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saintz08 04-21-2004 11:35 AM

Saints have eyes on prize at linebacker
Saints have eyes on prize at linebacker

Pair of former Hurricanes are among N.O. possibilities
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer
It's been a dozen years since the Saints made history by sending four starting linebackers to the Pro Bowl.

To Saints fans, it seems like a dozen decades.

A club that once had Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling in one Pro Bowl has collectively sent four linebackers to the annual postseason all-star game since then. Jackson and Renaldo Turnbull went in 1993. Mark Fields and Keith Mitchell were selected in 2000, although Fields earned a spot as Coach Dennis Green's "need player" selection.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Fields, the No. 13 overall selection in the 1995 draft, was the last linebacker selected by the Saints in the first round of the draft.

New Orleans , along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, is one of three teams that hasn't drafted a linebacker in the first or second round in any of the past eight drafts.

That streak, though, almost certainly will end this weekend. Miami Hurricane linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams are among the Saints' top targets at the No. 18 spot in Saturday's first round. If not, the Saints want to land a linebacker with one of their two picks in the second round at Nos. 48 or 60.

"We'd like to get better (at linebacker)," said Rick Mueller, the Saints' director of player personnel. "You'd always like to get better. If we can add to the mix, we'll do it."

Williams is considered the better overall prospect. The 6-foot, 250-pounder is ranked among the top two or three athletes in the draft. Although he's an inch or two shorter than the prototype, Williams has the size, speed and athleticism NFL coaches covet at the position.

The main knock against Williams is that he might need time to develop because he came to Miami as a high school All-America running back and is still mastering the linebacker position.

Vilma reminds many draft analysts of a slightly taller version of former Saints great Sam Mills. The 6-0, 230-pound Vilma has tremendous instincts and intangibles. A son of Haitian immigrants, he had a 3.4 grade-point average in college and was a three-time team captain at middle linebacker.

Some scouts are concerned about Vilma's size. But it might not be the disadvantage it was five or 10 years ago because the position has undergone an evolution in recent years to combat today's three- and four-receiver "spread" offenses.

[Edited on 21/4/2004 by saintz08]

SaintsReporter 04-21-2004 11:41 AM

Saints have eyes on prize at linebacker
How I long for the days when the Saints had the dome patrol. Of couse, back then, I just wish they had an offense that could score. I guess you can\'t have it all. Only other teams have good offenses, defenses, and special teams, at the the same time.

Our saints never have a complete team. We still don\'t have a complete team and I think drafting a linebacker is the BEST way to go. How many times have we seen running backs blow by our linebackers? That is if our linebackers are even in the same zipcode.

Cornerback is another trouble area, but we seem to be a little stronger at corner than linebacker.

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