Former Carolina Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein won’t play Sunday for the New Orleans Saints, due to a sports hernia, but that won’t stop him from helping his new team.
Klein signed with the Saints in the offseason (reportedly for three years and $15 million), and he won over his new team so quickly that he was named a captain. So it was a big blow when Klein was knocked off the active roster in early December.
Klein spent four seasons in Charlotte, after the Panthers drafted him in 2013. Klein has been offering insight on his former team to the Saints this week, and plans to keep doing that on the sideline of the Superdome.
Naturally, the question he gets the most from his fellow defenders is how best to corral Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
“Obviously, with the offense of Carolina, the energy runs through Cam. For us, keeping him in the pocket” is most important, Klein said Friday. “You can talk about sacks and pressures being important every single week, but because of Cam’s athleticism outside the pocket, you definitely have to account for him.”
Klein lasted to the fifth round before the Panthers selected him in 2013. He built a big role with Carolina on versatility, playing at least some at all three linebacker spots.
Klein got his chance to start on a regular basis by signing with the Saints. Klein’s departure meant additional snaps for Shaq Thompson, who the Panthers selected 25th overall in 2015.
“Shaq has taken that role and run with it; he was taken in the first round for a reason. He’s athletic and versatile. He makes plays in space, and can cover slot receivers, which not a lot of linebackers can do. Shaq has obviously turned into a great player.”
Payton applauds Peppers
Like so many other NFL coaches, the Saints’ Sean Payton is struck by how productive Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has been, with 11 sacks this season at the age of 37.
Asked about Peppers’ talent and longevity, Payton mentioned his longtime friendship with former Panthers coach John Fox, who was with Carolina when the Panthers drafted Peppers No. 1 overall in the 2002.
Payton and Fox worked together on the New York Giants staff before each was hired as a head coach. Payton applauded the Panthers’ decision to bet on Peppers’ talent, rather than default to the best quarterback available in ’02.
“There was much discussion about him versus Joey Harrington,” the Oregon quarterback who went third to the Detroit Lions, Payton recalled.
“I just know there was a lot of pressure from some people in our industry to ‘Take the quarterback! Take the quarterback!’ I think John and Marty Hurney (then and now the Panthers’ general manger) did well.
“At his age, and what he’s done, (Peppers has) had a great career and is still playing at a high level.”
Cerebral rookie Kamara
The Saints might have gotten the steal of the 2017 draft in Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, chosen in the third round. Sharing carries with veteran running back Mark Ingram, Kamara is sixth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, at 1,554.
What so attracted the Saints to Kamara?
“His intelligence,” Payton said of the workout and film study Payton attended in Knoxville.
“With Alvin, quickly in that film room, you could tell he was on top of all the elements to the game. And then out on the field, as we went through a few routes and defensive looks, he picked it up very quickly. Aside from his physical ability, that’s his gift.”