The departure of center Brian de la Puente this offseason raised some concern in the Big Easy, especially after the New Orleans Saints failed to address their need at the position in the 2014 NFL Draft. However, it looks like the sophomore Tim Lelito has come to save the day.
Lelito appeared in all 16 games in 2013 with two starts at guard for the Black and Gold, but apparently spent a majority of team practices taking reps at center. He had no problem making the roster as a Division II undrafted free agent, so maybe he should have no trouble keeping Drew Brees in his comfort zone.
The former Grand Valley State guard earned himself a first-team All-GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) selection as a senior and was a crucial part of a line that ranked sixth in the nation in sacks allowed. He was named the team’s offensive lineman of the year and paved the way for the GVSU Lakers to lead their conference in rushing, total offense and scoring.
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, he brings excellent size and strength as both a barricade for Drew Brees and a blocker for the ground game. After hearing an interview with Ben Grubbs earlier this offseason, it sounds like both the coaches and players are impressed with Lelito’s work.
Jonathan Goodwin made a return to New Orleans in June after three years with the San Francisco 49ers. The addition of the 35-year-old veteran is likely for insurance purposes, but there is still a chance that he beats out Lelito for the starting job. While Goodwin’s leadership and experience rank far above his competition, Lelito is much younger and more durable, which is why he has the upper hand for the time being — the Saints are looking for their long-term answer at the position.
Lelito possesses the skill set to be a solid center, but protection for Drew Brees is crucial. Sean Payton and company will be seeking the best that they can get for their Pro Bowl quarterback. The former Division II stud is the favorite for now, but training camp will be the determining factor when preseason practices get underway on July 25.