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Ex-49ers LB Alexander brings missing piece to Saints defense

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It was not easy for the 49ers to say goodbye to linebacker Kwon Alexander ahead of the recent NFL trade deadline.

It makes it even more difficult that they could see him on the other side of the line of scrimmage on Sunday when the 49ers face the New Orleans Saints.

Alexander cleared COVID-19 protocols and began his first week of practice with the Saints after the 49ers traded him for a fifth-round draft pick. He could make his Saints debut against his former team.

Saints coach Sean Payton said his team had their eyes on Alexander for a while. They faced him regularly as an NFC South opponent during his first four NFL seasons as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Of course, he was in the division,” Payton said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “He was someone we were familiar with right down the road at LSU, then to Tampa Bay, then having a chance to see him in San Francisco.”

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Alexander figures to step in to solidify the middle of the Saints defense, alongside Pro Bowl middle linebacker Demario Davis. Whether that will be this weekend, Payton would not say.

“It was an area that we felt fit for us,” Payton said. “Defensively, we had a few injuries. The key now that he’s here, is what can happen.

“So being smart, relative to what type of role we envision for him, but we have a lot of respect just his ability to run. He’s a thumper when he tackles. I heard a ton of great things about him, a lot of ties with either players we know or coaches we know well. It’s good to have him in the building.”

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Alexander was a popular player during his time with the 49ers for the energy and passion he brought to the playing field.

Although he has been with the Saints only a short period of time, Payton said he already has a feel for Alexander’s intangible qualities.

“You can sense it,” Payton said. “He loves playing and you can see that on tape.”