The New Orleans Saints are only 2 weeks away from Training Camp, and many Saints fans are more than eager to finally see a handful of their heroes "up close and personal" as the team conducts its preparations for the upcoming 2017 NFL season this year at their Practice Facility in Metairie, just outside of New Orleans.
A few of those players are ones that for most Saints fans that will be attending the handful of open practices that are open to the General Public, the chance to see in person for the very first time.
And although there are several players that will garner more attention than others, perhaps no one player will receive more affection not only from just the female fans in attendance, but also from the males in attendance as well.
That player, for a variety of reasons, is rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone.
For the ladies in the crowd, it will be his matinee-idol star good looks and flowing locks of blond hair that should have women of all ages swooning at his every move.
They'll no doubt be seeking his autograph after practices, in an effort to get a 'selfie"' photo taken alongside the young man who some call by the nickname "Thor" --- after his striking resemblance to the Marvel Comics Norse god and super-hero.
For the men in the crowd however, Anzalone will likely leave them swooning for an entirely different reason: his likely immediate impact upon the Saints linebacker corps, a unit that was in desperation for a complete make-over after being one of the team's glaring defensive weaknesses of the past several seasons.
The Saints selected Anzalone with in the 3rd Round of the recent 2017 NFL Draft (# 76 overall), and were no doubt intrigued by both his talent and his potential; which is a reason why New Orleans passed on taking an edge rusher at that particular time 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.
Anzalone's unique blend of athleticism and versatility was a huge selling point for Saints brass when they made the selection, in part bolstered by his performance at the Combine where he ran the 3rd-fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker (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) as a senior until he suffered a broken forearm during Florida's eighth game.
Thus far, Anzalone has impressed both the Saints coaching staff as well as observers and analysts, who have been keeping a watchful eye on where he's been lining up during the Saints' off-season practices.
Anzalone quickly established himself with the coaching staff by becoming a fixture in the Saints starting defensive line-up during team drills at Mini-Camp; as he received a good portion of snaps with the 1st unit while displaying his versatility to play every single one of the LB spots in the Saints' base 4-3 defense.
But besides his versatility, it became fairly obvious during Mini-Camp that he was selected for 2 important reasons: his speed and ability to quickly cover a lot of ground by moving 'sideline to sideline'; and also his outstanding capability to provide tight pass coverage by "blanketing" RB's and TE's on pass defense.
One thing that stood out was that when the Saints were in a lot of their nickel packages during Mini-Camp, they would "mix and match" several of their linebackers in and out of the line-up; but when the team lined up for the first time in 11-on-11 team drills, it was notable that A.J. Klein and Anzalone -- the Saints' two FASTEST and BEST COVER linebackers currently on the team as of this very moment -- who took the opening snap.
As of right now, Anzaolne appears to be one of the true "locks" among the team's rookies to see plenty of immediate action in his very 1st season in the NFL ; thanks in part mostly to the very notable injury issues that continue to plague veteran weakside / "Will" linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who missed Mini-Camp with a toe injury.
Unless something changes in Training Camp, Anzalone is expected to be in the mix to see a lot of snaps at the "Will" position behind Ellerbe and likely back-up Craig Robertson; who started as the team's middle linebacker last year but has been lining up exclusively at the "Will" in Ellerbe's absence.
Both Robertson and Anzalone are 2 of the most versatile players on the entire Saints team, since both players are capable of playing all 3 linebacker positions -- not only just the"Will", but also in the middle ("Mike") and at the strongside ("Sam") as well.
But clearly it's because of their ability to each play the "Will" linebacker position effectively, why both men are expected to push Ellerbe extremely hard for his starting spot on the weakside of the defense when Training Camp gets under way in exactly 2 weeks from today (July 26th).
Just how Anzalone fares in these next few upcoming weeks and months will ultimately determine just how big of an impact that Anzalone will have as a 1st year player for the franchise.
But for the Saints fans, his impact will obviously be felt in different ways and for different reasons; and it's a reason why that all the supporters of the Who Dat Nation --- both women and men --- will be "swooning" over the young man wearing jersey #47 all summer long.......