As the upstart and suddenly-surging New Orleans Saints defense dominated the L.A. Chargers for their first Pre-Season win in the past 3 years the other night, the Saints defense's performance was memorable for many reasons.
Although it was only just a Pre-Season game and not yet the NFL regular season, the New Orleans defense throttled Los Angeles while recording 8 sacks, an interception, 12 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for a loss, 6 passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery along the way, during a 13-7 win.
A total of 9 different Saints defensive players got to Chargers back-up QB's Kellen Clemens and Cardale Jones (Chargers 6-time All Pro starting QB Philip Rivers had the night off); with 6 Saints defensive players credited with full sacks, while 4 Saints players combined for half sacks.
However, another reason why the Saints performance will be memorable for some will be the one player who was notably absent from the unit's impressive (as far as NFL Pre-Season games, anyway) and even unforgettable performance:
3rd year linebacker Stephone Anthony.
There's always the possibility that Anthony has suffered some type of unreported injury, though that doesn't appear to be the case and it was undisclosed by the team as to why he was held out of the Chargers game.
At this point, it would appear that he has fallen even further and further down the team's depth chart; and his future with the team appears to be in a lot of doubt.
Not helping Anthony's current situation any was the fact that the Saints' shut-down of the Chargers offense the other night was led by none other than Anthony's fellow LB corps stable-mates; with veterans A.J. Klein, Manti T’eo, and Craig Robertson all turning in outstanding performances in the 13-7 victory.
Te'o was especially impressive, and his phenomenal stat-line of 8 total tackles (3 of them for losses), 1 sack, and a fumble recovery seemingly solidified his expected role withing the LB group.
Additionally, rookie Alex Anzalone and back-ups Nate Stupar and former Canadian Football League Defensive MVP Adam Bighill all had solid performances, leaving Anthony as the only linebacker on the entire roster that had no impact whatsoever on the team's overall performance in the end.
Now, the obvious question becomes: what do the Saints do about Anthony?
Prior to his not practicing last week, Anthony had been seeing a split in duties during practice at the "Mike" / middle linebacker spot and the "Will" / weak side positions, but that seems to have run its course; especially since those two starting spots appear to have been already secured by Klein (middle) and either Robertson or Anzalone (weak side).
And since he doesn’t significantly contribute all that much to the club's special teams, where does Anthony's true value to the Saints organization now really lie?
Until Saints head coach Sean Payton decides to elaborate further on Anthony's status, we can only assume that Anthony's days in a Saints uniform appear to be numbered.
As usual, the Saints brass (i.e.. Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis) are shrouded in secrecy with this sort of matters, and the guessing game with regard to Anthony will likely continue until they decide to finally address the proverbial "elephant in the room".
It was hoped (as we and other websites that cover the team exclusively have noted previously) that new linebackers coach and long-time NFL defensive "guru" Mike Nolan could come in and have a huge impact upon Anthony and help the 25-year old Anson, North Carolina native and former consensus High School All-American revitalize his young NFL career.
Those efforts appeared to be working early on in Camp as Anthony appeared to be playing well; though the past week and a half would seem to suggest that something has occurred since that time that has made the coaching staff (or at least Payton) change their minds about Anthony's status.
That would seemingly leave the Saints with two main options.
Option #1 would be for the organization to try to trade him in the upcoming days and weeks ahead.
However, the biggest problem likely facing New Orleans as far as them negotiating a trade would be that despite Anthony being a former 1st round draft pick (#31 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft), there's almost zero chance that the Saints could ever expect to get anything higher than a middle-round pick back in return; given Anthony's well-publicized issues with being unable to properly read and diagnose NFL offenses.
Anthony's prototypical size at the position and off-the-charts athleticism would make him a highly-sought after player in the League, were it not for his notable shortcomings with being able to properly comprehend defensive schemes and exactly where he should be lined up at on the field during a given series or a particular play.
Which then of course would leave Saints team brass with Option #2 if no trade could be worked out: which sadly would be to release him on Sunday, September 3rd (in 12 more days from today) when the team announces it final roster cuts following their 4th and final Pre-Season game at home against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night, August 31st.
That it would even come to this point for the Saints and for Anthony, would border on the unfathomable.
For the Saints, it would mean outright cutting a 1st Round draft pick, which ranks as one of the worst things that could ever happen to an NFL front office with regard to talent evaluation and the dependence upon the NFL Draft as a way to build a franchise with an eye towards the future.
However in defense of the Saints organization: perhaps there was no way that they or any of the other 32 NFL teams, would have envisioned Anthony potentially being an NFL "bust".
Regardless, if the Saints are left but no choice other than to release / cut Anthony, it would mean that with the exception of starting center Max Unger, that they essentially got NOTHING in return for the trade of former All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 off-season.
No matter how you choose to look at it, that's what happens if Anthony is among the team's Final 53-man roster cuts in less than 2 weeks from now.
For Anthony that it would even come to this point in time, is even more unimaginable.
Once again, we're talking about a young man who not all that long ago (7 years to be exact), was the consensus #1 rated linebacker in the entire nation coming out of high school from Anson High School in North Carolina (a small town right near the North Carolina - South Carolina state line), his home state where he was also recognized as the North Carolina Player of the Year before becoming an All-ACC performer for 4 years at Clemson University.
Talent has never been a question for Stephone Anthony.
It's all about picking up the mental aspect of the game for him, and it's been assumed that Nolan --- if nobody else could --- was the one person who could come in and essentially "save" Anthony's career.
Nolan spent a large portion of the Saints off-season working with Anthony one-on-one; but if we are to take the events of the past week and a half as some sort of sign, then one can only make the assumption (until we're led to believe or told otherwise) that Nolan's efforts with regard to Anthony have not been successful.
Which then in turn leaves New Orleans with little options to go on, from this point going forward.
Will the Saints put Stephone Anthony on the "trading block"?
Or even more unthinkable at one time, will they just go ahead and cut him from the team outright?
For a team and player once thought to be the perfect match for one another, it's certainly not the way that either of them ever expected it would turn out.......