NFC South: Will Herring

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team's need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Lofton
Curtis Lofton. Age 27, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $3.2 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $5.2 million.

David Hawthorne. Age 28, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $2 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $3.51 million.

Parys Haralson. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Jonathan Vilma. Age 31, unrestricted free agent.

Ramon Humber. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.

Will Herring. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Kevin Reddick. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $496,666.

Analysis:

As I wrote earlier, I broke down the Saints' front seven into three categories (interior linemen, edge rushers and linebackers) since they run a hybrid between a 4-3 and a 3-4. So this is essentially the group of true linebackers who play in space, rather than the pass-rushing linebackers such as Junior Galette.

This may not seem like one of the Saints' most glaring needs since Lofton and Hawthorne played so well this past season. But look how thin the list gets behind those two veterans. I think it would be especially helpful for the Saints to look at this group in the draft since they need to inject youth and athleticism -- someone who could rotate into the mix right away and develop into a future starter.

Just imagine how much more potent this defense would be with an outside linebacker like Tampa Bay's Lavonte David or Carolina's Thomas Davis roaming the flats. And I ranked this list even before Seattle outside linebacker Malcolm Smith was named Super Bowl MVP, but it seems especially fitting now.

As for the guys who are under contract, I think the Saints are set with their two starting inside linebackers, Lofton and Hawthorne. Lofton played especially well down the stretch this past season, and he has been a great addition as an every-down middle linebacker, captain and leader of the defense. What a smooth transition he has made since arriving as a free agent in 2012. Hawthorne, on the other hand, struggled when he first arrived in 2012, mostly because of injuries. But he bounced back this past year and played at a high level. Hawthorne's contract could become an issue in 2015, but for now he comes at a good rate.

Reddick will also be back, and I could see him playing a more prominent role after he earned playing time as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He played a lot on special teams and joined the defense in jumbo packages. He could have a future as an inside linebacker if he continues to deliver on his potential.

The two biggest question marks among the unrestricted free agents are Vilma and Haralson. I know the popular opinion is that Vilma will be gone after he missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, and he'll be 32 in the spring. However, if he wants to try and play this summer, the Saints would be the team most likely to give him that opportunity since he's been such a valued member of the organization. Haralson is also coming off of a season-ending pectoral injury, but I could also see him back at a minimal contract after he seemed like such a good veteran fit in a part-time role last year.

Humber and Herring are two of the Saints' most valued special teamers, so they could both be back. Humber showed promise as a backup middle linebacker in the summer, as well, so his versatility is valuable.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
4:44
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Time for an afternoon run through some news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Although he’s having a sensational preseason, undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow still is listed with the third team on the latest depth chart. Let’s keep in mind that depth charts are unofficial in the preseason. I think Worrilow has opened a lot of eyes and has a very good chance to make the roster as a backup and special-teams player.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Bryan Strickland takes a look at some of the areas in which the Panthers will have to make tough decisions when it comes time to trim the roster. I think the most compelling spot is at wide receiver. Starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are locks. After that, there’s a logjam of receivers that includes Armanti Edwards, Ted Ginn Jr., Domenik Hixon, Kealoha Pilares, David Gettis and Joe Adams. Ginn almost certainly sticks around due to his return ability. Edwards seems to have worked his way into the good graces of the coaching staff and is likely to stay. Gettis, who has dealt with major injuries the past two years, has had a very good preseason and could end up as the fifth receiver.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints are looking thin at linebacker with Will Herring missing practice Tuesday. Jonathan Vilma, Junior Galette and Chris Chamberlain already have missed a lot of practice time.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy takes exception to the criticism Josh Freeman has been getting recently and said the quarterback is a team leader. Some media and fans are down on Freeman, but I think he still has the confidence of his teammates, which is hugely important.

NFC South afternoon update

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
6:13
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It’s been a quiet afternoon in the NFC South, but we have a few minor news items to touch on.

The New Orleans Saints are bringing back Will Herring, according to Bradley Handwerger. They recently released him because he’s a 4-3 linebacker and they’re switching to a 3-4 scheme.

