This is the 2nd part of a continuing series chronicling the offseason practices of the Saints offensive line. Day 1 of mandatory veteran mini-camp is in the books, and overall I think the line looked pretty solid. Sometimes it is hard to get a feel for who is truly winning or losing the battles without pads on, but on the whole I have to give advantage for Day 1 to the defensive line. I believe that the Saints D-line is extremely talented and there aren’t many lines in this league that could win the day against this crew.
In my last post, we took a look at the battle for the Center position taking place between Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin. In the previous OTA, Lelito took every rep with the 1st group, while Goodwin handled all the 2nd team reps. Today’s minicamp practice saw a slight deviation as Goodwin spent one period (1st Down plays I believe) with the first line group while Lelito helmed the second. During this period there didn’t seem to be any marked drop off or improvement of either line. Goodwin looked steady throughout while Lelito experienced a bit more excitement. One play Lelito almost snapped it over the QBs head and you could tell he was angry with himself.
A couple plays later Lelito used that anger to catch D-lineman Brandon Deaderick off guard and hit him with a punishing block that saw Lelito end up on top of Deaderick. This play stood out to me not only because it was a good block but also because I love the way Lelito responded after the bad snap. He didn’t pout or dwell on it, instead he used his frustration in a positive manner and made a good play. This speaks to the mental toughness that I have spoken of previously. I still don’t see any clear advantage either way in this battle and will continue to monitor the situation as it further develops.
One area that I believe may be cause for concern with this offensive line is tackle depth. In the interior, you already have a guy in Lelito who has proven to be a competent swingman that can play either guard or center. I don't know if the Saints are as sure about who should be the backup tackle. Besides Armstead and Strief, I am not sure that the Saints have a tackle that can step in without too much of a drop-off in play taking place.
Bryce Harris, the 3-year vet out of Fresno State, has the most experience and is the lead dog. However, it does beg the question - how long do you let a guy develop before he starts seeing the field? Is Harris still your best bet despite not challenging for a starting position? This line of questioning may be unfair to Harris because if he wins the job he will have undoubtedly earned it, as they don’t just keep guys around in the League just because they like you.
Some of the names to keep on eye on for guys who may challenge Harris’ role are Thomas Welch, Jason Weaver, Ty Nsekhe, and rookie Tavon Rooks. Welch has been in the league four years, which give him far more experience than the rest of this crew. Weaver is a New Orleans native who spent last season on the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Weaver has a tragic history that makes it hard not to cheer for him to make the roster. Ty Nsekhe definitely passes the eyeball test looking like one of the giants from Game Of Thrones. Nsehke is 6 feet 8 inches tall while tipping the scales at over 320 pounds. He played 3 years worth of arena football before getting picked up by the Rams. Has never caught on with a team yet.
Finally, there is the rookie out of Kansas State,Tavon Rooks. Rooks is tall and lean at 6’6 300. He has struggled at times and needs to be more consistent but he has also shown flashes of excellent footwork and athleticism. I think that there is potential in Rooks, and while it is too early to say, I am looking forward to watching watching the momentum he builds.
Next time we will talk about Terron Armstead. I will be keeping a close eye on him the next couple days to see how he looks heading into year two.