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John DeShazier: Dannell Ellerbe eager to get back on the field for Saints

Linebacker has made an impact when healthy

Perhaps it's no small coincidence that in the three games linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has started this season for the New Orleans Saints, two were victories in which the Saints played some of their best defense this season, against Atlanta and Indianapolis.

The seven-year veteran has been dogged by injuries this season, having missed eight of the 12 games so far. But when present, his abilities have been obvious – seven tackles and a pass defensed against the Eagles; 13 tackles a forced fumble and fumble recovery against the Falcons; and seven tackles against the Colts.

So if Ellerbe is a "go" for Sunday, when the Saints (4-8) play the Buccaneers (6-6) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., it'll be a significant boost for the Saints defensively.

"With Dannell, of course you're wanting him to be healthy," Coach Sean Payton said. "When he has been on the field it's been a big difference for us defensively and yet he battled the toe and kind of the sports hernia.

"I'm optimistic this week and he will be able to get some work, I think, and hopefully he can be out there and play this weekend because he is an explosive player."

And the Saints defense could use that explosiveness.

For the season, opponents are averaging 31.7 points and 425.6 yards per game, and 6.6 yards per play, against New Orleans. In the two wins with Ellerbe on the field, Atlanta and Indianapolis averaged 394.5 yards and six yards per play, but more importantly, each team scored just 21 points and the Saints forced six turnovers.

In New Orleans' other 10 games, opponents have committed 11 turnovers.

Coincidental, or cause and effect?

For Ellerbe, it doesn't matter which. He's just eager to get back on the field.

"It means a lot," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what I love doing, playing. It's killed me to be out and watch my guys have to go through all of this without me. But I'll see how it goes this week and see if I'll be out there this weekend.

"I feel like I just bring an energy to the defense. I'm very knowledgeable, I make alerts to guys. It comes with repetition and being in the game for a while."

It has been especially challenging for Ellerbe to watch because of last season. Playing with Miami, he sustained a hip injury in the 2014 season opener and missed the rest of the year.

"It's very difficult, especially coming off my injury last year, being out for a full year," he said. "It's kind of frustrating but the good part is knowing that it's not a season-ending thing and that I'll be able to be out there. When I'm on the sideline, I'm always in guys' ears, still giving them alerts, letting them know what I see from the sideline.

"It's definitely been a test of patience. But I'm a veteran guy. I've got a chance to get back out there so there's a bright side. It's not a season-ending injury, so I'm always hopeful."

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