But it’s pretty obvious what this move is all about. The Saints are bringing Herring back at a lower salary because they want him to play on special teams.

In other news, the Carolina Panthers will sign wide receiver/return man Ted Ginn. He spent the past three years in San Francisco, but wasn’t nearly as productive as he was in Miami during the first three seasons of his career.

By bringing in Ginn, the Panthers have made it pretty obvious they’re not sold on Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams or Armanti Edwards.
The New Orleans Saints have found a way to keep veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith while still getting under the salary cap.

Larry Holder reports the Saints have restructured the contracts of Vilma and Smith, who were scheduled to count more than $23 million against the salary cap. It’s unclear how much cap space the restructures created, but it’s fair to assume both players took significant pay cuts. The Saints also released linebacker Will Herring.

But Vilma and Smith will have to go through a big transition as the Saints switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. Smith still will play defensive end, but the change will be more pronounced for Vilma. He did not fit in a 3-4 scheme with the New York Jets earlier in his career and thrived in the middle after joining New Orlans’ 4-3 system.

But coach Sean Payton has said he’s confident Vilma can be a productive inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
Back when Curtis Lofton left the Atlanta Falcons for the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, he did it because he wanted to be an every-down linebacker.

Lofton has said the Falcons made it clear to him shortly after the arrival of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan that he’d come off the field on passing downs. The Saints lured Lofton largely by telling him he’d be an every-down linebacker in their system.

He ended up coming very close to literally being an every-down linebacker. The Saints had 1,137 defensive plays. Lofton was on the field for a team-high 1,121 (98.59 percent) of those plays.

Let’s take a look at the playing-time percentage breakdown for the rest of the New Orleans defense:

Five Saints on the cap bubble

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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After signing some players to futures contracts, the New Orleans Saints now have $140.9 million committed toward the 2013 salary cap.

That means the Saints will have to trim more than $20 million just to get under the cap at the start of free agency in March. They’ll have to trim even more than that if they want to re-sign left tackle Jermon Bushrod and some other potential free agents. And they’ll need more room if they want to pursue any free agents from outside.

There is no doubt general manager Mickey Loomis will clear some of that room by restructuring some existing contracts. That’s a tactic Loomis has used frequently in the past. But restructuring alone isn’t going to get the Saints to where they need to be.

They’re going to have to release some players to get under the cap. Let’s take a look at some candidates:

Will Smith: The defensive end has a $14.5 million cap figure, which is second only to Drew Brees. The Saints could free up $7.7 million by releasing Smith.

Roman Harper: The veteran safety has a $7.1 million cap figure. The Saints could clear $3.6 million in cap space by releasing him.

Jonathan Vilma: He has a cap figure of $8.6 million. Releasing Vilma would free up $6 million in cap space.

Pierre Thomas: He still is a quality running back, who could have some trade value. But the emergence of Mark Ingram and the cap situation could make Thomas expendable. There would be no salary-cap hit if the Saints released Thomas and they would free up $2.5 million. If they’re going to let Thomas go it will come before the third day of the league year, when he’s scheduled to earn a $300,000 bonus.

Will Herring: The Saints haven’t gotten much out of this linebacker. He’s scheduled to count $1.9 million against the cap. Releasing him would clear up $1.6 million in cap space.

Saints face another bumpy offseason

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
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The bounty scandal may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean the New Orleans Saints are in for a quiet offseason.

Coach Sean Payton has to get reinstated from his season-long suspension and presumably signed to a new contract extension. His previous deal was voided by the NFL due to some language in the contract and that’s led to speculation that Payton could jump elsewhere.

There still could be some turbulence on that front. But even if things go smoothly with the reinstatement and the contract, the Saints still face a huge offseason issue: the salary cap.

At the moment, the Saints have $137.5 million committed toward the 2013 cap. That’s second only to the New York Jets ($142.5 million). The exact cap won’t be set until the spring, but the NFL has told teams to prepare as if the cap is going to be $120 million. It’s likely to be a little higher than that, but the Saints are going to be way over whatever the cap is.

