As prolific as the New Orleans Saints offense has been and is expected to be, it has one of the biggest question marks of any position on the team this season at left tackle.
With the departure of two- time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod to the Chicago Bears, the Saints will have one of the most hotly contested battles to see who will bear the responsibility of guarding Drew Brees’ blindside. Bushrod’s departure came as no surprise; unlike most teams, the Saints invest all their money in the guards rather than the tackles because of Brees’ diminutive stature and the need to keep defenders from blocking his view in front. Though the money isn’t being invested into the position, it does not detract from its importance. At this point, three players are in the race for the starting job: Jason Smith, Terron Armstead, and Charles Brown.
Brown, the 4th year player out of USC, is the longest tenured Saint of the three. Highly touted coming out of USC, Brown’s main problem has been the injury bug. He has been plagued with minor injuries that have kept him off the field since he got into the league and is hoping to avoid that problem this season. In minicamp he took all the first team reps and is said to be looking really solid. Brown last year filled in nicely for right tackle Zach Strief and would have probably kept the job but sustained a season ending injury and was placed on injured reserve. Brown certainly knows that despite his talent, the Saints will be more than willing to put in somebody else in his place if he can’t stay on the field.
And that somebody else could be Smith. Smith is hoping to resurrect his career after a thoroughly disappointing start with St. Louis and the New York Jets after being drafted second overall in the 2009 draft by the Rams. He had some serious concussion issues his rookie season which he seems to have gotten over. Word out of camp is that he looks rejuvenated from the change of scenery. And Coach Sean Payton said that he sees the work ethic and talent that made him the second overall selection. If Smith continues his impressive ways and stays healthy, there is chance he will see the field in some way or another, even if it isn’t at left tackle.
Last but not least, there is Armstead. Armstead, the rookie third round pick out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, is by far the most intriguing of the three. Armstead busted onto the scene after having one of the most impressive combines this year, regardless of position. His 40-yard dash, broad jump, and vertical jump were tops among lineman. Armstead is a freak athlete with the highest of ceilings, however, he is still very raw and probably isn’t ready to play as of yet. With that said, history has shown the Saints are not afraid to throw young players into the fire, especially offensive lineman. Just look at Bushrod, Jahri Evans, and former Saint Carl Nicks, who all played very early. Regardless of what happens in the competition this year, one way or another Armstead will be a future starter. His case parallels with a guy like Jimmy Graham who played on a limited basis his first year and then took the league by storm the next year. I’m not saying that Armstead will come in and be a top tier tackle immediately but he sure has that potential.
Overall, even with Bushrod’s departure, the Saints are in a really good spot, depth and talent wise, with the left tackle spot despite the uncertainties associated with it. The ideal situation would be to have Brown be the starter seeing as he has the most experience in the Saints’ system and has proven to be solid in all his game appearances. Smith is a nice option to have because of Brown’s injury history, so his services can be called upon at any time. And if he really blows the coaches away in camp, it is possible that he plays right tackle since Strief is anything but a sure thing. If everything were to go right, Brown would start at left tackle and Smith might get moved to right tackle and Armstead would sit out the year and take over one of the tackle spots next year as the tackle of the future. Whatever the case may be, we know that this competition will have no biases and ultimately the best player will play because the last thing Coach Payton wants to see is his franchise quarterback on his back taking dirt out of this helmet.