Saints Testing New Linebacker Combos

New Orleans Saints Stephone Anthony Getty

The first five practices of the New Orleans Saints training camp showed how much the linebacker unit has changed from last season.

The first team has generally featured two free-agent signees -- Manti Te'o (middle) and A.J. Klein (strong side) -- and Stephone Anthony on the weak side.

Anthony, a No. 1 draft choice in 2015, is being tried at his third linebacker position in as many seasons. Mental mistakes are part of the reason why he hasn't lived up to expectations.

"I think when you put him out there at the Will, you take a little bit off his plate, as far as the communication process," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "I thought he had a really good spring, and in our league, you never know what's going to happen.

"There could be an injury or somebody is released and now you have to adjust your thought process. We're putting him over at the Will; we're going to work him there and give him an opportunity to win a job. I think he's done some good things to start camp."

On the eve of training camp, the Saints placed former starting weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on injured reserve with the expectation that they will release him once he recovers from a foot injury. Third-round draft choice Alex Anzalone is competing with Anthony, though most of the linebackers are getting work at multiple positions.

"I would not read too much into who is with the ones, twos, and threes, because that will rotate somewhat," coach Sean Payton said. "More importantly, we are trying to get a few guys comfortable at a certain position."

In the nickel scheme, Klein has been the No. 1 middle linebacker with Te'o being replaced by a defensive back.

In addition to Anthony, other holdovers from last season who are in the mix are Craig Robertson, who led the team in tackles, Nate Stupar, Michael Mauti, who was re-signed on the eve of training camp, and Hau'oli Kikaha, a second-round draft choice in 2015 who is coming off his third knee surgery.

"There's versatility with some of those guys," Payton said. "Craig's played them all. Mauti's played them all. Stupar's played a handful of those. Anzalone, we think, can go inside at Mike. He has played Mike before. Klein, certainly, has played Mike, and you will see him get Mike reps when we get into some of the nickel situations. For the most part, as you look at that group, there is a primary and a secondary spot they can play."

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