Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ed Hardy Take: Saints Linebackers

The Following is an Ed Hardy Take... if you don't speak his lingo, perhaps you should purchase an Ed Hardy-To-English-Dictionary: In addition---these are HIS views not mine... I particularly disagree with my grammatically challenged friend in terms of the 3-4 being so drastically different from the 4-3 defense.  The Saints will line up in a 2-5, a 2-4, a 3-3, etc. defense at times if you want to get technical in terms of bodies at or near the line of scrimmage. Mr. Hardy is stuck in the 90's with his wardrobe and his football jargon! With that said, take it away E-H!! 

Ever since the Sean Payton era began in 2006, the Saints have never had a formidable outside linebacker. Scrambling to put together a team in 2006, the Saints were able to secure two journeyman OLB's in Shanle & Fujitia. Where they lacked in the physical department they made up for with their instincts and ability to be in the right places at the right times. Year after year the Saints never seriously addresses this position and father time crept up on these two as they became major liabilities in passing coverage and on the outside versus run game.

Even in the 2009 Super Bowl season, the leading sack and pressure guys came from the secondary and not the linebacking corps. Now the cornerstones are long gone and the Saints are still relying on journeyman free-agent linebackers like Chamberlain, Hawthorne, Herring and the latest Victor Butler. Chamberlain never played a snap last year, Hawthorne was in and out with injuries as well as Herring. And just a week ago, the stud free-agent LOLB Victor Butler is gone for the season with an ACL injury. Back to the trash heap??

Some loyalists (apologists really) argue that the outside linebacker position is not a crucial one in the Saints attack mode style of defense, that Rob Ryan will employ just like his predecessor Greg Williams. And I must say that is the furthest thing from the truth. Granted the defense the Saints will run in 2013 will be just like Gregg Williams old defenses, attacking from where you least expect it. However today's NFL offenses do NOT react  they DICTATE and they will find mismatches especially with the two TE sets and running backs coming out of the backfield towards the weak OLB of the Saints. And now the Saints will be employing an entirely new defense full-time, the 3-4. Alarming? Answer: hell yes.

Let's face it, The OLB position will once again be the weak link on the Saints defense. Will Smith, Junior Gellette, and Martez Wilson all prefer to be the Rush only guy. That's great but we need a real playmaker, a guy who can go ahead up on TE and cover RBs sideline to sideline when necessary. We need a left OLB with the knowledge of this kind of defense (3-4).

Some fans think this transition will not be as hard as it appears as the Saints have employed portions of the 3-4 defense in seasons past. Problem is, the 3-4 defense will be the Saints BASE defense and the painful truth is that we do not have the personnel to field outside linebacker position. 

Candidates to fill the Butler gaping hole as the lead 3-4 left outside linebacker are:

David Hawthorne- Could easily be a cap casualty if he doesn't blowup and start playing, but he does have the skill set and now has a real opportunity to land this role if he stays healthy and has a good camp

Martez Wilson- This poor guy has been shuffled all over the defense since his arrival. However this new position really could suit him well if he learns the playbook. His coverage skills maybe lacking but he completely makes up for it with his versatility and athleticism. Really hope he wins this job

Junior Gallette- The Saints fan favorite for the past several years. He is the perfect rush edge guy but is it too much to ask him to take Butler's role? He's better off staying just the rush man but you never know.

Rufus Johnson- You got a love the unknown here. Rookie. Don't expect him to be week one starter however he is getting rave reviews due to his enormous size and deceptive speed. Very interested to see if they keep him at the LOLB or slide him inside on the DL

Just being honest here fellas, as our offense will keep on keeping on. The defense has to step up and it looks like our secondary is much better with the acquisitions of Lewis, Vacarro and Leohnard.  The D line only has to plug in three positions and were all set there, with depth. My eyes will be all over this LOLB position as it is the key to the 3-4 defense. Without a playmaker and leader there, the Saints D will once again be a headless beast (no pun intended Greg Williams). But that is why there is a training camp and you never know who will step up and take the reins. All I know is our defense can't be any worse than it was last year. However this position still is the biggest need and concern the team has going into training camp.

Here FLETCH and I break it down more on the Tim Fletcher Show as always.

-Ed Hardy reporting