New Orleans Saints rookie LB Hau’oli Kikaha could be starting sooner than expected


In an offseason filled with controversy surrounding New Orleans Saints linebacker Junior Galette, there really is no telling what kind of position he’ll be in by the time the new season kicks off.  After a series of off-field issues, ranging from an arrest on domestic violence (charges dropped) to the newest being a 2013 video of him allegedly striking a woman repeatedly with a belt in a fight on the beach, Galette could very well be suspended for a majority, if not all of the season.  The Saints may even find a way to part ways with the troubled pass rusher.  He’s scheduled to meet with the NFL before the month’s end.

This means some of the younger guys better be prepared to step up in his absence.  One name that comes to light is rookie Hau’oli Kikaha, the Saints’ second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The ceiling is high.  The potential is endless.  The sky is the limit for the young Hawaiian native. After facing adversity in 2011 and 2012, falling to back-to-back season-ending injuries at the University of Washington, Hau’oli Kikaha became one of the nation’s most polished pass rushers.

In 2013, Kikaha made a complete bounce back, earning first-team Academic All-Pac 12 as a student athelete and second-team All-Pac 12 for his performance on the field.  He led the Huskies with a team-high 13 sacks, just 1.5 short of the school record.

But 2014 would be even bigger.  He led the FBS in sacks with 19, breaking numerous school records before heading to the draft.  His records include career sacks (36), career tackles for loss yards (275), a staggering single-season sacks record (19), single-season tackles for loss (25), and single-season tackles for loss yards (139).  All single-season records came in 2014.

Draft experts like to question the Saints’ decision to take Hau’oli Kikaha with their second-round pick.  Some say he was a drafted a bit high due to his injury-plagued past and a lack of speed.  But last time I checked, he’s been healthy and dominant for the past two years, and explosiveness off the snap and hand usage (his specialty) are far more important than what 40-yard dash time you run as a linebacker.

The former Judo champion has a mean streak.  The kid can play football.  He’s a high-motored forceful, tough, passionate and resilient individual — ideal characteristics for a guy who looks to chase down quarterbacks for an honest day’s pay.  Past setbacks aside, we’re looking at a potential first-round talent here.

Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Shanle worked out with Hau’oli for two months prior to the draft, telling The Times-Picayune columnist Larry Holder that he’s got a great future in the NFL as a hard, passionate worker with a great personality.

Shanle can be thanked for the selection of Hau’oli Kikaha if he pans out for the Saints.  He was basically the club’s scout for the former Washington standout with nothing but good things to say.

If Junior Galette does indeed miss time, which is very likely, Kikaha will have a prime opportunity to step into the spotlight sooner rather than later.  I believe he would have eventually earned the role in 2015, but we’re looking at a day-one possibility now.  Of course, he’ll be given a fair dosage of competition throughout training camp, but if he outplays the other candidates, Sean Payton will likely have no problem handing over the starting job to a rookie before the season begins. The kid looks to have a very bright future down on the bayou.

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