We know come week one against the Minnesota Vikings, barring injury, that Shanle and Vilma will both have starting spots at linebacker. The big question right now that no one knows the answer to is: who will start alongside them? This question is made more complicated due to the heavy rotations Gregg Williams likes to use. Does being a starter really mean anything anyway? Both on offense and defense, the Saints play the 53 guys they have. For example, while Henderson and Colston are both "starters", there's been plenty of games where Meachem and Moore have seen more snaps. Payton and Williams both rotate players in and out all game long. Based on matchups, one week we may see a ton of Zach Strief, and the next we may hardly see him at all. Ditto for role players like Anthony Hargrove and Bobby McCray on the other side of the ball. So while some of us may think Jo-Lonn Dunbar has the inside track on the starting position, even if wins the battle there's no guarantee he'll see the field for more than half the defensive plays. Below are the current linebackers on the Saints roster, and their chance of seeing playing time.
Jonathan Casillas: Casillas plays behind Shanle on the strongside. I think it's pretty unlikely he'll see much time on the weakside, so I don't think he'll win the starting role or see many snaps over there. He should be getting tons of reps at strong with Shanle sitting out with an injury right now, though. He's a good one, and I feel good about his chances of making the team again.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: He's the odds on favorite to win the starting spot. The job is his, basically, if he can prove that he's able to handle it. He's shown flashes of brilliance, there is absolutely no doubt, but the big question is still - can he put it all together? Fujita was so good not because he did anything amazingly well. Instead, he was plainly solid in every area with no glaring deficiencies. He made no mistakes, operated with good fundamentals, and was just a very smart football player. Dunbar is kind of the opposite. Fast, big, a huge hitter, and very flashy. What he lacks is the experience and poise to respect his assignment. He makes mistakes over-pursuing which can cost his team big plays. Before you start labeling him as the next Sedrick Hodge, though, make no mistake that they are not the same player. Dunbar plays with much ferocity. If he gets his pads on you, it's game over. I'm sure you've heard NFL people talk about "remember me hits" before, and that's Dunbar's trademark. I'm not talking about Tebucky Jones hits, either, because Dunbar actually wraps up. I can't wait to see him develop this year. There's no guarantee he'll be a legit NFL starter, but his potential has a very high ceiling and his opportunity to cultivate that is now.
Troy Evans: I've said it before and I'll say it again: God help the Saints if Evans sees the field much on defensive plays. The guy is a liability. I know the staff loves him, and they value his ability on special teams. But he's a Scott Fujita light. I respect the fact that Evans has been in the league this long, but frankly the amount of snaps he's seeing with the first team is scary. The Saints are also using him in the 3-4 package a lot as the 4th linebacker. If he makes the roster and plays, it'll be less about his freakishly good camp, and more about the lack of the youngster's ability to grow up in a hurry. If that's the case, then we're not looking too good at linebacker depth.
Stanley Arnoux: He's an even bigger mystery than Ingram. All we know is that everyone says this kid could be amazing, but he spent all of last year on IR. Is he even a guarantee to make final cuts? No way. He's really going to need to make a statement in preseason. I would love nothing more than for him to play well enough to make guys like Ingram and Evans expendable. We shall see. Tons of questions marks surround Arnoux.
Marvin Mitchell: He's Vilma's backup at middle linebacker, and I'm sure he'll get some snaps in the 3-4 as well. I know Dunbar and Arnoux can play in the middle a bit, too, so Mitchell isn't guaranteed a roster spot. Still, I think he sticks around. Mitchell doesn't have the potential of some of our young backers, but he's a decent player.
Anthony Waters: He was a 3rd round pick once upon a time, but I think he's a longshot to make the squad. He'll need a rash of injuries ahead of him and a huge dose of luck to make it. The Saints thought enough of him that they brought him back to camp after he joined the team last year, but ultimately I see Dunbar, Arnoux and Evans all ahead of Waters in the pecking order. I don't see him as the starter but he's got an outside chance to make the team.
So I've listed the 7 linebackers that are competing for roster spots. We know Vilma and Shanle are on the team and will be opening day starters. The question is how many linebackers do the Saints keep? 6 or 7? That means 2 or 3 of the names you see above will be cut. Who starts at WLB and who doesn't make the 53 man roster in your opinion?