Saints: Who could stay and who could go - Linebackers

Saints: Who could stay and who could go - Linebackers

Credit: AP

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is pressured by New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (98) during the second quarter of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 3, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 3 at 3:03 PM

With the season now in the rearview mirror – though some would say not far enough behind with wounds still open – we believe at WWLTV.com it’s time to hit on our yearly “roster check,” our assessment of who should be or should not be with the club come training camp in July.

We don’t think this will help close the wound that the playoff game opened. It might, in fact, open it more and for that we apologize.

For the next few work week days, we’ll go position group by position group (secondary, linebackers, defensive line, offensive line and skill players) and give our opinions on the players and situations.

Linebackers
Weakside: Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas, Nate Bussey
Strongside: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Martez Wilson
Middle: Jonathan Vilma, Ramon Humber

Shanle: Those who are emotionally tied to the Black and Gold have had Shanle on the chopping block pretty much since arrived in New Orleans. And every year, he fought off the naysayers. In 2011, he finished fourth on the team with 84 stops, had one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. But if Shanle is cut, it won’t be a salary cap move. It’ll be because finally the game has passed him by. Shanle will be in his 10th NFL season and as a linebacker, that’s a long time. With a new defensive coordinator, we see this as the year he’s let go in a bid to get younger and more athletic.

Casillas: So much potential. So many injuries. That’s the book on Casillas. As a restricted free agent, it’ll be interested to see not only if the Saints tender him, but what they tender him at. Regardless of the level, I don’t see another team matching it. Casillas has proven, at least when he’s on the field, to be a solid linebacker. Casillas is likely back with the Saints in 2012.

Bussey: This seventh-round pick was on the practice squad throughout the 2011 season and wasn’t bumped to the active roster until the playoffs. He made his debut in the wild-card round against Detroit and rewarded the coaches with a penalty on special teams. He was inactive against San Francisco. He’s young but could have a bright future as a special-teamer. Bussey will likely be back with New Orleans on the practice squad.

Dunbar: Dunbar started 14 games, including five at middle linebacker in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma. And in those starts, he proved that he’s not only athletic enough, but smart enough to run things. He was third on the team in tackles and his seven passes defensed were the most among linebackers. The problem? Dunbar is an unrestricted free agent now. We suspect that even with that fact, Dunbar will be back.

Wilson: Wilson was drafted to be the next strongside linebacker. By the end of the season, he was being used more all over the place. But one play stands out to show how bright his future could be – Wilson chased down elusive Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, sacking him for a 16-yard loss in the season finale. Wilson will return in 2012.

Vilma: We’re start with one word that likely will be lobbed our way in a second – blasphemy. Vilma began to show bodily wear and tear this season after getting his knee injured in the second week of the season. He ended up missing five games (all Saints wins) and, whether due to the injured knee or not, appeared a step slower than he has been. Though he has two seasons left on his contract, if the Saints cut Vilma, they could save $3.36 million off the salary cap and they have to start saving money somewhere. If they re-sign Dunbar, they’d fill the middle linebacker spot with someone every bit as smart and athletic and, most importantly, younger, than Vilma. We see Vilma being let go. If this were to happen, we’ll know sooner rather than later. Our only hesitation – linebackers coach Joe Vitt is a huge fan of Vilma.

Humber: Humber was with the team in preseason, was cut before the regular season began and returned Sept. 28. He picked up several starts late in the season and finished with 24 total tackles. But his biggest contributions came on special teams. He’s not expensive and he’s a known commodity. We can see him sticking around in 2012.

Injured Reserve
Herring
Herring signed with the Saints prior to the 2011 season looking for a place as a starter. Unfortunately for Herring, he proved brittle. Other than one very impressive interception against the Giants, he was nondescript.  He spent five weeks inactive with a hamstring injury and missed much of the preseason with a calf injury. The Saints could save a little more than $1 million of salary cap room for, we don’t, Drew Brees? Carl Nicks? Marques Colston? We don’t suspect Herring is long for the Saints locker room.

Hunter: Jeremiha Hunter signed on as an undrafted rookie free agent and then went on injured reserve early on. But obviously the Saints saw enough in him that they wanted to keep him on IR the entire season instead of coming to an injury settlement. We think Hunter will be back as a practice squad guy.
 

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