The loss of Victor Butler is hard for many Saints fans to take. His familiarity with Rob Ryan was one of the main reasons many of us felt his starting spot was set in stone. Now, it seems that we will rely on a holdover from the lockout-year: Martez Wilson. But is he the new strong-side linebacker? Sure, he was figured to be in the rotation. But is he ready for the starting role? The Saints may have other plans. Or maybe there is someone else on the roster that will take that from Wilson.
As my fellow Disher Ian-Mitchell Dear pointed out, the Saints are probably going to stick to Junior Galette and Will Smith at the Jack position. Jeff Duncan with the Times Picayune has already discussed that the Jack position is the important pass-rushing position. So those two will duke it out for the rights for a chance at reeking havoc on the quarterback. In the meantime, the strong-side backer is more focused on coverage, run support, etc. That’s not to say he doesn’t pass rush. The next strong-side backer, though, has to be able to do those things. Wilson certainly has experience, having played both inside and outside linebacker in college. In this video, you can see some of the reasons why he was drafted by the Saints but also why he wasn’t drafted until the 3rd round.
He won’t be asked to take on wide receivers and tight ends too often, mind you, but his pass coverage didn’t blow me away. His tackling was superb and has been for the Saints. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was used more on running downs and less on passing downs. Besides, the Saints are working on including all three safeties on the field at once. Wilson could be asked to just cover the run and rush the passer, which would minimize his potential weakness at strong-side backer.
I fear, though, that we are forgetting that the Saints didn’t decree Wilson as the starter. Jeff Duncan suggests that Ramon Humber, Baraka Atkins, Rufus Johnson, and Chase Thomas could compete with Wilson for that strong-side slot. Ramon Humber is another Saint that has popped on and off the roster the past few years. Johnson is one of our draft picks but seems a bit raw to take on the position. Thomas is a dark horse, don’t count him out. Any one of these guys could snatch the job from Wilson.
In the end, I believe the job is Wilson’s to lose. He has the athleticism to play that spot on the defense and I believe he has had enough experience, especially with the mentoring the Saints veterans have given him, to play well in Butler’s place. As it stood, I believe he had a chance to steal the job from Butler in camp. Now, we have to hope that Wilson is up for the job. In the end, though, Rob Ryan knows how to work through injury issues. Most of his Cowboys squad was decimated by injury. Lucky for him, I don’t think the Saints will hold this injury against him.