Friday, June 12, 2009

Saints Nation: Scott Shanle is the most underrated Saint?

Scott Shanle has had his place in the starting lineup for 3 years as a Saint, and all signs point to him holding on to that place again this season. While some of the the defense's struggles the past couple seasons have led fans to target Shanle as the culprit, it's at least arguable that his performance has been steady and good enough to keep his job secure. Despite repeated threats from a weak spirited Dan Morgan and constant attempts for upgrades each season (via free agency and the draft), Shanle has been untouchable in the starting lineup. You have to respect a guy when each offseason we assume he'll be replaced, and each season he's once again heading his position. Here he is again as training camp approaches, and he remains the starter. This depsite the fact that a new defensive coordinator was added in Gregg Williams who evaluated the performance of all his new players. Obviously he was pretty happy with the play of the linebacking core last year as Scott Fujita, Jonathan Vilma and Shanle are all back. Here is how Shanle's stats have broken down the past 3 years:

2006: 97 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 defended pass (16 games)
2007: 68 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 defended pass (14 games)
2008: 87 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 defended passes (16 games)

So after a weaker year in 2007, Shanle regained his 2006 form last year and had a pretty productive season. He was also given more responsibility than ever last year as a pass defender, and filled that role admirably. His most memorable moment last season was his defended pass against San Diego in London, as his tipped pass landed in the hands of Jonathan Vilma for a game sealing interception.

While you can give the defensive line grief for lack of sacks and the defensive backfield grief for giving up big plays, the Saints linebacking core is as good as it's been in years and certainly better than it EVER was during the Haslett era. Fujita-Vilma-Shanle is a very solid core we should be grateful for having. Those guys aren't going to head anyone's list as hall of fame candidates, but they're good enough to lead a successful team if the other players around them carry their weight. Fujita and Vilma have been safe from any blame for the most part, but for some reason Shanle is the popular target of negative comments. Shanle has been a steady performer for the Saints, and the criticism he receives from fans is unfair. He is certainly not the reason for our lack of success on that side of the ball the past few years. It will be great to see how productive he can become in this new scheme. His under the radar performance, his dependability and his leadership skills make him the most underrated player on the Saints' roster in my opinion.