Anzalone takes on new responsibility in return from injury
METAIRIE – Forgotten in the performances of Saints rookies in 2017 was the abbreviated effort of linebacker Alex Anzalone, who started the first four games of the season before being sidelined by a season-ending shoulder injury.
Anzalone not only returned to the field for the start of training camp last month, but got the start in the preseason opener at Jacksonville at a new position – Mike linebacker.
“I kind of got thrown into it a few days before the game,” Anzalone said Monday following the Saints’ 15th practice of training camp. “I’ve played it in the past in college, so it wasn’t too foreign to me. I think I did pretty well.
“I’m comfortable with it. At the end of the day, you have to play fast and play with effort.”
Anzalone, a third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Florida, had 16 total tackles, a sack and a pass defensed in three-plus games a year ago. He left in the first quarter of the Oct. 1 game against the Miami Dolphins in London and was placed on injured reserve three days later.
The Jaguars game was his first live action in more than 10 months.
“I didn’t really think about it much being in the zone and all that,” Anzalone said. “It’s a good feeling, playing live, for real.”
What’s the difference in this year’s group of linebackers?
“Obviously, we added Demario (Davis),” Anzalone said. “A guy like who has the experience he has adds a lot of depth.”
As to what other skill sets Davis adds to the group, he said, “Just the little things. You have to have a certain mindset at linebacker.”
Saints coach Sean Payton likes to have flexibility within his linebackers.
“We have a couple of guys that can rush, that will play at the Sam and come into a sub-rush mode,” Payton said.
“Ultimately at that position, you’re starting three, maybe two. You have to be able to play on special teams. If you dress for a game, you have to be able to play 15-17 snaps with the (limited) numbers you have up on game day.”
The Saints go into a scheduled off day Tuesday after a Monday morning practice that didn’t draw raves by any means.
“I thought it was okay,” Payton said. “I didn’t think it was one of our better days. I thought it was a little sloppy; it started out that way.”
Running back Shane Vereen agreed.
“I think it got off to a slow start,” said Vereen, who’s looking to land one of the final roster spots at running back. “You’ve got to fight through those types of practices. They happen. We’re in the dog days of camp. You’ve got to be able to right the ship and finish the best as possible.”
New Orleans’ next practice is Wednesday morning. The Saints play their preseason home opener Friday night against the Arizona Cardinals in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…