When you think about a defense, you probably start with the defensive line knowing how important they are by getting pressure on the quarterback. Then your next thought would be the secondary, having to cover the receivers and tight ends and hopefully prevent the big play from happening. So here is my question to you: why would you not start off with the linebackers? They are arguably the most important position on the defense. At the second level, a linebacker could be the difference between stopping a potential big run or missing the gap and giving it up. But there is a lot more to the position than that. The Saints have had their fair share of solid linebackers in their team history. The Dome Patrol of Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, and Vaughn Johnson was without a doubt one of the best in NFL history. Imagine if they were around with this offense in today’s game (talk about a real-life cheat code). Since then, there has not been a set of linebackers that have quite gotten to that level. The 2009 core of Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, and the fan favorite Scott Shanle were the closest from a productivity standpoint, helping lead the team to a Super Bowl victory.
In the midst of this season, the Saints find themselves at the top of the NFC South, on a 9-game winning streak and looking to get the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With the offense always performing, the defense has slowly but surely improved every week and the credit needs to be given to an improved linebacking core. Demario Davis has been a big part of it as a free agent acquisition from the New York Jets. He has brought leadership and veteran presence that has been lacking since Vilma departed. A.J. Klein was signed last year from the Carolina Panthers to be a communicator after backing up Luke Kuechly and has finally become comfortable on the outside. Alex Anzalone was drafted last year in the 3rd round and has really come into his own after a shoulder injury ended his season early last season. Let’s not forget about Manti Te’o, who signed last year from the Chargers. He stepped up big time last year when injuries hurt the team down the road. You can’t forget about Craig Robertson who is practically the Swiss Army knife when he is called upon.
This group has quietly been a big factor in guiding this team week in and week out. They may not be making the big plays with sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions. However, they are making the plays happen before it occurs by communicating with their teammates to put them in the right positions to stop the opposing offense. Not to mention the versatility that each player possesses barring any injuries. Credit has to be given to coach Mike Nolan, who is one of the best in the business at developing players and finding the right spot for them to succeed. This core of linebackers has the potential to be among the best in the NFL as long as they stay healthy and continue to play at the highest level. As long as they take it one game at a time, one play at a time, the sky is the limit. Only time will tell, but the future is looks bright for this core.