5 Newcomers Who Will Play Biggest Roles for the New Orleans Saints
New Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton will step into the role of Mike linebacker (photo courtesy of AP).
The New Orleans Saints finished 13-3 last season, but it’s always tough to keep an entire nucleus of talent together from year to year. To make a few improvements and fill in some vacancies, the Saints drafted five players in the 2012 NFL draft and acquired six free agents—not including the undrafted rookie free agents—to bolster the roster.
Included in some of the roster holes are two players—defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma—who will miss time because of suspensions.
Five of the newcomers to the New Orleans roster should make an immediate impact.
Brodrick Bunkley, DT
Broderick Bunkley in the middle of the Broncos line (photo courtesy of US Presswire).
Signed as the best run-stuffing defensive tackle available via free agency, Broderick Bunkley brings incredible strength and speed to the Saints defensive line.
He's a former first-round draft pick and tallied 43 tackles last year in Denver.
Already in offseason workouts, Bunkley has impressed new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with his fundamentals and attention to detail, according to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN, and interim head coach Joe Vitt said "even in his shorts you can see the technique and the power and explosiveness that he possesses."
Spagnuolo has been tinkering with defensive line formations in the early days of camp, and will find ways to bring as much pressure as possible without blitzing as much as past Saints teams.
David Hawthorne, LB
David Hawthorne (R) works with members of the Saints LB corps during OTAs (photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune).
In each of the last three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, David Hawthorne has notched more than 100 tackles. In those three seasons combined he's also sacked six quarterbacks and intercepted seven passes.
Hawthorne is going to be asked to do a lot in the Saints new-look linebacking corps. New Orleans will still look to him to be a tackling machine, and the coaching staff will also expect him to help in coverage.
So far in offseason team workouts, Hawthorne has stayed on the field when the Saints enter their nickel package. He'll be on the field a lot in 2012 and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will find interesting ways to make use of him at weakside linebacker.
Curtis Lofton, LB
When Curtis Lofton made the move between heated rivals from Atlanta to New Orleans, he added just a little more fuel to a very popular version of divisional hatred.
Lofton was one of three linebackers brought in via free agency before the NFL draft, but he may be leaned on to play the biggest role: filling Jonathan Vilma's shoes at middle linebacker.
While in Atlanta, Lofton led the defense in tackles for the last three seasons. He had a high motor and led the defense both on and off the field. In New Orleans he'll be asked to be around the ball all the time and not to stop making tackles. Both he and fellow newcomer David Hawthorne are used to making lots of tackles and both could notch 100 in 2012.
Ben Grubbs, LG
Ben Grubbs has big shoes to fill in New Orleans in 2012 (photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune).
When New Orleans lost All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay, the Saints knew they had to go find a replacement that could continue to keep quarterback Drew Brees as free from opposing rushers as possible.
Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million contract with New Orleans and has already been praised for his football IQ and intelligence.
Interim head coach Joe Vitt said Grubbs was "probably a little better communicator on the offensive line than Carl Nicks was" and continued to rave about the way his communication skills and head for the game would help the offensive line.
Vitt has already mentioned it, and when Brees gets his contract worked out he'll likely second the emotion. The Saints did a good job of replacing a possible huge hole in the offensive line with Grubbs.
Nick Toon, WR
New WR Nick Toon will battle for receptions in the Saints high-powered offense.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Rookie wide receiver Nick Toon will battle with Adrian Arrington for the position of fourth wide receiver on the New Orleans Saints' depth chart.
Before you scream something to the effect of "fourth wideouts shouldn't make this list," remember this list is about the Saints, one of, if not the most high-powered shows in the league.
There are plenty of passes to go around for someone like Toon down at the bottom of the depth chart. All he has to do is prove to quarterback Drew Brees that he's trustworthy.
The Saints fourth-round pick in the draft impressed interim head coach Joe Vitt with his speed, hands and ability to run after the catch.
Now all Toon has to do is equally impress Brees.