That means they’re going to have to make some difficult choices because they have a lot of veterans with big cap numbers. Undoubtedly, they’ll restructure some deals and quarterback Drew Brees, who has the biggest cap figure at $17.4 million isn’t going anywhere.

But the Saints, who also will need to make room to re-sign some of their own free agents and pursue players from other teams (and, later on, sign a draft class), almost certainly will have to release some big-name players to get under the cap by March.

I’m looking at the individual cap figures for 2013 and here’s a list of guys that jumped out at me as being candidates for restructure or release:

Around the NFC South

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
10:41
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Let’s take a look at the top Thursday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter reflects on the comment the elder Jim Mora once made about Michael Vick being a "coach killer." Vick’s inconsistency led to Dan Reeves and the younger Jim Mora getting fired in Atlanta. With Vick turning the ball over a lot, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid suddenly appears to be on the hot seat. I get the argument. But there also have been some times throughout his career when Vick has made coaches look good.

Daniel Cox writes that the Falcons are tuning out talk about them being the best team in the NFL. That’s a smart approach. It doesn’t really matter who is the best team in October. It matters who’s at the top of their game in December and January.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ron Rivera still is the coach, but I think it’s fair to speculate because everything appears to be in chaos with the Panthers. Charlie Campbell speculates that Mike Holmgren might be a good fit as a coach in Carolina, if Rivera goes. Makes some sense. Holmgren has developed quarterbacks and the Panthers need to get Cam Newton playing to his potential. But owner Jerry Richardson might not go that route. The only time he hired a recycled head coach was when he brought in George Seifert and that was a disaster.

After his firing as general manager Monday, Marty Hurney said the Panthers needed more guys to step up and be leaders. Newton said he’s taking that as a challenge to be more of a leader. If that works, that comment could end up being Hurney’s final significant contribution to the Panthers.

Charlotte city leaders, who are expected to be asked for help with Bank of America Stadium renovations, toured MetLife Stadium, to get a look at a state-of-the art facility. The Panthers haven’t officially asked for government help yet, but city officials seem to expect that’s coming. The best way to get tax payers to go along with this willingly might be for the Panthers to put a better product on the field.

NEW ORLEANS

Cornerback Tracy Porter spent the last four years with the Saints before joining Denver as a free agent. Porter said there are no hard feelings and playing the Saints doesn’t make the game special for him. But Porter admitted it will be weird lining up against his teammates.

It took until Wednesday, but defensive end Cameron Jordan finally got credit for a sack and a forced fumble in Sunday’s win at Tampa Bay. Linebacker Will Herring initially got the credit. But the NFL office reviewed film of the play and gave the credit to Jordan.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rick Stroud writes that the pass defense needs to improve. That’s pretty obvious after Drew Brees tore up the Bucs last week. The Bucs have some talent in the secondary, but they’ve had some trouble with miscommunications. It might also help if the Bucs start generating more of a pass rush than they did Sunday, when Brees wasn’t pressured at all.

Speaking of the Tampa Bay pass rush, Dory LeBlanc has her five keys for Thursday night’s game with the Vikings and one of them is for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett to be more active. If any of Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen have a chance to put consistent pressure on Christian Ponder, it’s these two. They have to get more pressure on Ponder than they did on Brees.

Saints: Jonathan Vilma will not start

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
11:59
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TAMPA, Fla. – At least according to their pre-game press release, the New Orleans Saints will not start linebacker Jonathan Vilma against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Vilma was activated from the physically unable to perform list Saturday. Although linebacker David Hawthorne is inactive due to injury, the Saints are saying Will Herring will start in his place. But Vilma likely will get some playing time as a backup. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that the Saints plan to give Vilma 20 to 30 plays.

I’m at Raymond James Stadium and I’ll also be keeping an eye on the game between Carolina and Dallas on television. I’ll be back with halftime observations on the Saints and Bucs and will weigh in if anything significant develops before then.

