Linebacker Battle Royale in Saints New 3-4 Scheme

USA TODAY Sports

The fourth submission in our writer search debates the 3-4 linebacker camp battles.

Our search for fresh new front page talent here on Canal Street Chronicles continues. In case you missed the introduction to our little talent search, be sure to read it first before continuing. Remember, any and all criticism must be 100% constructive and positive in nature. Keep Da Chronic classy!

Now I present to you the fourth submission of our writer search.

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Let the battle begin! Rob Ryan presents to Saints fans what is probably the most interesting competition of this off-season. Who will be the men left standing (on the roster) when the team cuts the roster down to 53?

With the change to the 3-4 defense, the Saints are auditioning all different types of players for the new system. From UDFAs to veteran defensive linemen, it is obvious that Rob Ryan and the Saints defensive coaching unit will do whatever it takes to get the best 4 players on the field. In camp, there are 15 players hoping to make the impact necessary to turn one of the worst defenses in history into a respectable unit, on a Saints team that has been near or at the top offensively every season in the Drew Brees era. Arguably, a turnaround in performance from the linebacker unit could make the biggest impact on a defense that needs to have a better showing in 2013.

Of the 15 players involved in Ryan's "Battle Royale," only 5 of them played any decent amount of time as a Saints linebacker in 2012. While some of the competitors for the linebacker positions are familiar names (Will Smith, Junior Galette, Martez Wilson), there is hope that the scheme change and position change will help showcase their strengths more this season than last.

There are a few guys in this competition that may be considered longshots to make the roster. But as we have learned in the past, the Saints have proven that they are not afraid to take a chance on a kid if he shows tremendous work ethic and effort on the field over a proven veteran. For example, an UDFA out of Fordham named Isa Abdul-Quddus beat out two veteran safeties and productive special teamers in Pierson Prioleau and Chris Reis. At the time, I was pretty surprised that Prioleau was cut, but the potential of Isa shows us that these guys know what they are doing.

Ray Shipman: Listed as a 2nd teamer in OTAs at ILB, the Central Florida alum is a heck of an athlete. He transferred from the University of Florida, where he played basketball. Shipman had 91 tackles as a senior and made the all-academic team in his conference. This kid seems like a hard worker and could be one of those sneaky picks to actually make the roster over a veteran guy.

Eric Martin: He already has the name to be one of the Saints' greatest players ever, but does he have the ability? It seems like he needs to put on a little weight to be effective at the NFL level, but he has very good speed (mid 4.5 in the 40, but around 240 lbs). He seems like more of a practice squad guy or a cut, but if he can prove to have NFL level instincts, his speed could be a nice addition.

Kevin Reddick: Will the Chronicles of Reddick begin in a Saints uniform on September 8th? As a projected 4th round pick, the Saints were fortunate to grab him as an UDFA. He was a 4 year starter at North Carolina and earned first team all-conference honors as a senior. With some question marks at the ILB position, Reddick might grab one of these LB spots.

Chase Thomas: Andrew Luck's old teammate was projected as high as a 2nd round pick on some mock draft boards, but his combine results may have had an effect on his stock. As an early favorite to actually make this roster, Thomas will need to prove that he has the strength and speed to get to the ball carrier on run plays and be effective on the pass rush against elite NFL blocking.

Rufus Johnson: EXCELLENT! Bill and Ted are glad you can make it Rufus. Mr. Ryan needed someone to come in and help last year's historically bad defense turn the page to our next chapter of Saints history. Honestly, I don't know much about this guy. But the Saints obviously do, making him their 6th round pick in this year's draft. Could he be this year's Akiem Hicks?

After playing around with the CSC Interactive Roster (thanks again guys), I do not see the Saints placing any more than 9 linebackers on the 53 man roster. Since I included Will Smith in the 15 players competing for a LB spot and he will most likely make the team in that spot or as a defensive lineman, it's fair to say at most that 8 linebacker spots will be open. With Lofton, Hawthorne, and Butler certain to make the final cut, only 5 spots remain for what seems to be a very talented pool to pick from. I'm glad it's you and not me Rob, because I nearly pulled my hair out just trying to make it fit on the interactive roster.

So what do you do Saints fans? Will unproven youth like Shipman, Reddick, or Thomas take over roster spots formerly held by veterans and special teamers like Herring, Chamberlain, and Humber? Will Martez and Junior finally get their shot at regular playing time or will their chances to shine run out? Do you keep certain guys because of their better ability to cover the pass while potentially cutting someone who could be a good pass rusher? (We seem to have a lot of potential pass rush guys and not enough potentially good coverage LBs) Is there a realistic chance that Vilma gets cut? Is there a chance that Rob Ryan starts chewing Juicy Fruit?

There is no doubt that all eyes should be on the linebacker unit when the Saints take the field this preseason. This "Battle Royale" will be an interesting one. Let's hope the survivors will be ready for the war in the Dome with Atlanta on September 8th.

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