In an off season filled with unexpected moves one thing became crystal clear, the Saints were going to overhaul the linebacker position. Heading into the draft almost everybody myself included put linebacker as one of the Saints top needs, they didn’t disappoint drafting three in the 1st, 2nd and 5th rounds respectively.
The Saints had big shoes to fill when they decided to part ways with Curtis Lofton and they wasted little time addressing that need drafting Stephone Anthony in the 1st round (I did a film breakdown of him HERE) But I think one thing that is getting overshadowed is the Saints trading for LB Dannell Ellerbe.
I have to be honest I wasn’t a fan of the Kenny Stills trade when it first happened, after all he was a productive wide receiver who was young and cheap. But as time went on the more I thought about it the more I liked the move, you potentially have two defensive contributors in 3rd round pick PJ Williams and Ellerbe – this is a move that could turn out brilliant or bite you in the butt, time will tell.
The key is can Ellerbe return to form after a severe hip injury? – a torn labral. According to the Mayo clinic the injury is as described –
A hip labral tear involves the ring of cartilage, called the labrum, that follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint. The labrum acts like a rubber seal or gasket to help hold the ball at the top of your thighbone securely within your hip socket.”
After being injured in Miami’s first game last year and landing on injured reserve, Dannell Ellerbe was given a three to five month recovery time frame for the injury.
Ellerbe’s best year as a pro came in 2012 (his last with the Ravens) where in 13 games he had 92 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. His best game of that year came on the biggest stage – the Superbowl where he had 9 tackles and brought the pressure on Colin Kaepernick to force the end zone incompletion sealing their victory. After that season while his stock was at an all time high he cashed in with the Miami Dolphins via free agency.
In 2013 while with the Dolphins even though his stats show 101 tackles he never made the impact as the Dolphins had hoped. I think it was more of a scheme fit rather than Ellerbe having a bad year, he didn’t because he wasn’t bad he was just okay.
I think Ellerbe will fit in much better with the Saints because like the Ravens the Saints employ a Hybrid defensive front where the base is a 3-4 but they also flip to a 4-3 or a 4-2-5 and so on. The Dolphins on the other hand run a 4-3 base and had moved Ellerbe to the outside last year before he got hurt.
Okay lets take a look at Ellerbe with the Ravens and the Dolphins, first up is Ellerbe in the Superbowl. This play is exactly what you want from your middle linebacker, first Ellerbe reads the play as the ball is snapped and hits his correct gap with no hesitation throwing Frank Gore for a loss as seen in the two screen shots below.
In this next series of screen shots this is the play that is the nail in the coffin for the 49ers when Ellerbe brings the pressure on Colin Kaepernick forcing an incompletion. Ray Lewis will come up for an overload blitz taking the guard with him leaving Ellerbe a clean lane when the tackle takes the defensive end. The Ravens overload bringing seven on this play, notice strong safety Bernard Pollard (31) on the line. With the game on the line the Raven pull this crazy defensive alignment out.
I couldn’t get a clean look at the running back’s number so I ‘m guessing it was Frank Gore but whoever it was guessed wrong choosing to block on the overloaded side of the line instead of getting to Ellerbe who was untouched.
I have to give it to Kaepernick he almost completed this pass to Crabtree barely over throwing him….a game of inches indeed.
I’m sure Saints fans have asked the question how good is Ellerbe in pass coverage? In my opinion he’s not bad, he won’t wow you but he’s not bad. Ellerbe is more of a thumper than a speed guy but his reaction time makes up for lack of speed, he reads plays quick.
Baltimore mainly dropped him back in zone coverage to cover an area like a lot of teams do with their inside linebackers. On this play below though Ellerbe has one on one coverage against Denver TE Jacob Tamme in the 2012 divisional playoff game, it was a crucial 3rd down play in the game – it was incomplete.
Okay now lets shift gears to a year later when Ellerbe was with the Miami Dolphins, this first look is a game against the Saints.
This play is a little swing pass to Darren Sproles, of course it’s a tough job for any linebacker to cover Sproles one on one so the key is read and reaction time. As soon as Sproles starts to go into the flat Ellerbe is moving limiting Sproles to a four yard game as seen it the two screen shots below.
This next series of screen shots is from the same Saints drive but a much different result for Ellerbe. With the Saints in the red zone he wrongly goes to cover (or help cover) Jimmy Graham leaving the inside running lane wide open and by the time he realized it was a run to Sproles all that was left was for Sproles to sprint in untouched. It also could be that he thought Sproles was going to run behind Evans and Strief, it’s hard to tell but either way it was the wrong read.
This next play is another example of Ellerbe’s quick read and react time. On this play in a snow storm at Pittsburgh Ellerbe quickly reads the pass to tight end Heath Miller and stops him after only a three yard catch.
These are just a few plays of what Ellerbe brings to the table, there’s plenty more good and bad, I just wanted to show what we hope we will get from him (except the Sproles TD of course)
I think the main question with Ellerbe is how healed is he from the hip injury and will there be any lingering effects? From what I can see he is a very quick thinker football wise and if he returns to form we may have an instant upgrade along with Stephone Anthony, turning what was a weak part on the defense into one of it’s strengths.