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TheOak 08-15-2013 02:25 PM

Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
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It's possible that Jonathan Vilma's knee surgery will be just a minor bump in the road for the New Orleans Saints. "Clean-up" surgeries like the one Vilma is reportedly undergoing today in Philadelphia are fairly common in the NFL, and players can often come back close to 100 percent within a month or so.

But in Vilma's case, the news is a little more disconcerting since we didn't really know what his "100 percent" was going to look like this year in the first place.

The Saints have some decent depth behind starters Curtis Lofton and Vilma at inside linebacker - but it's more quantity than top-quality. The Saints' best chance of having some real star power at the weak-side position is for Vilma to return to form. And now that's an even bigger question mark than it was before.

Vilma is 31 years old and hasn't been fully healthy since the start of the 2011 season, when his knee problems began. As a result, he wasn't nearly as effective as usual in either 2011 or 2012. Back when we ranked him 18th on our NOLA.com top-25 ranking of the Saints roster this summer, we wrote that Vilma "might be the hardest player to rank" on the entire list.

I didn't expect Vilma to return to Pro Bowl form this year, but I was cautiously optimistic that he could show significant improvement after being healthy for a full year. And I took it as a great sign that the Saints plugged him into the starting lineup on the first day of OTAs and kept him there all summer.

Now, Vilma has one more hurdle that he has to overcome, since he's expected to miss the remainder of the preseason at the very least.

The bright side is that the Saints will get an extended look at their backup candidates over the next three weeks - though it hasn't been a very inspiring field of contenders up to this point.
David Hawthorne and Josh Hill at Saints campSaints inside linebacker David Hawthorne (57) picks off a pass intended for tight end Josh Hill (89) during Saints Camp practice in Metairie, Monday, August 12, 2013. (Photo by Ted Jackson, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Veteran David Hawthorne will get the first crack. Hawthorne had a very disappointing performance in 2012, when he also battled some nagging injuries after coming in as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks.

Hawthorne has talked optimistically about feeling much better this summer, and now he'll get a chance to prove it on the field. The Saints could really use a leap in production from Hawthorne to help them cover the edges in the run game - one of their biggest areas of weakness last year.

Behind Hawthorne, the Saints have several veterans battling for a roster spot - Ramon Humber (who has been backing up Curtis Lofton at the other inside linebacker spot), Chris Chamberlain and Will Herring. All three guys are more solid than spectacular, but they could certainly hold down the fort if Vilma is just out for a short period.

And one of the most intriguing young players on the entire roster is undrafted rookie inside linebacker Kevin Reddick from North Carolina. The 6-foot-1, 246-pounder hasn't been a "dynamic" player in training camp so far, partly due to the nature of his position. But Reddick has shown flashes of being a powerful "thumper" and seems to have a future for the Saints, whether it's this year or down the road.

Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery | NOLA.com

|Mitch| 08-15-2013 02:40 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
I always figured Hawthorne would have beat Vilma out of a starting spot anyway. And after the first preseason game, interesting to see where Humber and Reddick fit into the rotation

Jack Vegas 08-15-2013 02:59 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Hawthorne was one of the top inside linebackers in the league prior to signing with the Saints. I don't see any reason he should be dismissed based on just one bad year where he had a ton of injuries and played part-time in a bad defensive scheme.

I think Herring could become a pretty important role player in this scheme as an inside linebacker who can cover and play in space. He wasn't fast enough to play outside nor strong enough to play inside in a 4-3, but inside in a 3-4 those things don't matter so much.

halloween 65 08-15-2013 03:46 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Hawthorn has his chance now and I like the rookie Reddick backing him up for now. I do see Reddick ending up with the starting job in time. I just don't see Vilma playing 16 games, he would be lucky to make 4.

saintsfan1976 08-15-2013 03:54 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Vilmas best opportunity for money was with New Orleans. He knew that Loomis knew that.

I've gotta believe we weren't relying on him as much considering the talent before butler went down.

Mr.Riaton 08-15-2013 04:00 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Why not put Rufus at inside? He's big and athletic.

TheOak 08-15-2013 04:35 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Before the start of week one, there will be a team that runs a 4-3 that needs leadership and a Mike LB that will take him from us for something.

Luda34 08-15-2013 05:12 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
I love him but it may be time to let him go

homerj07 08-15-2013 08:30 PM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
I am not so sure it is a bright side. Most of us were not confident with Vilma, so maybe someone will shine?

Danno 08-16-2013 08:13 AM

Re: Inside linebacker was one of New Orleans Saints' biggest question marks even before Jonathan Vilma's surgery
 
Question mark yes.

But I think we have the answers somewhere in this group...

Lofton
Vilma
Wilson
Hawthorne
Humber (he's looked really comfortable at WILB)
Chamberlain
Herring
Reddick (a sleeper for significant PT)


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