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John DeShazier: With Patriots looming, Saints tackle position under spotlight

Posted Sep 13, 2017

With Strief and Armstead hurt, Saints relying on inexperienced players

If New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief, who left the season opener against Minnesota with an injury, cannot play Sunday in the home opener against New England in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints could line up at left tackle and right tackle with players who have combined to start three NFL games at those respective positions.

Rookie Ryan Ramczyk is scheduled to start his second game at left tackle. And, possibly, the Saints will turn to Senio Kelemete (no starts at right tackle), who came on in relief of Strief against the Vikings, or Bryce Harris (two starts at right tackle), who was released prior to Monday’s game so that the Saints could sign linebacker Adam Bighill from the practice squad, as the Game 2 starter.

But if there’s a concern, the poker-faced Drew Brees isn’t letting on.

“We manage, man. We manage,” said Brees, who expressed confidence in whomever starts at the positions. “Whoever we put out there is going to be ready, and that’s really all I can say. We’ll have a plan and then we’ve just got to go out and execute that plan.”

Kelemete, a five-year veteran, actually has started 14 NFL games (at both guard positions and at left tackle), and he played some right tackle in relief last season against the Giants. And Harris, who’s in his sixth season, has four total starts (two at each tackle position). Harris also received work at both positions in preseason games this year.

Whoever starts will do so against a Patriots team which is known for the defensive problems they can present through their complexities.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for (New England coach) Bill Belichick, for (defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia, for that whole organization and their team,” Brees said Wednesday. “I think you just understand that there’s not a lot of room for error against these guys.

“You know that they’re going to have a specific plan for you. So there’s plenty of things that you can watch on film and yet, until you get to game time, you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. And in every situation, you can get something different – it just depends on how they want to defend you. So throughout the course of the game you just have to expect the unexpected a little bit, and be very on point with your communication and how you’re handling what they’re trying to defend.”

Ramczyk senses the improvement he has made since joining the team as the second of its two first-round draft picks (No. 32 overall). Originally, he was expected to be an understudy to Strief, but he was pressed into the starting spot at left tackle (where he played in college) after Terron Armstead’s injury.

“I’m going to just approach this week like every other week, and do my preparation and try to get my job done on every play,” he said. “That’s kind of how I’m looking at it right now.”

WINNIN’ TIME: The Saints are attempting to avoid an 0-2 start for the fourth consecutive season. The previous three have ended in 7-9 records, and no playoff berths.

“It’s very important,” Brees said. “It’s our home opener and we want to get back on track. There are a lot of things that we can correct from this game (against the Vikings), we have to do that very quickly because you’ve got to turn right back around and get ready for the Pats. They’ve already had two practices on us and we’re just going into our first one. So we have some catching up to do.”

Said Ramczyk: “The confidence is a huge part of this game, at any position. So to be able to get wins and kind of get that feel going, it would be huge. Hopefully, we can execute and do it this week.”