Saints Look to Improve Linebacker Corps

With a primary goal of stopping the run with more consistency than the past three years, the Saints will have a new look on defense this season -- with the linebacker positions getting the biggest overhaul.

The Saints will have at least two new starters -- maybe three -- as middle linebackers Ronald McKinnon and Courtney Watson and veteran strong-side 'backer Sedrick Hodge are no longer with the club. In addition, James Allen has already been lost for the season because of a knee injury.

Who lines up where when the regular season begins on Sept. 10 won't be decided until training camp as a host of newcomers will battle for the three spots. Even weak-side linebacker Colby Bockwoldt, a starter for the past 1 1/2 seasons, will have to fight for a job when practice begins July 28.

Among the new players trying to win starting berths are four veterans -- Scott Fujita, Anthony Simmons, Tommy Polley and Jay Foreman. Also in the mix is second-year pro Alfred Fincher, a third-round draft pick in 2005 who showed signs of promise during the team's final mini-camp in June.

With defensive end Darren Howard gone, former first-round draft pick Will Smith -- a relentless player who has 16 sacks as a spot player in his first two seasons -- will get a chance to blossom as a starter. While he's a solid pass-rusher, Smith is also strong against the run.

The Saints tried to shore up the interior of their defensive line by trading for tackle Hollis Thomas, a solid run-stopper for the past decade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Saints certainly didn't neglect the back end of the secondary, which can also play a role in stopping the run. The team signed unrestricted free agent Omar Stoutmire to team with second-year pro Josh Bullocks and also acquired Bryan Scott via a trade with the Atlanta Falcons.

In addition, the Saints used a second-round draft pick to select Alabama safety Roman Harper. He earned a reputation as a playmaker in college and turned heads in the team's mini-camps and organized team activities during the spring and summer.

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