Feel free to use the comments section below to discuss the game between the Bucs and Saints and the contest between the Panthers and Cowboys.

Checking injuries that matter most

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
4:02
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The Friday injury reports for Sunday’s games are out, so let’s take a look at the most significant injuries around the NFC South.

Atlanta is listing safety William Moore (hip), center Todd McClure (pectoral) and fullback Lousaka Polite (hamstring) as questionable. If Moore can’t go, veteran Chris Hope likely would get the start. If McClure is out, the Falcons could go with either Joe Hawley or Peter Konz. If Polite sits out, I’d expect to see some of Jason Snelling at fullback, but I’d also expect to see the Falcons do the same thing they did last week and use some reserve offensive linemen at fullback.

The Carolina Panthers could be without two key defensive players as they play Seattle. Middle linebacker Jon Beason (knee) and cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) did not practice Friday and are listed as doubtful. The Panthers could play it safe and start Jason Phillips in the middle. Or they could take a chance and move outside linebacker Luke Kuechly to the middle, where he played in college. Kuechly isn’t off to a great start and switching positions could make things more difficult for him. Second-year pro Josh Thomas is the likely alternative if Gamble can’t go.

Receiver Lance Moore and linebacker David Hawthorne have been ruled out for Sunday night’s game with San Diego. With Moore out, veteran Greg Camarillo, who was re-signed this week, should get some playing time. Hawthorne missed last week’s game and so did his backup, Jonathan Casillas. But Casillas is expected to play this week, so the Saints will have to choose between him and Will Herring.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a bye, so there is no injury report for them.

Checking the injuries that matter most

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
5:02
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The final injury reports are in for Sunday’s game, so let’s take a look at the most significant injuries around the division.

The news isn’t good for a New Orleans defense that already was struggling. Linebackers David Hawthorne and Jonathan Casillas and defensive end Turk McBride have been declared out for Sunday’s game at Green Bay. Casillas had been backing up Hawthorne. With both of them out, Will Herring appears likely to get the start.

Carolina middle linebacker Jon Beason (knee and shoulder) practiced Friday. Coach Ron Rivera said the team will see how sore Beason is Sunday before making a decision on his status. If Beason can’t play against Atlanta, Jason Phillips is expected to start in the middle. Running back Jonathan Stewart is listed as probable and expected to play for just the second time this season.

The Falcons have declared tight end Michael Palmer, cornerback Christopher Owens, running back Antone Smith and fullback Lousaka Polite out for Sunday. That means Dominique Franks likely will be used as the nickel back and running back Jason Snelling probably will get some time at fullback. Tommy Gallarda is expected to take Palmer’s place as the backup tight end.

The Buccaneers are relatively healthy compared to the other three teams. Reserve cornerback Anthony Gaitor is out for Sunday, but everyone else (including guard Carl Nicks and cornerback E.J. Biggers) is no worse than probable.

NFC South evening update

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
6:16
PM ET
Let’s take a Thursday evening look at the top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Arthur Blank was one of several owners that were instrumental in getting a deal finalized between the NFL and officials. Blank admitted the ending of Monday night’s game between Green Bay and Seattle helped create a sense of urgency. But Blank said the prospect of sending replacement officials into Lambeau Field on Sunday wasn’t why the deal got done. Although Green Bay fans might not have been happy with the result in Seattle, Blank said Lambeau crowds are very polite and there wasn’t concern about the safety of replacement officials.

