He wears No. 53.
And Friday night, Ramon Humber all but made the Saints’ 53. If he doesn’t, something will have gone wrong over the next two weeks.
Humber — whose annual status is about as uncertain as a former undrafted linebacker from North Dakota State sounds like it should be even in his fifth season — took full advantage of Curtis Lofton’s absence, recording nine tackles, including a sack, in the first half of the Saints’ preseason game against the Oakland raiders in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“If they made the cuts after tonight, I’d like to think I’ll be here,” said Humber, making the first postgame podium appearance of his career. “I did what I could to help the team win tonight— pass coverage, run support and getting off blocks. It’s all about being accountable and having your teammates and coaches trust you.”
Saints coach Sean Payton was less committal, saying of Humber: “We’ll have to look at the film. He certainly handled the defensive calls, but it’s a little hard to tell exactly on an inside linebacker from the sideline.”
But Payton also cited the importance of “next man up” — and with Lofton and Jonathan Vilma out Friday, Humber was exactly that.
Regardless, it’s already been a hard road staying in the league for Humber, who’s been waived three times, placed on injured reserve and last year served a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
In 47 regular-season games over four seasons, Humber has been credited with 47 tackles — none last year when he appeared almost exclusively on special teams after coming off the suspended list.
“The suspension was a wake-up call,” said Humber, whose career began at Indianapolis in 2009 when he was a member of the Colts’ Super Bowl team that lost to the Saints, who signed him late in the 2010 season. “I made a mistake and suffered the consequences.
“It showed me how you can’t take life in the NFL for granted. Last year wasn’t my year, but it’s in the past now.”
If that weren’t enough, Humber is the smallest linebacker on the team at 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds.
“I’m a little undersized,” he said. “But you’ve just got to have the heart and the will to get to the ball and don’t let anybody stop you from getting there.”
Humber is on his third straight one-year contact, the only difference from the last one being that the Saints resigned him in March instead of waiting until August to bring him back as they did a year ago.
Going through OTAs under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan gave Humber a leg up he didn’t have in 2012, when he also was facing the suspension.
That carried over to some good showings early in training camp, including spelling Vilma with the first unit during some of the earlier sessions.
In last week’s preseason opener against Kansas City, Humber had four tackles, second on the team.
And Friday, when Lofton was held out with an undisclosed injury, Humber not only got the start ahead of Chris Chamberlain — his first since three games in 2011 when Vilma was out — but he also received the calls from the sideline.
Humber made his presence known early Friday, teaming with David Hawthorne to stop Darren McFadden for no gain when Oakland went for it one fourth-and-one from the Saints’ 43 on the game’s opening possession.
“Ramon had a great day,” Hawthorne said. “He always plays at a high level in practice and he just got to showcase it today.”
The sack came on the first play of the Raiders’ third possession when Humber made an inside-outside move past Jared Veldheer to drop Matt Flynn for a six-yard loss.
“Coach Ryan saw something the first couple of series, and he called it for me,” Humber said. “All I had to do was execute.”
Humber played every defensive snap of the first half, making tackles on first, second, third and fourth downs as the Saints allowed just one first down before the final minutes of the half.
But as good as the night was for Humber, he pointed out that nothing is secure until the final 53 is determined.
“I don’t think this is my last chance,” he said. “Anything can happen.
“I know they’re looking for somebody to step up with all of our injuries. Those guys will be back, and then it’s up to me to find a place on this team.”