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John DeShazier: Saints offensive line excelling at in-game changes

Posted Nov 6, 2017

Unit had to adjust on the fly again Sunday

You made need a New orleans Saints roster to keep up or, at least, to take a deep breath:

Ryan Ramczyk, Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead have played left tackle. Peat, Senio Kelemete and Josh LeRibeus have played left guard. Kelemete and Larry Warford have played right guard. Ramczyk, Kelemete and Zach Strief have played right tackle.

And that’s just In the first eight regular-season games.

And yet, the Saints (6-2) are on a six-game winning streak, the first time that has happened since the 2011 team won its final eight regular-season games, and the offense is second in yards per game (392.5), fourth in passing yards (269.8), seventh in rushing (122.8) and has scored 21 touchdowns, eighth-most in the league (note: three teams that have more touchdowns have played nine games).

In other words, the names can change on the offensive line, but the results have been along the same lines of what the Saints have grown to expect. Still, a little more continuity would be a welcome sight. Only center Max Unger has played every snap at his position this season on the offensive line.

“Hopefully it can settle down some,” Coach Sean Payton said Monday. “But it’s a little bit unusual. Guys have done a good job of adjusting.”

“Adjusting” is putting it mildly. Deep breath:

Ramczyk, a rookie, was drafted to play right tackle and serve as an apprentice to Strief. When Armstead tore his labrum during minicamp, Ramczyk moved back to his college position and started the season opener at left tackle. Strief suffered an injury in the season opener (Kelemete replaced him during that game) and the next week, against New England, Ramczyk moved to right tackle, Kelemete started at left guard and Peat, who started the season opener at left guard, kicked out to left tackle.

The left-to-right, Peat-Kelemete-Unger-Warford-Ramczyk line started against Carolina, before Strief returned from injury to start against Miami in London. But when Strief was injured during the game, Ramczyk flipped from left to right tackle, Peat kicked out to left tackle from left guard and Kelemete finished up at left guard.

Armstead joined the lineup at left tackle against Detroit after the bye, Peat returned to left guard and Ramczyk went back to right tackle.

That lasted two games: Warford was injured against Green Bay, and Kelemete stepped in to start at right guard against Chicago. Then, Sunday against Tampa Bay, Armstead left the game with a chest injury, so Peat again shifted out from left guard to left tackle, and LeRibeus subbed in at left guard.

Now, you can exhale.

“It’s tough, but it’s kind of a testament to the depth that we have and the depth we’ve been able to build here, (to) have guys come in and play out of position and not really have a drop in production,” Unger said.

“We’ve done a good job of rotating in practice. We’ve had some moving parts and for the most part, everybody has been right on the same page. (Offensive line) coach (Dan) Roushar has done a good job of breaking it down and getting people experience in places that they haven’t naturally been.”

But even this season’s ironman wasn’t a given: LeRibeus was the Saints’ center during offseason workouts and training camp because Unger had foot surgery in the offseason. Initial reports were that he would miss regular-season games.

“But it’s part of the game,” Unger said. “There’s five O-linemen out there, there’s a good chance that somebody is going to get hurt so it’s the next man up mentality. But we’ve had a tough run.”

Unger’s presence has made it easier. The nine-year veteran is playing at a high level and remains a calming influence.

“It helps a lot with communication,” Payton said. “(Unger) rehabbing and getting back – both he and Terron were on schedule, ahead of schedule and that was significant – but he is someone that is responsible for a lot of the communication up front. And he’s having a great year.”

Said Unger: “Late surgeries are never in the offseason plan. But (it was a) good surgery, awesome rehab and got to come back early and play. I didn’t think that I would be back but it turned out that I was able to come back and play OK.”

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