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Erik McCoy's growth, consistency paying dividends for New Orleans Saints offense

Saints center is the gameday program cover story

Check out photos of New Orleans Saints center Erik McCoy in action during the 2020 NFL season.

By David Friend, NewOrleansSaints.com

Erik McCoy has served as an anchor on the New Orleans Saints offensive line for the past two seasons, starting all 35 regular and postseason games the team has participated in.

A dominant interior presence on one of the NFL's best offensive lines, McCoy has steadily improved each year to help the Saints post consecutive 12-plus win seasons and capture their third and fourth straight NFC South division titles in 2019 and 2020. McCoy has proven to be the player the Saints thought he could be, being named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team and receiving an All-Pro vote in 2020, and his growth in technique and in knowledge of the game has been noticeable.

"The place I've grown the most in the last two years would be on third down and knowledge of defenses," the third-year pro said. "In college you don't see the plethora of different pressures and fronts that you see in the NFL. My first year I really struggled in both of those, but this past year there was a lot of growth."

His early success has helped the Saints' offense maintain its reputation as one of the league's best units under Coach Sean Payton. But for an offense that was best known for its lethal passing attack with now retired quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, it was the ground game that helped that carry the load last season. The 2020 Saints, with McCoy leading the charge at center, led the NFL with a club-record 30 rushing touchdowns and averaged 141.6 rushing yards per game, sixth-best in the NFL. McCoy was also a key contributor in running back Alvin Kamara tying the NFL record with six rushing touchdowns, a record that was set by Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals in 1929.

After the retirement of perineal Pro Bowl center Max Unger, McCoy was selected in the second round (48th overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft, becoming New Orleans' highest drafted center since two-time Pro Bowler LeCharles Bentley in 2002. Unger had started all but one game in four seasons with the team and had proven to be an invaluable asset to the Saints' offensive line. Replacing him wouldn't be an easy task, but McCoy proved to be more than ready, becoming the first Saint to open his career by starting at center since Phillip James, a replacement player during the NFL strike, did so on Oct. 4, 1987. McCoy also became the first Saints' rookie center to open a kickoff contest.

While there has been much growth, 6-foot-4, 314-pounder has been a steady force along the interior of the Saints' offensive line since being drafted. His consistency is a big reason why the team has won 25 regular season games the past two seasons, winning eight-of-nine games without Brees at quarterback.

McCoy attributes four things to that consistency through his first two seasons: His situation, confidence, recovery and his mentality. "The O-line room here has a ton of veteran leaders that really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes of the NFL and that they had confidence in me as a player." McCoy said.

"The confidence that other people had in me, which in turn boosted me, really let me know I could go out and dominate opposing defenses."

Athletes are notorious for how fiercely they attack recovery, treatment and overall maintenance of their bodies and McCoy is no different.

"Coming in every day no matter how much I didn't want to, and taking advantage of all the different recovery techniques we have available to keep me on the field." He said. "The final thing is coming in with a mentality of getting better every time you step on the field on the field. Every step, every snap, every day."

McCoy cited offensive line coach Brendan Nugent as well as assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief as another critical reason for his quick development. "My man Nuge. I would say that he's been a tremendous part of my development, especially in the third downs that I mentioned earlier," the Lufkin, Texas native said. "He's extremely intellectual and he's helped me really hone in on my technique."

"Zach's been awesome," McCoy said of the former right tackle during minicamp. "He's very intellectual. He played the game for like 12 years, so I mean, there's no question that he knows what he's talking about. He's also fun to have around and I'm really excited to learn from him even more."

While McCoy's goals are no different than any other NFL player, be the best at his position and win a Super Bowl, his competitive drive to attain those goals, and try new methods in order to get there, is perhaps the most impressive attribute the young pro has shown so far.

Together with guards Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat as well as tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, McCoy and the Saints' offensive line are poised to maintain their dominant form for years to come and with running backs Kamara and Latavius Murray, the running game should be as effective as ever. While McCoy admits he has a much more to learn as a player, his future remains as bright as any player at his position. And with the mindset he already possess combined with the results on the field, McCoy should continue to see the improvement he continuously seeks every step, every snap, every day.

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