METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Changes are coming to the New Orleans Saints' offensive line.
There'll be at least one new starter up front, and linemen are finding that their assignments have been adjusted to abandon some strategies that were introduced last season.
"I feel like we're back to normal," said Senio Kelemete, who is competing for a starting guard spot this offseason.
Former All-Pro guard Jahri Evans is no longer with the club, 2015 first-round draft choice Andrus Peat is being projected by coaches as a new starter at either right tackle or right guard, and assistant coach Dan Roushar is in his first season overseeing New Orleans' offensive line.
After an offseason practice on Thursday, Roushar and some of his linemen said they're working on tweaks in assignments and techniques that they hope will give star quarterback Drew Brees a better chance in the protective pocket his blockers form around him.
That, in turn, should provide Brees better opportunities to glance at each receiver before releasing his throws.
"We've studied and we've recognized what Drew is," Roushar said.
Although the Saints' offense ranked second in the NFL in yards per game last season, New Orleans parted with 2015 offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, who is in the college ranks as an offensive assistant with Florida.
Under Ingalls, the Saints experimented with a blocking scheme that has worked well for quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, who are relatively tall, tend to rely heavily on pre-snap reads and get passes off quickly.
That scheme called for guards to bottle up defensive linemen inside, rather than inducing pass rushers to flare out toward the edges.
Brees, who at 6-foot-1 is smaller than most quarterbacks, and has been most effective when he can step up into passing lanes created by spreading pass rushers out.
"There's no group that has to be more on the same page than those guys," Brees said of his offensive line. "All those guys are coming along and I feel like they're confident in what's being taught."
As for which players will win starting jobs, Roushar has echoed coach Sean Payton in saying that the goal is to field the best combination of linemen, rather than evaluating players individually at each position.
So rather than trying to judge whether 2015 starting right tackle Zach Strief should be replaced by the younger Peat, Roushar will be looking at whether the combination of Strief at right tackle and Peat at right guard is better than Peat at right tackle and Kelemete at right guard.
On the left side, Terron Armstead is entrenched at tackle. Tim Lelito appears on track to maintain the starting left guard spot he occupied most of last season, but Kelemete and others could compete there as well.
In any event, coaches say Peat, who struggled with conditioning and his transition to the pros early last season, is now in better shape and demonstrating the potential the Saints saw in him when they made him their top draft pick — 12th overall — in 2015.
"As his conditioning improves, his ability to concentrate and execute fundamentally when he's tired improves. So all of a sudden you're starting to see this player that we all believed we had," Roushar said. "You're looking at a big guy that has a lot of power and has good movement."
Peat, who played at tackle throughout college, said he is trying to emphasize his versatility by taking whatever snaps he can at both tackle and guard.
"I'm getting more comfortable playing guard," Peat said. "I'm happy to play wherever I'm asked."
Roushar said the Saints are increasingly convinced that Peat, who is 6-foot-7 and about 315 pounds, could become a formidable guard — if that's where they decide to play him.
"Traditionally here, when we've been playing at a very high level, you've had two outstanding, strong guards. You've been able to be firm in your pocket and build the width that allows Drew to operate," Roushar said.
"So when you look at Andrus, as talented as he is playing either tackle (spot), if he goes to guard, he gives you a great asset there just in pure size, mass and ability to move his feet and use his hands so well."
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Posted on Fri, June 3, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer