With New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Striefhaving missed practice Wednesday and his status unknown for Sunday's home opener against New England, offensive line jack-of-all-trades Senio Kelemetecould be thrust into the starting role.
Kelemete finished out Monday's game against Minnesota after Strief injured his knee, and Kelemete has started past games along the Saints' offensive line at left tackle, and at right and left guard. He also can play center in a pinch and though he didn't receive much work at right tackle in training camp and preseason games, Coach Sean Paytonis confident that Kelemete can handle the job.
"He's a guy primarily working at guard and center, and yet, he's started games for us in the past at tackle," Payton said Thursday morning in a teleconference with local media. "And you've got to go through what your plan is, try to minimize the moves. I'm confident in his ability, we're smart with what we do and how we'll do it. But he's played reps there, he has played games there."
Kelemete's versatility always has been viewed as a major positive, and that versatility aided in his readiness to step in for Strief even though he hadn't had many snaps at right tackle.
"That's part of the deal," Payton said. "It's one of the challenges with 46 (players available) on game day. If you bring seven linemen into the game, you've got to be able to do a few things. But he has been that way, and he has been consistent. We've played him outside a handful of times."
THE GRONK DILEMMA: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski presents a unique problem because of his multiple talents. Gronkowski, who had two catches for 33 yards in the season opener against the Chiefs, is a four-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler who missed eight games with various injuries last year, but still caught 25 passes for 540 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think the challenge with a guy like him is that he does the two things that are most important: He's definitely a valuable and explosive receiver and he's also just as talented as a blocker," Payton said. "And so when he's on the field, it's not like it's a red flag that it's a pass. He plays with a physical nature.
"I think he's a target problem in that he can position himself away from the squeeze of the defender, and he and (New England quarterback) Tom (Brady) have a good rapport in regard to location of throws. I think you've got to change up the looks and I think you do have to try to disrupt him at times off the line of scrimmage, but they do a good job of moving him around and putting him in different spots."
CORNERED: The Patriots have two highly regarded cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler who figure to challenge Saints receivers.
"They do a handful of things coverage-wise," Payton said. "They play quite a bit of man coverage, there's a lot of confidence in them to handle the outside receivers.
"They can give you some looks inside the triangle – call it the middle portions of the field – that can become somewhat problematic. So you're going to have to win, at some point and time, outside. I think the transition for Gilmore and Butler, I think that's gone pretty smoothly."