Saints' hidden treasure: Linebackers

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

There’s a perception out there that Jonathan Vilma’s suspension will be devastating to the Saints. There’s some truth to that, especially from a leadership standpoint because Vilma has run this defense since the moment he arrived in New Orleans. But the reality is free-agent pickup Curtis Lofton will be a major upgrade over Vilma at middle linebacker.

Age started to catch up to Vilma the past two seasons, and he was less than ordinary last season while dealing with a knee injury. Lofton is younger, he’s healthy and he should be able to make a lot more plays than Vilma did in recent years. The leadership void will be minimal. Lofton was an excellent leader in Atlanta and he already is establishing himself in that role in New Orleans.

But Lofton wasn’t the only offseason addition at linebacker. The Saints knew they had to upgrade that area, and signed David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain. Hawthorne is penciled in as a starter, and Chamberlain is competing with incumbent Scott Shanle for the other starting job. Even if Shanle wins, Chamberlain will provide the Saints with some quality depth at the position.