What's up Who Dats! I'm back with another Tee's Corner and today we focus on the linebacker group of the New Orleans Saints. Since the suspension and eventual loss of MLB Jonathan Vilma, the linebackers have been a major sore spot of the defense, even when the defensive line and secondary stepped up in 2013. The issue with the group has been that it's a collection of one-trick rush backers and poor coverage tackling machines - no all around solid linebackers. Development seems to be an issue as well or maybe the lack of a scheme that fits the players' strengths. So let's look at who's on the roster and how they've done as a group.
At inside linebacker, the Saints have veterans David Hawthorne, Ramon Humber, and youngster Kyle Knox. At outside linebacker, we have the Ronald Powell and Kassim Edebali heading in year two and veterans Parys Haralson and Junior Galette. This group as a whole does not have much in the form of versatility and limited leadership, especially with release of Curtis Lofton. A major problem for the unit is the inability to effectively cover, though you wouldn't believe it, they are actually ranked fairly high against opposing tight ends in coverage. That ranking is more than likely skewed by the use of safeties in coverage of tight ends. A bright spot has been Galette's pass rushing skills, but he doesn't give much more than that. Of all the position groups on the team, this one could use the greatest overhaul to move them beyond serviceable status. At the moment, the Saints have a group of high tackle total players or 'J.A.G.s', as Stujo would call them.
Square Peg, Round Hole
The Saints are not unique because they run a 3-4/4-3 hybrid, they are unique because they don't have the personnel to run the scheme properly. Since announcing a move to the 3-4 defense starting in 2013, the team has rarely come out and stayed in a 3-4 look. In fact, the team has used a basic 4-3 or 4-2-5 look most since defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's arrival. The players that are on the roster mostly seem to be 'tweeners for the positions they play most often. Galette seems to be a pass rushing defensive end who is listed as a linebacker and is too light to be a DE. Then there are the ILB who can only tackle, but not much else. Lofton has lead the team in tackles, year after year, but had no presence in pass rushing and even less in coverage. Humber and Hawthorne fit the same mold and it hurts the defense even more when they miss tackles or are asked to cover in the most basic way. Haralson is good against the run by most accounts, but is a situational guy who will not give you anything in pass coverage. The younger players who have yet to play substantial minutes seem to be more versatile, but far less experienced. To keep up for my Rookie Run-Downs, I watched as much of Powell and Edebali as possible. Powell mostly participated on special teams, but showed solid effort. Edebali saw more action than Powell on defensive snaps while appearing in all 16 games, but is also more of 'tweener. His build is similar to Galette's and he is also too light to play the DE role in the 4-3 fronts that have become common. In a multiple defense, you need versatile players who will give something in each area such as runs support and coverage and also pass rush where needed. Specialized, one-trick guys will typical yield results similar to 2014.
You've heard my opinion, now it's your turn. Do you believe that the entire LB group needs to be revamped? Or can Rob Ryan get a scheme together that works with the pieces at his disposal?
As always, thanks for reading and Be Cool Who Dats!