After parting ways with center Brian de la Puente, the New Orleans Saints failed to address their need for one in the 2014 NFL Draft. Protecting their Pro Bowl quarterback should be the team’s number one priority. This raises concerns in the Big Easy, but did the Saints already have future plans for the center position?
Second-year man, Tim Lelito started two games last year for the Black and Gold at guard, but apparently spent a majority of his practices taking reps at center in 2013. Were the Saints preparing him for this moment? He looks to be the favorite to start in the middle this year; he is now taking snaps with the first team.
The former Grand Valley State Laker stands at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and showed flashes of his potential in his limited plating time last year. In college, Lelito earned himself a First-Team All-GLIAC selection his senior year and was part of an offensive line that ranked six nationally in sacks allowed. He was Grand Valley State’s offensive lineman of the year and helped pave the way for the Lakers to lead their conference in rushing, total offense (tenth nationally) and scoring (sixth nationally).
After hearing Ben Grubbs in an interview last week, it sounds like the coaches and players have nothing but respect for the potential starting center. I still see New Orleans signing on veteran free agent Jonathan Goodwin for insurance purposes. Of course, Goodwin was part of the Saints’ Super Bowl team and even made a Pro Bowl in 2009, before signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He is 35-years-old now, but can still add depth to a position that is in dire need of it.
As of right now, Tim Lelito looks to be the guy to take snaps in 2014. After his two starts, he’s got an idea of what it’s like to compete at the next level. If he impresses the coaches and finishes strong at training camp, the Saints’ concerns at center may be over. Lelito is a big, strong guy; he’s got the size, strength and skill set to be a dominant force on the line. Just because he went to a small school doesn’t mean he can’t match up in the pros. Jahri Evans and Zach Strief both know what it’s like to be an underrated lineman. It will be interesting to see if Tim Lelito can take advantage of the opportunity and run with it. Protection for Drew Brees is a must.