Saints’ Stephone Anthony can seize sophomore season with James Laurinaitis’ guidance
Using James Laurinaitis’ guidance, Stephone Anthony could break out of his cage in 2016 following an excellent rookie campaign for the New Orleans Saints.
Not everything was perfect for Stephone Anthony in 2015. It fact, it hardly ever is for rookies in the National Football League, or any sport for that matter.
However, the day the first-round pick out of Clemson laced up his cleats and threw on his pads for the first time as a professional, the New Orleans Saints‘ players, coaches, and fans knew they were getting a very special player and athlete.
Stephone Anthony seemed to possess every single quality coaches look for in a player, particularly an inside linebacker — the size (6-foot-3, 245 pounds), the speed, the athleticism, the versatility, the instincts, the awareness, the leadership characteristics. They were all there, which is why he was so quick to earn duties as play-caller on the defensive side of the ball, eventually absorbing the starting job as the ‘Mike’ linebacker in the middle.
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But the Saints recently signed a new middle linebacker — James Laurinaitis. Another player New Orleans will likely be counting on to start in a significant role, Laurinaitis brings both talent and leadership as a former captain of the once-potent St. Louis Rams defense.
What does that mean for Stephone Anthony, who will also be counted on as a starter following an All-Rookie performance a season ago? Well, there’s no telling yet, but 2015’s 31st overall pick can certainly sponge off a guy like Laurinaitis to better his game both physically and mentally.
But when it comes to roles on the field, and assuming the Saints’ 4-3 approach remains intact, a popular scenario is shifting Stephony Anthony over a spot to the “Sam” or strongside linebacker position, Hau’oli Kikaha‘s job in 2015.
The switch would mean playing Kikaha as a defensive end opposite Cam Jordan and using Laurinaitis as the “Mike” linebacker, given his years of experience as the play-caller and nucleus of the Rams’ defense.
This would give Stephone Anthony more of a pass-rushing role, a job he proved to be effective at in certain scenarios a season ago. However, his experience as a middle linebacker would still come in handy in certain run-stuffing and coverage situations.
The change could also relieve some pressure off of Anthony if Laurinaitis became the majority play-caller. Again, the Saints’ newest linebacker is somebody Anthony can learn and grow from. As a polished veteran, it’s hard to argue against Laurinaitis being more fit for the “Mike” job at the moment. It doesn’t mean it would be permanent.
Given his intelligence and athletic abilities, Anthony could probably adjust to and thrive in any linebacker role. Regardless of where Anthony will be playing in 2016, Laurinaitis will without question be an ideal mentor.
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Stephone Anthony’s ceiling as a true game changer on the defensive side of the ball (where the team needs it most) makes him a solid foundation for the future of Crescent City football. The arrow continues to point up. This will be his defense very soon, and Laurinaitis can show him the way.
Anthony finished his rookie season in New Orleans with a team-leading 112 total tackles, adding a sack, fives passes defended, an interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Not to mention the first-ever defensive score off a blocked extra point after he returned the batted ball for two points against the Carolina Panthers.
With elite potential (the numbers show it), he looks to be the future of the organization and maybe even the NFL. The Saints simply cannot afford a ‘sophomore slump’ from Stephone Anthony in 2016, which is why he will seize the opportunity in his second season, build off that rookie momentum, and become a true star for the lately-disappointing organization.
Next: March 18: Early Saints 7-round mock draft
Even an average defense can get New Orleans back into the playoffs after a two-year absence. The goal this offseason is to add the missing pieces that can make that possible. The money might not be good, but the low-key moves being made could make a difference. Remember, free agency is not over, and there is an entire rookie class waiting to be drafted.