Zach Strief is a big dude.
At 6’7, 320 lbs., it’s pretty much impossible not to notice him when he’s walking down the street. It’s hard to imagine such a towering presence ever being overlooked, but that’s exactly what happened when it came time for NFL scouts to evaluate his talent coming out of Northwestern in 2006.
As the the 210th overall selection, most people thought Strief would be nothing more than a serviceable backup during his time in the Crescent City.
Most people were wrong.
Strief played second fiddle to longtime right tackle Jon Stinchcomb for the first five years of his career, starting only seven times in that span but gaining much needed experience in the process. Strief was able to see how a first-class offensive lineman conducts himself both on and off the field, and it was Stinchcomb’s presence that helped mold him into the player he is today.
After five years as a perennial backup, he got his first taste of the big time.
New Orleans released the injury-riddled Stinchcomb in 2011 and Strief became the sole owner of the starting right tackle position.
Things didn’t start out so well.
The Saints opened up the year against the defending champion Green Bay Packers on a Thursday night in Lambeau Field, and Strief was given the task of stopping Clay Matthews in front of a national audience.
That night, Zach Strief got abused worse than any girl Chris Brown has ever dated. Matthews dominated the Saints’ backfield and Strief was graded in the red for the first of only two times that season.
If it looked like he wasn’t taking advantage of his opportunities, trust me, it got worse. Strief went down with a knee injury in just the third week of the season and seemed to ruin his chance at ever making it as a starter in New Orleans.
But Zach Strief never quit. In fact, he did quite the opposite.
He came back in Week 9 and played better than he ever had. He didn’t give up a hit or a sack for the rest of the regular season. And he began to take on a leadership role within the locker room.
Strief was the glue that held the offensive line together during the Saints’ impressive 2011 campaign, and he did it with quiet, gritty determination.
With such a great year behind him it was only obvious Zach Strief was on his way to becoming a key piece in the Saints puzzle. He was named a team captain prior to the 2012 season and had successfully paid his dues in the football world. If ever there was a time for Strief to make a name for himself, this was it.
And that’s when things came crashing down.
Strief had his worst season in a Saints uniform in 2012, giving up seven sacks and injuring himself for the second time in two years. Strief was pushed around with regularity and missed a big chunk of the season due to a groin issue that seemed to just keep getting worse. He also shouldered most of the responsibility for an unfathomable loss to the Chiefs in Week 3, where Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston bullied him like a fat kid on the playground all day.
It was a season he’d like to forget, and one which now begs the question: Which Zach Strief will we see in 2013? The one who gives up just two sacks in 11 games as a starter, or the one who gets regularly beaten by mediocre pass rushers?
I know a big portion of his struggles have come due to injuries. I also know he has only been a starter going on three years. But now is the time for Zach Strief to step up and become the dominating presence of the offensive line. With the questions surrounding Charles Brown at left tackle, Strief has to establish himself as Drew Brees’ number one protector when foot meets leather in September.
It’s obvious he has the talent to be a long-time NFL starter. He just has to prove it.
Zach Strief’s future with New Orleans relies on a solid 2013, and I have no doubt he will come through. Strief has learned from his mistakes and will start the year healthy and itching to make up for a porous 2012 season.
We’ve seen both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from him in the past two years. Now it’s time to see Zach Strief.
I’m looking forward to it.