The linebacker corps for the New Orleans Saints last year was one of the biggest flaws of the entire defense. Manti Te’o stepped up in a huge way and Craig Robertson again played starters snaps after being forced into duty for the second year in a row, but injuries to Week 1 starters left the Saints reeling all season.
Now AJ Klein is back and healthy. Alex Anzalone is back and healthy. The Saints signed Demario Davis, formerly of the New York Jets, this offseason. And the Saints still have the aforementioned Robertson and Te’o vying for snaps. Hau’oli Kikaha has been playing at Linebacker in training camp, and looks to be another player fighting for time at linebacker.
So it should come as no surprise then that when Bleacher Report listed the biggest looming questions hanging over each team as we continue into the preseason, the Saints front office’s decisions with the Linebackers made the list for New Orleans:
At full strength, the New Orleans Saints have layers of depth at linebacker. Craig Robertson, A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o led the team in snaps at the position last year, but roles will change for the upcoming season.
Alex Anzalone, a 2017 third-rounder, suffered a right shoulder injury during his rookie year and returned to action. He is competing for a prominent role on the weak side. The Saints signed Demario Davis to three-year, $24 million deal, which puts his annual salary among the top 10 at his position, per Spotrac. He’s all but ensured a starting spot.
Hau’oli Kikaha has moved back to linebacker. When healthy, he’s shown the ability to rush the passer off the edge. As a 2015 second-rounder, he has potential, but the 26-year-old could face an uphill battle because of his position’s instability and his injury history. Veterans Nathan Stupar and Jayrone Elliott also find themselves in the mix, but it’s unlikely either earns a starting role.
The linebacker corps comes into the year with extensive experience. The position battles on the back end of the front seven should come down to splitting hairs. Nonetheless, we’re going to see a new combination at the heart of the Saints defense.
If I had to guess, I would say Davis, Anzalone and Klein are your starting three Linebackers when the Saints roll with a traditional 3 linebacker set. That pushes Craig Robertson (and fellow journeyman Nate Stupar) back into primarily special teams roles. Te’o I could see coming in on obvious running downs and Kikaha comes in on blitz packages on third and longs.
But there is still a lot to be determined between now and Week 1. We’ll see how it all shakes out.