The Saints do not have a set group of starting linebackers.So, with the team using a combination of players last week, none of the linebackers played all of the defensive snaps. This wouldn’t be a notable development for any other position group, but it is for this one since a designated linebacker typically wears a communication device in his helmet and relays calls to the other players.A.J. Klein handled those duties last season, but the responsibility was shared last week against the Cleveland Browns. Klein, who played 44-of-62 snaps, wore it on some series, while Manti Te’o (35 snaps) wore on others.This approach is atypical, but it worked for the Saints.“It hasn’t been an issue for us,” Klein said. “It hasn’t caused any mistakes as far as the communication goes. So, as long as we keep that stuff clean, I think we’ll be fine.”The key to making it work is being organized. The Saints aren’t passing helmets back and forth or switching the communication device between plays. The team decided before each series last week whether they were going to keep Te’o or Klein on the field for all of the plays and whoever was selected put on a helmet with the communication device inside (only one device is allowed on the field at a time) and handled the job.The roles could change on a weekly basis. Demario Davis wore the communication device last season while playing for the New York Jets, Alex Anzalone wore it against Arizona during the preseason, and Craig Robertson has done it at different times for the Saints.Anzalone said that he might even be wearing it as soon as this week against the Atlanta Falcons. Asked if it would be a big deal for him to handle the job, he said, “Not really, because at the end of the day you have to echo the call because no everyone hears it.”Klein echoed that sentiment.“At the end of the day it’s the call coming in, and we communicate the call for some things,” he said. “For people who haven’t done it before it might seem like a bigger issue or bigger deal. Really, the transition has been seamless because everyone has done it.”The ideal outcome might be to have a singular linebacker who serves as the so-called quarterback of the defense. But there is nothing that says this approach can’t work, especially since New Orleans has so many linebackers who do different things well.It also might not be a bad thing for multiple players to get used to relaying calls for the defense. After Klein tore his groin in a game against the Falcons last year, members of the defense said the team had trouble getting calls out in the huddle for the remainder of the game.As far as their play goes, things looked better for the linebackers this week. Klein, in particular, had a strong game. He was solid in coverage and finished with at least five run stuffs. Davis and Te’o also had good moments interspersed throughout the game.Even with some players moving in and out, the players say they feel comfortable playing alongside one another.“There’s going to be adjustments week to week, but we’ve all played together throughout this whole offseason,” Klein said. “There’s no surprises.”The smooth performance was an improvement from last week when some of the players said they were used in unexpected ways. Everyone was ready this week, and it worked out.Still, even though it went well, the team would like to settle in on a group at some point.“I would say early in the season one of the challenges is sorting through the snaps in the exact roles for that position and I’m kind of going through the same thing relative to some of the receiver snaps,” coach Sean Payton said. “Hopefully quicker than later, it’ll begin to become clear, and it’s not like it’s an ongoing competition. We’re always competing, but it’s trying to package your personnel groupings that you think give you the best chance to win.”Until that happens, this group will keep working through it and send a designated spokesperson to say whatever needs to be said on the field.
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