The New Orleans Saints roster will suffer some scheduled paring-downs this year, but knowing they’re coming won’t make it any less painful. Little more than half of the players on the 90-man roster going into training camp will still be here come opening day against the Oakland Raiders in September.
The New Orleans Saints’ offensive line looked like a weakness last year. Jahri Evans had been a longtime anchor for the unit but injuries and time had taken the edge off of his play. The team had no identifiable starter at the guard spot opposite Evans.
Those fears were proven to be well-founded when the team struggled to pick up yards on the ground or keep future Hall of Fame passer Drew Brees safe. Brees’ sack rate in 2015 was the fifth-worst it had ever been in his career, and the Saints as a team gained the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL.
So now the Saints roster is back where it started at offensive line. They failed to add any starting-quality veterans or draft picks, but a few hopeful undrafted rookies and some second-year players are cause for hope. Here’s the eight offensive linemen I see the Saints roster carrying into the season-opening kickoff:
Offensive Line (8)
- T Terron Armstead #72
- T Zach Strief #64
- T/G Andrus Peat #75
- T/G Tyrus Thompson #74
- G/C Senio Kelemete #65
- G/C Tim Lelito #68
- C Max Unger #60
- C Jack Allen #66
The offensive linemen crowding the Saints roster last year were fairly hit-or-miss. Terron Armstead solidified himself as one of the NFL’s best left tackles and former Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger played at a high level for his new team. But the team has no returning starters at either left or right guard and right tackle Zach Strief’s career is drawing to a close.
"“I think [Andrus Peat] is doing real well. He finished strong last season. Obviously, he played at a few different spots a year ago. He is in great shape, and I think that is going to serve him well as we are in these practices and as we move into training camp. Certainly we see him starting. Whether it’s at right guard or right tackle, we’ve got some time and some flexibility with regards to that. I’m encouraged with how he’s progressing.”"
When the Saints drafted Peat last year they envisioned him as an eventual replacement to Strief, and that’s probably still the case. Strief is a good player in his own right but his vulnerability to twitchy, smaller athletes at defensive end is lessening his value.
But the gulf in talent between Peat – whose play was very spotty at guard last year – and the other candidates to start inside is probably wider than the gap between Strief and Peat.
So expect Peat to stay inside at guard because the Saints neglected to find an adequate replacement this offseason. There’s hope that undrafted rookie Landon Turner (North Carolina) can step in and start at guard instead of Peat, but I don’t think Turner will even make the team.
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Turner is not a fit athletically or schematically for what the Saints are doing. They value linemen who are agile and can move well laterally. So while Turner is prodigiously strong, his slow feet and lack of agility will probably keep him from making an impact or even surviving roster cuts. He’s currently sitting second-to-last on the depth chart at guard.
Tyrus Thompson is a dark horse to make the team, but we probably won’t see much of him on Sundays. Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings last year, Thompson had a strong preseason and training camp but couldn’t put it together when put in live games. He was released from his contract and spent time on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad before returning to the Vikings’, when New Orleans poached him to add to their depth chart late in the season.
Thompson is an athletic lineman with better size (6-foot-5, 324-pounds with 34 and 3/8-inch arms) than Turner, plus positional versatility. Thompson has played both tackle spots and right guard going back to his college career. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s the eighth and last offensive lineman to stick on the Saints roster over Turner, but we’ll know more once pads are put on and full contact ensues later this summer.