An early look at the New Orleans Saints 2012 linebacker core

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  • Middle linebacker: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ramon Humber
  • Weakside Linebacker: Jonathan Casillas, Nate Bussey, Jerimiha Hunter
  • Strongside Linebacker: Martez Wilson, Scott Shanle, Will Herring

The theme? Younger, more athletic, and in some instances cheaper — as is the case with Jonathan Vilma.

Last season Dunbar filled in for Vilma when he missed five games with a knee injury, and he did not disappoint. One could make the argument that there was no drop off in the defense’s effectiveness, and Dunbar excels in pass coverage.

Vilma has a base salary of $5.4 million this season not including roster or workout bonuses, and while Dunbar is scheduled for free agency, the Saints should be able to re-sign Jo-Lonn to a more team friendly deal.

Vilma’s release is anything but guaranteed as he is a very solid linebacker and a team favorite — but as is this case so often in the NFL if there is a cheaper replacement waiting in the wings then your time is usually up.

The Saints also met with free agent middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Reading into the visit it could be as another potential replacement for Vilma, or just a move to address depth behind Dunbar in the event he becomes the teams new starter.

Jonathan Casillas is one of the more athletic linebacker’s the Saints have on the roster, and while he has done some good things as a starter on the weakside, injuries have continued to de-rail his production over recent seasons.

If he can stay healthy it should be no question that he becomes the teams primary WLB in Spagnuolo’s defense. He is quick, and can cover well, and he just may have the best hands out of any of the linebackers.

Wilson, a third round pick in last years draft out of Illinois, is a superb athlete that boarders on getting the “freakish” label. At 6 foot 4, and 252 pounds, Martez has blazing speed being clocked at a 4.49 in the forty — fastest at the NFL Combine in 2011.

Martez compares favorably to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre Paul measurmentally.

He entered the NFL as a very raw prospect, but showcased at the end of the last season that he has the potential to play very well. He recorded ten tackles and one impressive sack on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

If Spagnuolo can “coach-up” Wilson in the off-season he could turn into a dominate strong side linebacker capable of becoming a real play maker in the Saints defense.