Defensive end John Abraham attributed being charged with obstructing law-enforcement officials on Monday was due to “bad timing." When pressed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for his side of what happened, Abraham stayed clear of going into any detail. Abraham obviously still has to deal with legal implications. But his arrest came a week after running back Michael Turner was charged with DUI. The Falcons are very conscious of their public image and recent events can’t be sitting well in some important places. Coach Mike Smith is a genuinely nice man, but he’s also not afraid to be stern. I think it’s safe to say the Falcons have been told there better not be any more trouble.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Charlotte Observer explains the logic behind Kevin Siers’ cartoon on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. The newspaper said Siers was just poking fun at the absurd – Newton celebrating a touchdown when the Panthers were losing badly. In other words, Siers simply was doing his job. It might be a difficult concept for fans to grasp, but the media has to look at things from both sides.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason is dealing with knee and shoulder injuries. Coach Ron Rivera said, if Beason can’t play Sunday at Atlanta, the Panthers will not move rookie Luke Kuechly into the middle, a position he played in college. That’s probably a wise move because Kuechly clearly is still adjusting to NFL life as an outside linebacker. Moving him now probably would lead to some mistakes. If Beason can’t go, the Panthers will start Jason Phillips in the middle.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Linebackers David Hawthorne and Jonathan Casillas missed another day of practice with injuries. It’s looking more and more like Will Herring will be starting against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Running back Chris Ivory, who has been inactive in the first three games, said he’s received no feedback about how to get some playing time. The Saints appear content to go with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram as their top three running backs. Makes you wonder why the Saints, who certainly could use some help on defense, decided to keep Ivory and rookie Travaris Cadet, who has been active for one game but doesn’t have a carry, on the roster.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

More and more, I think Tampa Bay’s decision to unload tight end Kellen Winslow in the offseason was a smart move. The Bucs traded him to Seattle and the Seahawks ended up cutting him. Winslow recently signed with New England and, on Thursday, asked to be released. Winslow’s always been a free spirit and recent events have shown that hasn’t changed. Coach Greg Schiano doesn’t seem to like free spirits. It’s better the Bucs got rid of Winslow early in Schiano’s first offseason program. If they had kept Winslow around longer, it’s likely things would have ended badly.

Martin Fennelly writes that the Bucs need to free up quarterback Josh Freeman. I couldn’t agree more. This kid has talent and he’s finally got a supporting cast. Let him spread his wings and fly. If that doesn’t happen, Tampa Bay’s offense never is going to take off.
Click here for the complete list of New Orleans Saints roster moves.

Most significant move: The Saints have a history in recent years of finding obscure running backs (see Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory). They’ve done it again. Undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet made the roster. So did Thomas, Ivory, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. That leaves the Saints very heavy at running back, but that’s not a bad thing. Cadet almost forced the Saints to keep him by having a tremendous preseason. Now, the Saints have the upper hand on any team looking for a running back. Sproles is likely untouchable, and I don’t see the Saints parting with Ingram, who joined them as a first-round pick last year. But Thomas and Ivory have shown they can do a lot of good things, and the Saints could add a future draft pick if a team that’s desperate to add a quality runner is willing to make a trade.

Onward and upward: One of the best kicking battles in NFL history was won by Garrett Hartley, who spent the summer kicking against veteran John Kasay. Both have kicked in the Super Bowl and both kicked well this summer. I don’t think there really was a clear winner. Kasay and Hartley finished in a dead heat, and the Saints made the logical decision. They went with the homegrown guy, who still has four seasons remaining on his contract. As long as Kasay, 42, wants to keep playing, he should be able to find another place to kick because he showed no signs of slipping with his preseason performance.

What’s next: The linebacker corps remains a question mark. Starters Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne have been injured, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be ready for the season opener. The only other linebackers on the roster are Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring and newly acquired Barrett Ruud. I’ve got a strong suspicion the Saints will bring in a linebacker (maybe two) from somewhere else in the next few days.

Observation deck: Saints-Texans

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
11:17
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Some observations from the New Orleans Saints’ 34-27 preseason victory against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night.

