft Atlanta Falcons Cleveland Browns Danny Clark Hard Knocks HBO Jonathan Vilma Martex Wilson New Orleans Saints Oakland Raiders Scott Fujita Scott Shanle Tampa Bay Buccaneers