METAIRIE, La. The names of New Orleans' starting inside linebackers Friday night were relatively unknown.
Only the most informed of Saints fans could have told you who Ramon Humber and David Hawthorne were prior to it.
Now those previously concerned with the Saints' depth at inside linebacker are less so thanks to an extraordinary effort by Humber and a solid one by Hawthorne.
With Curtis Lofton forced to take three days off during preseason so far four including the preseason game against Oakland and Jonathan Vilma undergoing arthroscopic surgery to his left knee, it's likely that Humber, if not also Hawthorne, earned more playing time with their combined effort against the Raiders.
|Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants passes the ball under pressure from David Hawthorne #57 of the New Orleans Saints on December 9, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)|
'Both of those guys played well,' Saints coach Sean Payton said. 'With the snaps that they're receiving and the reps that they're receiving, going into the start of the season we just have to develop and train and be ready to play. Knowing how the season unfolds, all of these guys will end up in roles that are significant.'
Hawthorne finished with three tackles while Humber was all over the field, ending with a game-high nine tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit. The two combined to stuff Darren McFadden on a fourth-and-one on the opening series of the game.
But while those unfamiliar with the team didn't see it coming, those on it were unsurprised at the result.
'They come in here every day, work, extra film study,' Lofton said. 'Ask questions. If they don't understand something, they stay extra. That's just them. They've got a great work ethic and they come out in practice and do it every single day.'
Humber and Hawthorne made their way to New Orleans in different ways. The latter signed a multi-year multi-million dollar free agent deal in 2011. The former has signed multiple one-year contracts since 2010, playing a key special teams role in each of the past two seasons.
For Humber, the sudden spotlight isn't what he's looking for in football. Following practice Monday, he tried to quickly escape the throng of media assembled around the podium.
When stopped and asked about whether he liked the attention, he responded in a low tone, 'No, I do not to be honest.'
Still, he answered the questions, saying he gained confidence in his performance Friday. But he's not allowing himself to let his ego grow beyond its means.
'Me, just in general, I know what I can do, how I can perform,' Humber said. 'Just being able to go out there and have a game like that, it's (brought) up a little bit more, but I've still got to be humble, still got to look at the details that you messed up on.'
Humber and Hawthorne are entering their fifth and sixth seasons in the NFL, respectively, and that's a significant point in their careers. Including Lofton, who also is entering his sixth year, three of New Orleans' top four choices at inside linebacker are entering their prime football years.
'Football has got to slow down,' Lofton said. 'It slowed down for me and it's starting to slow down for those guys. You can see that in how they played this past week.'