Under the new roster cut rules that force teams to reduce their total number of players from 90 to 53, the Saints have made a flurry of moves over the past two days. Among the cuts so far, for me, linebacker Michael Mauti’s stands out most.
A native of Mandeville, Mauti was in attendance as a fan the night Steve Gleason blocked the Falcon’s punt in their Superdome debut following Hurricane Katrina. Last year, Mauti made an eerily similar play by blocking a Falcon punt, recovering it, and scoring a touchdown.
**PUNT BLOCK FOR A TD ALERT**— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2015
The Falcons just wanted to punt it.
Michael Mauti had other ideas. #ATLvsNO #TNF http://t.co/S9GWUb2StK
In fact, Mauti functioned as Special Teams Captain in 2016 and filled in at strong-side linebacker before going on injured reserve while battling a complicated and debilitating case of ulcerative colitis. Following three separate surgeries, Mauti fought hard gaining back weight and returning to football shape.
But his amazing effort was not enough to warrant a spot on the Saints 2017 roster. Besides Mauti himself, perhaps no one was more upset leaving him off the roster than head coach Sean Payton.
"He's one of those guys that we think a lot of," coach Sean Payton said of Mauti. "He's got a tremendous amount of courage and heart. To go through what he had to go through this offseason, it obviously puts you behind when you're not involved in a full offseason. But when the summer finished up, he was able to kind of get back in the swing of things. I thought he played better probably towards the end of camp, particularly (Thursday). He had some of his better snaps in the special teams, and it just came down to a decision we had made.”
"When it involves a player like that who epitomizes really everything that you're looking for," Payton said, "those are the ones that are more difficult. And I'm pulling for him, and we'll see what transpires here over the weekend. But he's a special guy.”
Last year, Mauti was a special teams ace and border line starter. This year, the linebacker position is so drastically more talented, he’s an unfortunate after-thought. I truly hope Mauti finds success with another team as he certainly deserves the chance to play on an NFL roster. But I’m also super excited about the 360 degree turnaround at the Saints’ linebacker position.
All throughout the preseason, it’s been impossible not to notice the standout play from the linebacker position. They have been flying around the field, swarming to the ball, finishing tackles, and breaking up passes left, right, and center. Rookie Alex Anzalone looks like a legitimate NFL starter. Manti Teo and A.J. Klein look like solid free agent acquisitions. Even former CFL star Adam Bighill is playing so well, he might just force his way onto this now crowded roster.
Mauti’s cut signals the drastic upturn at the linebacker position, but if Stephone Anthony makes the 53 man roster, that signals an even more important positive change. Under former linebackers coach, Joe Vitt, the Saints failed to draft and develop one quality linebacker in 11 years.
Under new linebacker coach Mike Nolan, the Saints have already drafted a potential star in Anzalone and given new life to players like Teo and Anthony, who were nearly cast away as either broken or incompetent.
The future looks bright at the linebacker position Saints fans. Remember last year when dump passes and third option check-down passes would routinely slash the Saints linebackers for first downs? That’s not happening this year because the Saints finally have talent at the position and a coach who knows how to utilize it.