Editors note: Tim Lelito’s charity softball game is tonight at Mike Miley playground in Metairie for more information click HERE
With the Saints drafting Andrus Peat with the 13th overall pick in this years draft a lot of attention has been focused on how the offensive line will shake out once the regular season starts. This is one camp battle I can’t wait to see, who will be your starting five?
If Andrus Peat wins the starting right tackle spot where will Zach Strief end up playing? do the Saints move him to left guard or will he become a back up? Some might say that the Saints would never try to move a 6′ 7″ 320 lb tackle to play the guard position but the Saints did just that last year when they moved Marcel Jones from tackle to Guard who happens to be the same exact size as Strief at 6′ 7″ 320 lbs.
This may have been a case of the Saints trying to figure out what to do with Jones more than anything and I seriously doubt that the Saints would try that with Strief and back on May 18th Strief said about the same thing –
I’ve never played guard, I don’t expect that to happen,” Strief said. “First of all, the thing that a lot of people don’t know is how good Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete are. Those are two excellent football players and they’re going to let those guys battle it out for that spot. And there’s going to be a big battle. Very good football players and two guys I’m never going to beat out as a guard.”
One thing I have to say about Zach Strief is that he is one of the most candid players you will ever see strapping up the black n gold and I tend to believe what he says a lot more than all the hearsay floating around.
I’m going to be honest here, I really don’t know how this suddenly crowded tackle position will shake out so I’m going to assume Strief is correct – he will stay at tackle and try to fend off the young gun from Stanford.
So what I want to do is take a look at in my opinion who is going to be the Saints starting left guard for this upcoming season – Tim Lelito.
Last season Senio Kelemente battled with Marcel Jones for the back up guard spot while Lelito competed with Jonathan Goodwin for the Starting center position. Personally I thought Lelito played better than Goodwin in the preseason but the Saints decided to go with experience over youth and we’ve seen how that turned out.
Now with the trade for Max Unger Lelito shifts back to the guard spot and will compete with Kelemente for the starting position. Lelito has four starts under his belt, twice in 2013 subbing for an injured Jahri Evans and twice last year replacing an injured Jonathan Goodwin. These are the four games I want to take a look at.
I went back and looked at every snap from those games to get a better idea of Lelito as a player and I came away feeling really encouraged by what I’ve seen.
Things didn’t start off too well for Lelito back in 2013 in his first NFL start getting the nod when Jahri Evans was held out due to a pulled hamstring. He drew one on the hardest match ups for any guard much less an untested rookie from division two Grand Valley St. – He was matched up with all pro defensive tackle Darnell Dockett in a game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Dockett would wind up with three sacks and more QB pressures, it was a rough outing for Lelito. In this set of screen shots Dockett uses his arms to get separation and then his speed (for a big man) to barely get Drew Brees around the ankles.
After giving up the Sack Drew Brees got Lelito off the hook throwing a 27 yard touchdown strike to Robert Meachem.
I have to hand it to Lelito after having his hands full with Dockett for most of the game, by time the 4th quarter rolled around Lelito started to find his groove as Khiry Robinson goes off right guard for a 21 yard gain as shown in the screen shots below.
Fast forward nine weeks down the road, Jahri Evans has a bum ankle and will not be able to play on a short week at Atlanta for a Thursday night game. Lelito will get his second start but under completely different circumstances than his first one.
The night before the 49ers game prior to the Atlanta game Lelito found out his Grandmother had passed away (She had attended his first start against Arizona) Not wanting to be a distraction for the game he informed the team Monday. Lelito would go through the walk through Tuesday fly out for the funeral Wednesday and start at guard on Thursday.
It was night and day from his 1st start to his 2nd, instead of shaky outing like against Arizona he was almost flawless against the Falcons.
Sean Payton over the years likes to get his guards moving whether it’s on the screen passes and such or pulling for QB protection (at times Lelito will pull to protect Drew’s blind side) He also likes to get them on the second level taking out the opposing team’s linebackers.
In theses screen shots below Lelito will chip the defensive tackle and get to the second level to take out the strong side linebacker, Atlanta’s Paul Worrilow driving him back into an unsuspecting Robert Meachem – Pierre Thomas picks up a nice gain on the Play.
What I noticed in these first two starts by Lelito as the game gets deep into the 2nd half he seems to get stronger. With the Saints clinging to a 17 – 13 lead late, Lelito bulldozes Atlanta’s DT Travian Robertson clearing the way for Pierre Thomas to pick up a crucial 16 yards essentially ending the game allowing the Saints to run the clock out as seen below.
Last year Lelito would get two more starts subbing for an injured Jonathan Goodwin (knee and ankle issues) His first start would be a Sunday night prime time game against the Packers in what would wind up being the best game the Saints played all season.
In what was a close game at the half (16 to 16) the Saints started the romp on a 50 yard touchdown strike to Brandin Cooks. It’s a typical play action pass but Brees has time to step up in the pocket partly due to Lelito manhandling Packers nose tackle Letroy Guion, I love the nastiness shown here, even after the ball is in the air Lelito continues to bury his man as seen in the screen shots below.
Mark Ingram had a huge night (24 carries for 172 yards and 1 TD) and the tone was set for the night on the Saints second play from scrimmage.
Lelito is going to chip Packers defensive end Mike Daniels and then peal off to the second level and take out free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The results was a 14 yard run by Ingram as seen below.
Lelito gets his second start of 2014 (at center) the same way he did the year before, on a short week with only four days rest – against Carolina on Thursday Night Football.
Lelito played solid all night, nothing spectacular but solid (the life of an interior lineman) this next play I’m going to show is kind of unfair because it’s a mismatch for any center in the NFL.
Lelito’s job is to get to the second level and take out the middle linebacker, except this linebacker happens to be all world MLB Luke Kuechly. When Lelito goes to engage Kuechly he quickly uses his hands and speed to beat Lelito with an inside move fighting through traffic to hold Mark Ingram to just a 1 yard gain as seen in the screen shots below.
Next up the Saints are in the red zone and this is what you love to see from your linemen – Lelito takes Carolina’s nose tackle Dwan Edwards and completely seals him off paving the way for an Ingram 14 yard run. Mark is brought down just short of the goal line but Brees will score a couple of plays later on a QB sneak behind Lelito.
These eight plays are only a tiny snap shot of Tim Lelito’s four starts, I went over every snap and thought these gave a good idea of Lelito learning and getting better in his two years with the team. Yes there were mistakes but the overall play of Lelito makes me understand why the Saints brass did not draft a guard after they traded away starting left guard Ben Grubbs.
Is Lelito the brute strength mauler that Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans were in their prime? No but he is a sound technician and more importantly he’s gotten better in every game since his rough start against Arizona.
I do think he could improve in the screen game, at times in space he’s a little indecisive on who to run over but that will come with more reps. In pass protection Lelito is not going to throw a guy around but he rarely gives up ground, which is a must for Brees to step up into the pocket – something that was a huge problem the last few years.
Overall I think it’s Lelito’s job to lose heading into training camp and I really feel comfortable with him locking down that left guard position throughout the upcoming season – I have a feeling he’s only going to get better.