August 15, 2010

Gregg Williams ratchets up competition at outside linebacker

The Saints have made some moves to increase competition at starting linebacker.

Former undrafted rookie Jonathan Casillas of Wisconsin joins a host of rising undrafted stars on this Saints squad.  Of the 11 defensive starters for the Saints on Thursday night, undrafted Casillas joined fellow undrafted veterans DT Remi Ayodele and SLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.  RB Pierre Thomas, K Garrett Hartley, WR Lance Moore and DE Jeff Charleston are also undrafted contributors.

Casillas, who collected three tackles for loss and a sack among his ten tackles Thursday night, has been promoted to starting weakside linebacker by Gregg Williams in a shakeup of the linebacking corps.  Thursday night starter Jo-Lonn Dunbar has been moved behind Scott Shanle, moved from starting weakside to starting strongside.

Shanle, who did not play Thursday and has been nursing a knee injury, has started at weakside through his career but has the tools to make the switch.  This may also indicate that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' original strategy of strongside linebacker-by-committee wasn't satisfactory.

With Casillas, Vilma and Shanle the starters for now, the battles behind them are intense.  Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Troy Evans look to fight for jobs behind Shanle.  At weakside linebacker, Stanley Arnoux, Harry Coleman (re-signed this week), and Anthony Waters, will push Casillas.

Waters, a preseason hero from 2009, was released after that preseason but re-signed in December.  Arnoux meanwhile missed Sunday's practice action with an ankle injury suffered in Foxboro.

Arnoux, Dunbar and Evans each collected a single solo tackle on Thursday.

The Saints are also looking to increase competition at runningback, where rookie Chris Ivory and veteran PJ Hill are fighting for the #3 job behind Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Neither Ivory nor Hill has a regular season carry.  The Saints released RB Lynell Hamilton from injured reserve after he suffered an ACL tear.

The Saints could sign veteran RB Ladell Betts.  Meanwhile, long-time Eagles RB Brian Westbrook is a free agent and drawing attention from multiple teams, including the Rams, Broncos and Redskins, but reportedly not the Saints. Westbrook will apparently sign somewhere on Monday, reportedly the Rams.

On the runningback situation, Saints head coach Sean Payton told the media, “I would anticipate we’re able to get someone in here before the Texans game."  Payton did indicate that he was going to be fair to Ivory and Hill, and give them a chance to work for the job.

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