Michael Mauti’s life got turned upside down last season.
And it ended up being for the best.
Mauti, who had spent his first two NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, was waived at the end of training camp, the ultimate disappointment for players around the league.
But then the New Orleans Saints, the Mandeville native’s hometown club and the team his father, Rich, played six seasons for, came calling.
“For me personally, it was great,” Mauti said. “To be back home playing, and my family didn’t have to fly 1,000 miles to watch me play — that part was great.”
New Orleans also represented an opportunity to showcase an entirely different skill set. During two seasons with the Vikings, Mauti established himself as a special teams ace, but he hadn’t gotten many chances to play on defense for a Minnesota team that has spent considerable draft resources on linebackers in recent years.
A rash of injuries at that position in New Orleans gave Mauti a chance to show what he had learned. Mauti played 175 snaps, started two games, filled in on both the strong side and the weak side and ended up with a career-high 37 tackles.
“That really was the most exciting thing for me personally. … I never got the opportunity to play defense in Minnesota,” Mauti said. “But I always felt like I was good enough to play; it was just a matter of ‘I’ve got to find my spot.’ Here, I got my opportunities; I played every spot last year. I started at a few different spots, and I feel like I gave the coaches confidence that I can get in there and make some plays.”
Mauti is now cross-training at both outside linebacker spots in coordinator Dennis Allen’s defense, a scheme he’s excited about playing in. The hardest part about arriving in New Orleans at the start of the first week was that he hadn’t gotten a chance to learn the scheme or build rapport with the rest of the linebackers.
He had to learn everything on the fly.
“I’ve just got to be more consistent,” Mauti said. “This being my second year in the system, with everybody, all 11 guys, we’ve seen a lot of improvement, just because everyone’s speaking the same language again.”
Mauti finds himself in a linebacker room that the Saints fortified in the offseason. New Orleans brought in veterans James Laurinaitis, Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar, a trio of players the Saints are expecting to help fix the injury and athleticism woes that plagued the defense at times last year.
With so many new faces, Mauti will have to fight for snaps in the rotation, but he welcomes the challenge.
“I think our group as a whole is better. I know it’s better. It’s more competitive; it’s a positive environment where everybody’s helping each other get better,” Mauti said. “As far as the picture is concerned, everyone’s floating around.”