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Barry Hirstius

Rookie “Thor” Gives More Depth to Saints LB Corps

With the struggles that the New Orleans Saints defense has experienced during the past few seasons, one couldn't blame them from seeking help with someone who could be considered a "super hero".

After this past weekend's 2017 NFL Draft, the Saints may have just found the "super hero" they were looking for.

Now no matter what age you are, if you're a fan of action / adventure movies then you probably know what the Marvel Universe is, and the wide variety of characters from Marvel in movies that include the likes of Spider Man, Iron Man, The Incerdible Hulk, and the group known as The Avengers; to just name a few.

A majority of the characters that we now see in movies were created in the early 1960's, and people my age (49) that grew up during the decades of the 1960's and 70's, originally saw all of them in comic books that could be purchased at your local drug store or convenience store where ever magazines were sold, which became known as the "Silver Age" of comics.

One such popular character during the Silver Age was known as "The Mighty Thor".

The character, based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name, is the Asgardian "god of thunder" and possesses a hammer that grants him the ability of flight and weather manipulation amongst his other superhuman attributes.

The character first was created by then-Marvel founder and editor Stan Lee in 1963 and starred in several ongoing series and limited series, and is a founding member of the superhero team the Avengers -- the very same team of super heroes that now some 50 plus years later, are among the most successful movies of our era in 2017.

And it's that very same character that now is being associated with Saints rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

SEC Country Staff Writer Zach Abolverdi says that the former University of Florida linebacker began growing out his hair nearly 3 years ago now, after getting a "buzz cut" before fall camp in August of 2014.

Initially, Anzalone's teammate defensive end Jordan Sherit joined him, but eventually cut his off.

Anzalone decided to continue growing his out.

“I just kept mine going,” Anzalone told Abolverdi. “It worked out well I guess. I like it.”

As the legend goes: so did the employees at Mi Apá, a Latin cafe in Gainesville not far from the University of Florida campus. One of them almost asked Anzalone for an autograph, but not because he was a Gators football player.

“I was going through Mi Apá and I guess I’m known there as "Thor" to them,” Anzalone said at the time. “One of the girls that was working there actually thought I was the actor (Australian actor Chris Hemsworth) for Thor.”

Anzalone gets called various nicknames because of his hair, but likes "Thor" the best.

And beginning in approximately 3 weeks from now at the Saints Training Facility during Rookie Mini-Camp, Anzalone will take his nickname along with his on-field talent to New Orleans after being picked #76 overall by team brass on Day 2 of the 2017 Draft last Saturday.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Now to be totally fair, not all Saints fans were thrilled to see "Thor" get picked where he was, given Anzalone's notable problems in recent years with injuries.

It's the reason why one local writer that covers the Saints whose name I'll keep anonymous, jokingly referred to Anzalone (although he was being serious) during a private conversation we had as "the college version" of often-injured Saints weakside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

Anzalone only managed to play in a grand total of 31 games in four seasons because of injuries, and he battled an entire series of shoulder injuries during his first three seasons. Nevertheless, he managed to stay healthy enough to play in the Senior Bowl and go through the pre-draft process.

As it is, NFL scouts like both his talent and his potential (the Saints themselves obviously agreed with that assessment); which is a reason why New Orleans passed on taking an edge rusher like Tim Williams of Alabama or talented Youngstown State Division II All-American star Derek Rivers --- both of whom were still available when the Saints got on the clock to select Anzalone.

Williams was taken a few picks later by the Ravens (#78), and Rivers was taken not long after at #83 by the Patriots.

The Saints brass said afterwards that Anzalone was their highest rated player on the Board at the time -- though some would argue (and have a strong case) that he was considered a "reach" at that spot, with the likelihood that he might have been still there at the Saints' next pick at #103 (where they took Florida Atlantic University edge rusher Trey Hendrickson).

Nevertheless, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Anzalone does however have some intriguing athleticism and versatility, which is likely what Saints brass was attracted to when they made this pick; despite his injury-riddled past.

He ran the 3rd-fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the NFL scouting combine (4.63 seconds); and it's not a stretch to say that he was playing at a high level of success last season (53 tackles and 3 sacks) until he suffered a broken forearm during Florida's eighth game.

Just like Ellerbe, when Anzalone's healthy he is fully capable capable of being a 3-down LB -- but that's only when he's out on the field and not stuck at the doctor's clinic or trainer's room getting treatment.

The biggest question now regarding Anzalone moving forward is just how he will fit in among the Saints' current corps of linebackers.

New Orleans "loaded up" at linebacker this offseason, signing veterans A.J. Klein and Manti Te'o in free agency to join returning 2016 season veterans Ellerbe, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar, and of course the "forgotten man" --- 2015 1st Round pick Stephone Anthony.

ESPN Saints beat writer Mike Triplett noted last Friday night after the pick was made that Anzalone will likely play outside linebacker in the Saints’ 4-3 base package, at either "Sam" or the "Will" behind starters Ellerbe and Robertson.

Anzalone primarily played on the weakside / "Will" at Florida, but moved was moved around depending on the game plan for a specific opponent from week to week.

We'll know more on Anzalone and what type of role that the Saints defensive coaching staff envisions for him, in the upcoming months ahead.

The bottom line on Anzalone is that he can play and actually play pretty well -- but like his veteran teammate Dannell Ellerbe, he has to be able to STAY on the field long enough, to show it..............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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