Unsung Heroes

Offensive Line key to Saints success
associated press
Center Max Unger leads the unit that provides the foundation for the Saints prolific offensive attack.

 

In all of sports, there is not a position group whose primary responsibility is protecting their teammates and creating opportunities for “skilled” positions – quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers, but the strength and abilities of a football team’s offensive line can make or break a team’s chances for success.

“It’s different than any other position group on the field,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “That cohesive unit has to be on the same page, in order for us to be able to open it up and do all the things we do.”

During head coach Sean Payton’s tenure, the New Orleans Saints have had one of the most successful units in the league. Their success has made the team’s prolific offense possible.

“I think it's one of the more, if not the most, important position group. There’s so much they're responsible for,” Payton said. “They can bring an attitude to your team and that can kind of permeate through the locker room. Obviously, they are smart. There's a toughness element to them and I think that, generally, when you look at a good football team, you’re seeing the team that has a good offensive line, both with the protection, and also with the running game. There's a lot that goes into it. It’s obviously a position group that we feel strongly about, whether it's in free agency or in the draft, using resources to improve.”

While it is extremely rare for an offensive lineman to handle the ball and even more rare for them to score, their play has allowed the Saints offense to become on of the most potent in the NFL and Brees to become one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.

NFL legends Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady have each thrown for 5,000 yards in a season once each. Brees has done it five times. It’s a feat he would not have been able to accomplish without his line giving him time week in and week out to survey the field and find an open receiver. Their play last season aided Brees in establishing an NFL-record 72 percent completion rate. But where some units are better at pass protection compared to run protection or vice versa, the holes they opened in opposing defenses helped launch running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to the Pro Bowl and Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“Your ability to do a lot of things offensively, hinges upon the play of the guys in front of you. That's the run game, that's the pass game, and the screen game. You name it,” Brees said. “If they're playing well, then you're able to open up the offense in a way that makes us very dangerous. We've been very fortunate over the years to have great guys, not only good players, but you just great leadership, great character, and great toughness across the board with our offensive line.”

Yet, linemen rarely make the highlight reels or get write-ups extolling the virtue of their play, no matter how consistent they are.

But ask a coach, quarterback, or running back what makes their team tick, and they’ll tell you it’s the skill and ability of their offensive line.

As the Saints enter the 2018 season, the offensive line is one of the most well established units on the team and a solid foundation for the team’s lofty expectations.

The team has put an emphasis on drafting or signing solid players who have the right temperament, show leadership qualities, and get the job done.

When the Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham, a known offensive threat, to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015, many questioned the move without understanding the commodity they were getting in center Max Unger, the player responsible for sizing up the defense, calling the right protection for the playmakers, and starting each play by safely snapping the ball to the quarterback.

The team’s guards have been among the top tandems in the league for several years. Andrus Peat, a 2015 first-round draft pick, and Larry Warford, a 2017 Pro Bowler and third-round pick in 2013, are currently slated as the starting guards on the most recent depth chart.

Left tackles Terron Armstead and Jermon Bushrod, listed one and two at the position, will protect Brees’ blind side respectfully. While losing the veteran experience of right tackle Zach Strief, who retired in the offseason, would cause consternation and hoarding of antacids by most quarterbacks and coaching staffs, Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints second first-round pick in 2017, will step in to protect the team’s right flank.

Behind the starters, the team has depth and many players can play multiple positions on the line, so that if a player were to go down, the team feels like they could handle business as usual.

“I couldn't be more impressed with those guys with their work ethic and their pride in what they do,” Brees said. “Big credit to Dan Roushar, their coach, and just the leadership in that room. When you take all those guys in, it’s just a formidable group. It's a great group. It's a group that comes out here every day, is ready to work and to step up to whatever challenge that presents itself.”

 

 

O-Line Depth Chart

Position              Starter                        Backups

LT                 Terron Armstead           Jermon Bushrod, Nate Wozniak

LG                   Andrus Peat               Josh LeRibeus

C                      Max Unger                Cameron Tom, Will Clapp

RG                 Larry Warford              Landon Turner, Andrew Tiller

RT                 Ryan Ramczyk             Michael Ola, Rick Leonard

 

 

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