Now that the players of the 2015 draft class have shed their label as rookies, they are aiming to improve as veterans. Andrus Peat is one of those looking to make a major leap this season.
Some of the players have just gotten healthy enough to make a run at competing for roles, while others are hoping to solidify and keep the ones they already earned. Andrus Peat is looking to prove that he belongs on the offensive line for the long haul.
When the Saints selected Stanford 6-foot-7, 316-pound offensive tackle Andrus Peat with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, many Saints fans were left with a sense of bewilderment. Pre-draft analysis of Peat said that he was a left tackle only, and the Saints already had their blindside protector of the present and future in Terron Armstead. The pick seemed redundant and to ignore obvious needs on the interior offensive line and the defense as a whole.
Sean Payton’s press conference after the pick did not quell any concerns about Peat either as he rambled on about Peat’s father’s letterman jacket back in the 1980s. It was strange and left-field type of a move as Payton and Loomis had made in the first round since they began working together in 2006.
Questions about Peat’s fitness persisted throughout training camp and offseason practices.
Peat showed up out of shape and struggled with the playbook. He wasn’t putting any pressure on Armstead or Zach Strief.
There was no question that Andrus Peat had the size and pedigree to play in the NFL, but for Saints fans, it was worth questioning if such a high pick could have been invested on a player that fit a more immediate need and wasn’t such a project.
Once the preseason began and things became more physical – the time when linemen can truly begin to show their skill – Peat put forth lackluster performances, getting beat in many ways, appearing a few steps slow.
By the time the regular season began, Peat was on the bench, only seeing time in jumbo packages as an extra blocker. Again, less than ideal.
When Zach Strief was getting beaten like a drum by middling talents like Jacquies Smith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Peat remained glued to the bench.
It was only when injury forced Terron Armstead to miss a few games that Peat got a chance to play. He started just two games before going down with a knee injury himself, forcing journeyman tackle Tony Hills to protect Drew Brees’ blindside in Week 6 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Peat’s next chance to start on the offensive line came in Week 11 against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans at left guard. He had taken over for the severely under-performing Tim Lelito, and while he did not make a fool of himself, his performance was not of great quality.
Mike Triplett of ESPN outlined Peat’s first start on the interior, saying it came with mixed results. Mixed it may have been, but he allowed an easy sack to Watt, a big run stuff to Vince Wilfork, and three separate pressures on Brees.
Eventually, Peat did get a chance to start at right tackle – the position that coach Sean Payton had been vehemently proclaiming as his spot for the future – and carried himself well against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When all was said and done, Peat started seven games on the offensive line at three different positions, playing in 36.9 percent of available snaps. Our own John Sigler has a far more in-depth season review on Andrus Peat from February.
In December, Peat spoke to the media about his transition from tackle to guard and insertion into the starting lineup.
Following the release of six-time Pro-Bowler and four-time First-Team All-Pro offensive guard Jahri Evans, the Saints made no notable acquisitions in free agency or the draft to replace him. Zach Strief struggled mightily at times at right tackle during the season, but his roster spot still appeared safe.
Ultimately, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis decided that the poor performance of the offensive line was not a personnel problem, but rather a coaching issue. Offensive line coach Brett Ingalls was relieved of his duties and Sean Payton and moved Dan Roushar back to his familiar spot.
Andrus Peat is slated to start at right guard while Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete compete for the job on the left side. As Barry Hirstius at Big Easy Believer pointed out recently, Peat needs to grow up quick or else Drew Brees could be in trouble.
With all of those things about last season being said, what should Saints fans expect from Peat as he moves into his sophomore campaign?
Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune wrote following OTAs,
"Payton has been adamant in the past about Peat being better suited at right tackle. Yet the Saints head coach has also expressed how it’s essential to play the best five offensive linemen for optimal success."
It is good news that he has locked up a starting job before training camp, and while it seems questionable that it is at guard and not tackle, the ability for him to play at different positions along the line is encouraging. Peat being in that “best five” number instills confidence in his ability.
Now the pressure is on him to not just be satisfied with being a starter, but to continue to improve his craft as a blocker. The Saints are banking on him being a pillar that can keep Drew Brees upright. If he can do that, it will go a long way to keeping critics off of his back and opposing defenses on their heels.