The middle of the New Orleans Saints practice field—right where the linebackers roam, for the most part—must be constructed over a minefield. Or possibly the grounds crew has beef with the linebackers and doesn’t fill in holes because injuries to this unit have come with regularity throughout offseason workouts.
Add linebacker Will Smith to the list of the injured after he suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for the year, according to Pro Football Talk.
The Saints moved quickly to replace Smith, or at least add depth at linebacker, trading a conditional 2014 pick to the San Francisco 49ers for linebacker Parys Haralson. If Haralson makes the Saints roster, the 49ers get New Orleans’ seventh-round pick next year, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Will Haralson makes the Saints’ roster? If so, what role will he play?
Haralson posted eight sacks in 2008 but notched only 11 more over the next three seasons. His skills at getting to the quarterback are decent, but are diminishing as of late, and he’s not great at stopping the run, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
After Haralson posted a career-high eight sacks in 2008, the 49ers signed him to a four-year, $15 million extension. Haralson had just 11 sacks from 2009-11, but did carve out a reputation as a strong run defender.
Mike Triplett, of the Times-Picayune, believes that linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson might eventually be upgrades to Smith, possibly in the short term. Galette could turn into a “dynamic pass rusher” in Rob Ryan’s new 3-4 scheme.
Wilson and Galette are going to get first crack at manning the outside linebacker positions for the Saints with Smith gone. Haralson is going to come into New Orleans and compete for the spot of first backup on the outside with possibly some playing time coming in a rotation.
Where Haralson can really shine is in coverage. In 2011—Haralson missed the 2012 season with a torn triceps muscle—he was only targeted eight times in 119 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He gave up only four receptions as teams attacked Ahmad Brooks instead.
When it comes to coverage, Smith, Wilson and Galette pale in comparison to Haralson. But the Saints need help with the pass rush mostly. That’s why Wilson and Galette will step up first. Once Haralson gets up to speed, he’ll either fill in as a backup or push for starting minutes.
Factoring in his diminishing pass-rush skills and time spent last season away from football, expect Haralson to stay in that backup role unless something happens to Wilson or Galette.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.