New Orleans Saints positional previews: Linebackers

Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker James Laurinaitis (53) during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker James Laurinaitis (53) during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

If you’re not excited for New Orleans Saints football to return, then you should probably ask yourself what the problem is.

The black and gold are set to kick off their first training camp practice at The Greenbrier on Thursday, July 28, and fans couldn’t be happier after going through the dullest point of football’s offseason. We have four positional groups left to look at, and today’s focus is on the linebacking corps, who received a big makeover in the past several months.

One thing to keep in mind for the linebacker preview is that the Saints website officially lists Davis Tull, Kasim Edebali, and Hau’oli Kikaha as linebackers. However, some moves should shift them to the defensive line, and you can find their analysis on my previous entry.

James Laurinaitis, 8th season

The Saints are banking on James Laurinaitis to be the next coming of Jonathan Vilma, and they may just get their wish. I watched some of his plays last season, and it’s clear that the veteran still has keen recognition and can wrap up defenders with ease. His football intelligence is something that the Saints have missed in the past several seasons. That’s no disrespect intended for Curtis Lofton, who was a key staple in the middle after coming over to the Saints in 2012, or Stephone Anthony. The hope is that Laurinaitis can quarterback the team’s defense to at least a somewhat respectable unit this season. That’s all we ask for out of the veteran.

Dannell Ellerbe, 8th season

The curious case of Dannell Ellerbe is probably the biggest thing to watch on defense, as the Saints only got six games out of the veteran linebacker in 2015. The Saints wisely restructured Ellerbe’s deal in February, which is directly tied to his health. In the games Ellerbe appeared in, it was clear that he added a lot of value for the defense. The team has desperately needed a weak side linebacker that can cover and help improve the unit overall. While we remain optimistic for Ellerbe’s impact, we can’t ignore that he can’t necessarily be counted on.

Stephone Anthony, 2nd season

Last year’s 31st overall pick did not disappoint, as Stephone Anthony appeared in 93 percent of the Saints defensive snaps last season. Anthony’s year can greatly benefit from the addition of James Laurinaitis, and a move to strong side linebacker will continue to make the Clemson product effective. The future is extremely bright for Anthony, and he should continue to be an integral part of Dennis Allen’s squad.

Craig Robertson, 5th season

The addition of Craig Robertson was likely the most underrated move of the offseason for the Saints, as the ex-Browns linebacker can be an effective coverage player, and is working on the weak side. Having insurance for Dannell Ellerbe is something the Saints must have, and they look to have the answer. I’d almost go as far as to say that Robertson could emerge as the team’s top option before it’s all said and done.

Michael Mauti, 4th season

Michael Mauti will be forever tied to the New Orleans Saints for a nearly perfect recreation of the Steve Gleason blocked punt, which coincidentally came against the Atlanta Falcons. He also earned major brownie points for a big hit on Cam Newton when the Panthers quarterback thought he’d just stroll into the end zone. Mauti primarily served in special teams in 2015, and saw 175 total defensive snaps (16 percent) in 16 games played. Mauti should continue his role as a key piece in special teams and continue his role as primary depth for the team.

Nathan Stupar, 4th season

I had the luxury of speaking with Nathan Stupar in mid-May on joining the Saints, and he is more than excited for the opportunity to compete this season. The ex-Falcons player and former college teammate of Michael Mauti is primarily known for being a special teams and role player. However, a film study has proven that he can offer much more than that, and he should be a key piece of depth for Dennis Allen’s squad.

Tony Steward, 2nd season

Tony Steward is a forgotten man on the Saints defense, as it’s his third stop in the past several months. In addition to the change of scenery, Steward has been through a lot in the past six months after dealing with the death of his fiancée Brittany Burns, who passed away at the age of 26 from ovarian cancer. The former Clemson Tiger released a statement in February on her passing:

“Every single day of your life you have been a fighter and I know this because of the unbelievable family you brought me into. We will all honor everything you stand for in life. I will continue to be the person that you always bring out in me.”

Needless to say, he’s a player you can easily root for. Perhaps some familiarity with college teammate Stephone Anthony can help a real dark horse on the team’s roster.

Dillon Lee, Rookie

Alabama’s Dillon Lee looks to keep fighting an uphill battle, but that’s nothing new for him. Lee was overshadowed by a talented group of linebackers on the Crimson Tide’s defense, so he never has been in the full-time spotlight. However, don’t let that fool you, as Lee is a very smart and instinctive football player who will put in the hard work, especially on special teams.

Jeff Schoettmer, Rookie

We’d like to believe that Jeff Schoettmer is easy to root for. The University of North Carolina linebacker played in over 50 games for the Tar Heels, which included starting the last 27 in a row. Schoettmer is familiar with all linebacker positions, and can be pleasantly effective in pass coverage. He’s absolutely one of my most intriguing undrafted rookie free agents.

"New Orleans Saints positional previews: Defensive Line"