Protection was an issue last season for the New Orleans Saints offensive line. After Terron Armstead got his first start in week 16 against the Panthers, I thought the big guys up front played much better down the stretch, creating running lanes for the 'backs and protecting Drew Brees. Here's how things look now in the final days before training camp.
Left Tackle: Terron Armstead returns as the incumbent starter this season. It appears to be Armstead's job with little to no competition. The coaching staff loves Armstead's athleticism and power. Marcel Jones is considered the primary back-up to Armstead at left tackle, but the versatile Bryce Harris could play there in a pinch.
Left Guard: Ben Grubbs returns for his third season with New Orleans. Grubbs made the Pro Bowl last year and helped make the transition from Charles Brown to Armstead at left tackle a little easier. He's one of the quiet leaders on the team, and really excels in the run blocking game.
Center: Tim Lelito will likely open camp with the first team unit. The second year man out of Grand Valley State was a valuable swing offensive lineman last season, spot starting for Jahri Evans due to injury. The Saints brought in some insurance in case Lelito isn't ready to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of starting center. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin will push Lelito for the starting gig. The Saints are in a really good spot with Lelito and Goodwin. If the team suffers an injury at either of three interior O-line positions, they'll have a plug-and-play guy at guard or center. Lelito can swing over to one of the guard spots, and Goodwin can take over at center.
Right Guard: Jahri Evans was hampered by leg injuries last season, but still managed to make the Pro Bowl; and while he might not be the same player he was from 2006-2012, he's still one of the best in the game. As I mentioned, his back-up will be Lelito. Evans is the longest tenured offensive lineman on the team.
Right Tackle: Zach Strief was brought back this offseason on a long-term contract, and he might have been the team's most consistent offensive lineman last season. He's not flashy, and at times looks like he's getting beat, but Strief is a team captain, and the coaching staff knows he will have his assigment down pat. Bryce Harris will be the back-up to Strief.
If you asked me where are the Saints are the thinnest in terms of depth, it would clearly be the offensive line, namely at either tackle spot. Strief and Armstead have to stay healthy, or else the O-line could be in trouble if the injury bug bites at this position.