Dannell Ellerbe is tired of setbacks.
Ellerbe arrived in New Orleans hoping for a fresh start after his big-money opportunity in Miami was derailed by a devastating hip injury in 2014, but a series of injuries — turf toe that robbed him of training camp and the first three games, another hip injury that made him a spotty play in the season’s second half — limited the veteran to just six games in his first season with the Saints.
Now 30 years old, Ellerbe badly needs to stay out of the training room and on the field.
“It’s been two seasons, and it’s long overdue,” Ellerbe said. “When I’m healthy, I’m one of the best, so I’m looking forward to staying healthy.”
Ellerbe has been forced to deal with setbacks both physical and financial.
After he played only 250 snaps this season, Ellerbe was forced to take a pay cut for the second straight season. New Orleans restructured his deal, dropping his salary from $5.9 million down to $3.2 million.
New Orleans had to make the move. Despite the spark Ellerbe provided in the handful of full games he played, the seven-year veteran has never played a full season, and he’s played more than 13 games only once, when he missed just one game with the Dolphins in 2013 and made 101 tackles.
Ellerbe remains optimistic that he can return to form.
“The first one was rough, but it was something I could bounce back from,” Ellerbe said. “The nagging injuries from last year, it was kind of difficult, but it hasn’t deterred me in any way. I knew it was something I could bounce back from, just got to make sure you’re fully healthy.”
If Ellerbe can stay healthy, he’ll be a key part of a linebacking corps that has been completely overhauled this offseason.
New Orleans signed veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis to run the defense, taking a little bit of the pressure off of Ellerbe, who provided a steadying influence next to rookie middle linebacker Stephone Anthony inside last season. Anthony has moved to the strong side now, and with Laurinaitis in the middle, Ellerbe finds himself working with somebody who needs no veteran presence.
“I love playing with James Laurinaitis, he’s a guy that can command a defense and get everybody set up,” Ellerbe said. “We came out together, so I already knew him.”
New Orleans also brought in veteran free agents Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar, who both displayed impressive coverage skills that were missing from the linebacking corps last season, particularly when Ellerbe was out.
So far, the chemistry among the new linebacking group has been good, and it’s clear Robertson and Stupar are more capable of filling in for Ellerbe if injuries strike again.
“I feel like we’ve got a good group of guys in our room,” Stupar said. “We’ll get together, hang out, have a nice group chat, talking, being connected. There’s nothing worse than if you don’t talk to the guys you play with and everyone’s out for themselves.”
All Ellerbe can do is hope he can turn around the injury narrative that’s been following him for so long.
And he’ll spend the rest of the summer trying to make sure he gets off on the right foot this time around.
“Doing what I do all the time,” Ellerbe said. “Working out, getting my flexibility right, getting my strength right, getting my stamina right, getting ready to go.”