The New Orleans Saints opened their training camp amid sweltering heat Friday, eventually being let go an hour early to escape the punishing temperatures and humidity. Practice with pads begins next week and the first preseason game is only two weeks away.
The main area of interest that I will be paying attention to in training camp and the preseason, is the battle at the left tackle position after Jermon Bushrod left to join the Chicago Bears in free agency.
Although Bushrod was an efficient and smart player for the Saints, New Orleans values their guards more so than their tackles; guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs both make considerably more than their counterparts at the tackle position.
Still, though, the left tackle position is an important one in that it is protecting Drew Brees’ blind side. Head coach Sean Payton even said during the offseason that the vacancy at left tackle following Bushrod’s departure had “kept him up at night.”
The buzz heading into training camp was that fourth-year man Charles Brown would have the best chance at winning the position. Among the candidates, Brown has been with the Saints the longest, but has battled injuries and being in the shadow of other, better entrenched players since he was drafted in 2010.
Former second overall draft pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Smith, has the best shot at usurping Brown from the starting left tackle position. Following three years of inconsistent play and concussions with the St. Louis Rams, Smith spent one year with the New York Jets before landing in New Orleans. Look for the positional battle between Smith and Brown to be fierce and competitive.
The last and probably least likely to earn the starting job for left tackle is Terron Armstead. New Orleans drafted him 75th overall in the 2013 draft after running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine prior to the draft. Armstead has been said to handle defensive linemen well in both pass and run-blocking, and is quick to move with nimble feet. That being said, I wouldn’t expect him to take over protecting the blind side just yet. He is just far too raw for that much responsibility; it’s more likely that he will be developed and integrated into the system in the years to come.
Although my favorite time of the year is when the season is running full steam and teams are competing to make it to the playoffs, I can’t help but enjoy watching, reading and learning how the team is molding itself into shape along the way. Saints fans should get acquainted with these prospective left tackle candidates; Brees’ ability to deliver down field could very well depend on one of them.