Welcome to the third installment of my Name Dropping series. Today I'll be discussing the offensive line. If you didn't know, I love assessing the offensive linemen because you get some big guys who are very athletic trying to coordinate moving in close proximity to each other in order to either run block or defend the passer. It's like playing "Red Rover" with Sumo wrestlers.
Anyway, the purpose is to take what the coaches are saying in press conferences and read between the lines a bit and see who's got the best chance to make the roster. However, in regard to the offensive line, it's more about who brings what to the table because the Saints need to add depth to the line. Join me after the jump to see what's being said.
Evaluating the true value of an offensive lineman is best done in the trenches. You can see who has good strength, balance, footwork, handwork, and speed. The problem is under the new CBA, contact is severely limited. In OTAs and even the rookie minicamps, the Saints coaches are using a 2-step method with the linemen to ensure that contact not allowed by the league doesn't take place. Joe Vitt explains it best:
I think for our offensive and defensive linemen, what we’ve tried to teach is: ‘bring your hands first, your feet second, 1-2 shut it down, and try to have as little helmet-to-helmet contact as we can.’ But it’s non-padded contact. That being said, that is the antithesis of what these guys are used to doing, so we have to work on tempo and the non-contact part.
So with that being said, we're pretty much going to need to wait until training camp to see how the big guys respond to being in pads. Regardless, the offensive line is in good shape right now. I know some are concerned about the loss of Carl Nicks, but rest assured Ben Grubbs is a solid replacement. Chris Trahant points out that other than losing Nicks to free agency the line is still intact.
The offensive line, which remains a solid cog in the Saints’ offensive machine, returns four starters and has added a pro-bowler in Ben Grubbs who has looked fantastic in workouts. Grubbs, who joined the team this off-season after five years in Baltimore, has fit seamlessly into the team’s offensive strategy.
On top of Trahant, Joe Vitt seems very optimistic about the addition of Grubbs. When asked about how Grubbs is working out Vitt says,
"(He is a) very, very smart, very detailed player. I think that he is probably a little better communicator on the line of scrimmage than Carl Nicks. I think that he is going to be a positive influence on Jermon Bushrod. He knows the game and has real good balance. He’s strong at the point. So far so good. He hasn’t missed a workout in the offseason conditioning program. He’s close to home. I think that it has been positive for him and us."
There were a few injury issues with the veteran linemen; however, they have a green light when training camp begins. Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod started OTAs on a light duty schedule and Vitt claims they will be ready for training camp. During OTAs, Zach Strief tweaked his ankle and was placed in a walking boot as a precaution, but is expected to be 100% by the beginning of training camp.
In contrast, Saints rookies didn't suffer any setbacks in the injury category and are showing some real potential. I found a good quote about Marcel Jones from Joe Vitt:
We have a big-bodied guy who doesn’t panic out there. He has a learning curve right now but he has some innate athletic ability that will allow him to play the position. We are going to have to see where he is mentally and how far he can progress."
Now while I like the "innate athletic ability" comment, I'm concerned anytime a coach says a player has a learning curve to overcome. Especially when it comes to the line. The protection and blocking schemes in the NFL can be confusing for veterans so him being a rookie helps alleviate some of my concern but not completely. Again, we can't put much stock into the evaluations until they start hitting each other.
While I could not find quotes directly related to Andrew Tiller, Vitt was asked about evaluating him and danced around the question a little bit. Instead of singling out Tiller he talked about the line in general. The transcript of this particular press conference was on www.neworleanssaints.com, but has since disappeared. Instead you can find the same transcript here:
I think if you talk to Aaron Kromer he is going to tell you that this is the best crop of offensive linemen that we have had since we’ve been here. He likes their mental capabilities, (and they have) good balance. These guys know this and I know this because of the nature of the OTAs right now that evaluation process is going to mean a lot more when they get the pads on. But so far those offensive linemen have done a good job. We are proud of them. Aaron is really happy with them.
I know I promised to include the tight ends but I just didn't have the time or the space. Other than David Thomas' return, and the addition of Jake Byrne as a blocking TE, I haven't heard a whole lot about the position, so maybe during training camp I can fit in something about them.