T-Bob: Saints O-line has old and new dogs in the fight
by T-Bob Hebert,posted Jun 5 2014 3:37PM
This is the first entry in what will be an ongoing series chronicling the Saints offensive linemen through OTAs and camp up to the beginning of the season. Today was the media’s second time having access to one of these organized team activities and already changes have been made.
On Double Coverage I’ve talked about how the Saints center situation is unique in that they have two former Division II teammates competing for the same job in the NFL in 2nd year man Tim Lelito and rookie free agent Matt Armstrong. I doubt this has ever happened in league history, however, as many predicted, there is a new dog in the fight…or rather, an old dog, who’s been away for a couple years.
The Saints finalized a deal with 13 year veteran Jonathan Goodwin Tuesday that saw the former Saint return to New Orleans after spending a couple years out in San Francisco. Goodwin spent his first four years in New York with the Jets, before signing with New Orleans in 2006. He was, of course, the starting center for the Saints 2009 Super Bowl team and was a Pro Bowl reserve selection in 2010. Goodwin then signed with the San Francisco 49ers before the 2011 season and over the next three years would helm a unit that cleared the way for one of the league’s top rushing attacks, while making it to three consecutive NFC Championships and one Super Bowl.
Goodwin is now a 13 year veteran and while the Niners decided to move in a younger direction, it would be wrong to assume that Goodwin can’t be valuable to the Saints. Goodwin has a full four more years of experience than any other O-lineman on this roster. He knows this game inside and out and perhaps more importantly Goodwin has spent 5 years of his career playing for Sean Payton and is intimately familiar with how the Saints system works. Goodwin brings great value as both a potential starter and as a resource for younger players to go to with questions, advice, etc... Much like Champ Bailey, Goodwin can teach these guys what it means to be a professional on a day to day basis and how to give themselves the best chance of being successful.
What does this mean for Tim Lelito? From what we saw today Lelito was still running with the 1st group, while Goodwin was in charge of the 2nd. This is not surprising… Goodwin just signed Tuesday and I wouldn’t put too much weight behind whose playing with what group right now. In the big picture, however, the pressure is turned up considerably on Lelito. There is a huge difference between having a rookie from Grand Valley State versus a 13 year NFL vet, who started every game the last three years, coming up behind you.
Contrary to what some might think, this is not necessarily a negative thing for Lelito. “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another”… Proverbs 27:17. Competition brings out the best in people and greater competition can cause a player to rise above even his own expectations. When you combine the added motivation with the fact that Lelito can tap into Goodwin’s wealth of experience, I still really like the position the 2nd year player currently finds himself in.
I am not sure exactly how it will all shake out, but I will definitely keep a close eye on these two as I try to glean who is playing better from the very limited viewings we are allowed. One thing I do feel confident in saying, however, is that I believe the Saints will be just fine at that Center spot this season. You may ask, “How could you say that when Lelito has never even started a game at center?” In response I’ll point to the fact that in order to win the starting job Lelito will have to beat out a guy who started 108 games in his career. If Tim does this in the eyes of the coaches, then I would venture to say he is ready to captain the ship on Sundays.
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