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John DeShazier: Center Josh LeRibeus making positive impression with Saints

With Unger out he's been with first unit

Josh LeRibeus was on an NFL roster for four seasons before last year, when he was released and didn't play.

So if you think a small reality like lining up as the No. 1 center for the New Orleans Saints right now, which only means lining up as the No. 1 center until Max Unger returns from recent foot surgery, is going to cast a shadow on LeRibeus' outlook, then likely you haven't been away from doing what you love to do for a year.

"I'm just happy to have this opportunity coming in, and just excited to get the work," LeRibeus said last week. "I've been wanting to work for a while so it's good to be here."

LeRibeus was with Washington from 2012-15, a third-round draft pick (No. 71 overall) from SMU who primarily played guard and was a backup center, and started 12 of the 28 games he played. He was cut by the Redskins prior to last season, sat out the '16 season before signing with Philadelphia in January, and was released by the Eagles on May 4. He signed with the Saints 11 days later, shortly after Unger's foot injury was reported.

He accepted New Orleans' invitation with his eyes wide open. Then, he opened a few with his presence.

Granted, a caveat accompanies offseason workouts, where physical contact is limited to such a degree that even players caution against promoting too much hype before donning pads. It's a lot easier to give a positive impression when physical will isn't being imposed.

A look at Saints OTA's at the practice facility in Metairie on June 8, 2017.

Still, when media first was allowed to see the Saints work in OTAs, and LeRibeus walked up to the line with the starters – right tackle Zach Strief, right guard Larry Warford, left guard Andrus Peat and left tackle Terron Armstead – it suggested that not only had he caught on fast, but also that he had made a positive impression during his brief time as a Saint.

LeRibeus' ascension has meant that second-year center Jack Allen and veteran multi-position lineman Senio Kelemete, who also was considered a possible option at center in Unger's absence, both primarily have worked with the No. 2 offensive line during OTAs.

"A veteran," was how Armstead described LeRibeus. "Experienced guy. He has actually come in and it's like he's been here for a while – not many mistakes, if any. He picked up the offense pretty quickly; that's very impressive. He has fit in real smoothly."

Said LeRibeus: "I think just over time I've learned – the first few years, you struggle a little bit – but then just get in the playbook, do your notes, every night look at everything, I think having that attitude helps."

That, and the belief that the job belongs to him.

Again, LeRibeus understands his lot. Unger, in his first two seasons as a Saint, arguably established himself as New Orleans' best and most reliable offensive lineman. The two-time Pro Bowler signed a three-year extension last offseason and the Saints are projecting a possible return for Unger by the third preseason game.

But in his last full season, 2015, LeRibeus started 11 of 16 games for Washington and was the starter at center after Week 6, after Kory Lichtensteiger was injured. It's the mentality that he retains even after a year away from the league.

"At the end of the day, what happens, happens," he said. "But go in, think you're the starter, try to knock heads off while you're out there and just get the job done.

"No matter what happens, you're putting film out there. Somebody is going to see that. All 32 teams are probably watching every other team, so at the end of the day you've got to show up."

So far with the Saints, he's showing up with the starters.

"It feels good," LeRibeus said. "It's a good feeling. Obviously, there's more pressure but as time goes on, you want that pressure, so it feels wrong to not have it.

"It's a huge opportunity. I was excited from Day 1. You've got the nerves going and all that, but it's great."

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