  • There’s no doubt the defense is a concern. But let’s keep a few things in mind. Houston is one of the league’s better offenses, the Saints were starting backup linebackers and, most importantly, the defense doesn’t have to be great when you’ve got Drew Brees and this offense. The Saints fell behind 14-0 quickly, but Brees put the Saints right back into the game. Brees and the offense are good enough to keep the Saints in any regular-season game.
  • With starting linebackers David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton sidelined by injuries, the Saints started Jonathan Casillas in the middle with Scott Shanle and Will Herring on the outside. Lofton has a high-ankle sprain and Hawthorne is recovering from knee surgery. There’s no guarantee they’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. At the start of training camp, I thought Herring wouldn’t be on the opening-day roster and Shanle would be pushed into a backup role. Casillas is an outside guy, who was forced into the middle because there really was no alternative. Veteran Barrett Ruud recently was brought in via trade and played in the second half, but I’m not sure he has much left. If the Saints have to go a few games into the regular season with that trio starting, they’ll have big problems. I’m thinking there’s a linebacker (or two) on another roster at the moment that could end up with the Saints shortly.
  • I did see some individual bright spots on the defense. Second-year defensive end Cameron Jordan produced an early sack, even though he blatantly was held. I really believe Jordan will prosper in the system of coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is another guy I think is going to emerge in Spagnuolo’s system. Jenkins showed signs of that when he read a reverse perfectly and popped the ball out of Keshawn Martin’s hands for a fumble that was recovered by Will Smith.
  • I think it was pretty telling that rookie cornerback Corey White was getting some playing time in the first quarter. White knocked a ball out of Martin’s hands and Sedrick Ellis recovered. It’s looking more and more like White is going to get some playing time in the nickel and dime packages.
  • A couple of other young defensive players that I think are on the rise made big plays on special teams. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus forced a Trindon Holliday fumble on a kickoff return and defensive end Junior Galette scooped it up and raced in for a touchdown.
  • The competition for the fourth running back spot between Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet continues to provide some drama. Ivory lost a fumble on the first drive. But Ivory might have redeemed himself with some nice running in the third quarter, although that came against Houston’s second-team defense. But Cadet also looked good as a receiver out of the backfield. This one is going to be a very close call.
  • Speaking of guys fighting for roster spots and fumbles, wide receiver Joseph Morgan put the ball on the ground once. He made a nice catch, but kept fighting too long after his forward progress was stopped by three guys and one of them popped the ball loose. Morgan’s fumble led to a quick and easy touchdown for Houston. But Morgan might have redeemed himself a bit with a fourth-quarter touchdown catch.
  • Tight end Jimmy Graham won’t say if he bulked up in the offseason, but he sure looks like he did. If so, it hasn’t slowed him down a bit. Graham looks even better than he did last season, when he had 99 catches.

Saints banged up at LB

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
3:17
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The New Orleans Saints overhauled their linebacker corps in the offseason. Now, it looks like they’ll have to do it again – at least on a temporary basis.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Monday that middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has a high ankle sprain and outside linebacker David Hawthorne has a torn meniscus and would have surgery immediately. Outside linebacker Chris Chamberlain reportedly already has been lost for the season with a torn ACL.

The Saints went out and signed Lofton and Hawthorne in free agency and both have worked with the first team throughout the offseason program and the first three preseason games. Chamberlain, another free-agent pickup had been working with the second team. Vitt said he’s not sure if Lofton and Hawthorne will be ready to return in time for the Sept. 9 opener against Washington and that might be a lot to expect.

High ankle sprains can drag on. Medical science has come a long way in what it can do for a torn meniscus (believe me, I’ve had that surgery multiple times and the recovery period keeps getting shorter), but it still might be too much to expect to see Hawthorne back for the opener.

Vitt said Ramon Humber will take over Lofton’s spot in the short term. I’m not sure the Saints want to turn their defensive play-calling duties over to Humber in the regular season, but Lawrence Wilson and Kadarron Anderson are the only other middle linebackers on the roster. Humber is the most experienced of the bunch, but there's one other potential problem. Humber reportedly will be suspended for the first three games of the season.

The wild card at middle linebacker is Jonathan Vilma. He has begun serving a one-year suspension, but there still remains some hope that could be overturned by the legal system.

The Saints have better depth at outside linebacker with Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas and Will Herring each having a legitimate chance to start. But the wave of injuries leaves the Saints without a lot of depth. If it looks like Lofton and Chamberlain could miss regular-season time, the Saints may be watching the waiver wire for depth in the coming weeks.

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