Skip to main content
New Orleans Saints

Saints News | New Orleans Saints |

John DeShazier: Linebacker Stephone Anthony has been a good fit for Saints

Rookie one of five players to start every game on defense

Photos of Stephone Anthony from the 2015 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)

Five players have started every game on defense for the New Orleans Saints this season.

Defensive end Cam Jordan, safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Brandon Browner entered the season as relied-upon veterans, expected to be cornerstones for a defense looking for improvement after the 2014 season. And cornerback Delvin Breaux, while a first-year player, isn't the average first-year player – he's a talented 26-year old who was a blue-chip recruit and who, but for the misfortune of a broken neck in high school, would've been an NFL starter several seasons ago.

The fifth? Rookie "Mike" linebacker Stephone Anthony, the second of New Orleans' two first-round picks (No. 31 overall), acquired in the trade with Seattle that sent tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, and netted the Saints center Max Unger and the pick that would become Anthony.

But that, too, isn't exactly a surprise.

The Saints, 5-8 entering their Monday night game against Detroit (4-9) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, drafted Anthony with a clear vision in mind for the 6-foot-3, 245-pound standout from Clemson. After parting ways with Curtis Lofton, the team's leading tackler from 2012-14, New Orleans had a need in the middle of the defense at linebacker.

And from the beginning, Anthony clearly has looked like a good fit for the Saints.  

Given the headset early and the responsibility of relaying the defensive calls to his teammates, Anthony rarely has come off the field and leads the Saints with 120 tackles. But he also has given New Orleans some bonus production: a sack, an interception, five passes defensed, a forced fumble and recovery that he returned 31 yards for a touchdown, and a returned blocked point-after attempt for a two-point conversion, the first defensive two-point conversion in league history.

"In my opinion, I still have a ways to go," Anthony said. "We've got three games left and I just want to hone in and pretty much keep preparing the way I have, keep trying to get better each week and keep trying to figure this thing out.

"It was tough. You've got to come in and earn the older guys' respect, kind of fit in and kind of take control at the same time. It was a tough challenge, but I think I've handled it well so far. Still got a ways to go, still work to do."

 "He's got a lot on his plate as the signal caller," Coach Sean Payton said. "I've said this during the season: With each game you see improvement, (but) by no means is he a finished product.

"There's a handful of things that he's continuing to work on, the communication of getting the players lined up, recognizing the formation – the back's offset strong, he's offset weak, the tight end just shifted, how does that affect the front? There are a lot of nuances that he's learning and, I think, that he's learning well."

Anthony's learning, in fact, appears to have hit an accelerated curve.

"When he came in he already had a lot of upside," said fellow linebacker David Hawthorne, an eight-year veteran. "He was intelligent, he just didn't have the experience. Now, you can see the experience coming. He's getting to utilize all his tools. He was already big, fast, strong, smart, but the experience is what he was lacking. And every week you just see him grow."

The hope is that Anthony's growth will correspond with a spurt by the Saints' defense.

The unit has struggled most of the season. It ranks last in the league in points allowed per game (30.5) and rushing defense (136.1 yards per game), and is second-to-last in yards allowed (414.8).

But the numbers are improved over the last three games (383 yards and 27.3 points allowed per game) and were at their best in the last game, a 24-17 victory over Tampa Bay in which the Saints allowed a season low in points and yards (291).

"You expect some of the early-season woes just from lack of experience, but I think he handled it well," Hawthorne said. "He stayed calm throughout it all and he's reaping the benefits of all that."

Said Anthony: "Things are starting to become a little bit second nature to me. I'm still working on my checks, understanding where everybody is supposed to be and what I need to check against.

"I think recognition is getting a little easier for me. It's one week at a time, truly and honestly, one week at a time, trying to find one thing we can get better at and hone in on that."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content