The acclimation process for New Orleans Saints rookie offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz probably feels a lot like a sledgehammer.
His reps in one-on-one and team drills often have entailed lining up against defensive tackles David Onyemata and Sheldon Rankins and, truthfully, Onyemata and Rankins have the ability to have their way with linemen who are much more seasoned than Cesar.
So Ruiz has taken the encounters for what they are: Methods to help accelerate the growth process of a player who was drafted to start as a rookie.
"Guys like Sheldon and David are two different players and have two different skill sets," Ruiz said. "But they definitely have taught me a lot of things – what to expect from D-linemen, they've shown me a whole lot of different moves in practice, a lot of different variations. Of course they're going 100 percent, so it's helping me pick up the speed of the game and it's helping me get things going.
"Guys are more dynamic, have a lot more in their back pocket when it comes to skill set. And the speed of the game has picked up a little bit."
Now, toss in the fact that Ruiz has worked at right guard (the first five practices of training camp) and center (the last three), and understand why New Orleans had such high expectations of Ruiz when he was drafted.
Ruiz and second-year offensive lineman Erik McCoy, the Saints' top pick in 2019 who started every game at center last year, have moved from right guard to center (Ruiz) and vice versa (McCoy) as the Saints seek their best offensive line combination for 2020.
"I don't have a preference, really," Ruiz said. "Just really trying to learn all the positions throughout the interior. So, (I'm) going back and forth between everything and learning as much as I can right now. I don't really have a preference, though."
"It's kind of gone the way we had hoped," Coach Sean Payton said. "We're constantly here looking at moving a few guys around. He's handled the center position, obviously he's played it with a lot of reps in college and just as important, Erik's handling the guard snaps. We'll keep looking at both of those combinations and hopefully settle into one that we're going to lean more toward before we start the year."
However it works out, New Orleans will be comfortable with the combination it puts on the field, comforted in knowing that Ruiz and McCoy share similar traits.
"They're both guys that pick up a scheme pretty quickly," Payton said. "They both have had plenty of experience at center. I think the position that neither of them has had an extended amount of work at is the guard position, and yet, they're good foot athletes. So I think the mental part of it is a good start."
For that, Ruiz got a head start, leaning on McCoy before he had any idea they soon would become teammates.
"I contacted Erik when I was Combine training," Ruiz said. "It was good to build that relationship early. Now we're teammates, so the chemistry was previously there. So it's good to have somebody that gave me advice going into this part of my life."
With a non-existent offseason in which to learn the offense and compile several hundred more snaps, Ruiz is leaning on the advice of veteran teammates.
"Really, most of the feedback is, 'Use this time to learn,' " he said. "(But) I don't really have a lot of time like other people did in the past.
"They tell me, 'Look, you've got to pick it up quick. But don't get ahead of yourself, don't get too hard on yourself. Learn it, but you've got to learn it quick.' "
Teammates like Onyemata and Rankins are present to help accelerate the learning.
WIND WINS: Wednesday's practice saw the Saints defense put together another very good day. And, too, it included a wind-gust presence that affected practice. The gusts were peripheral affects from Hurricane Laura, expected to make landfall late Wednesday/early Thursday in southwest Louisiana. They were formidable and influential at practice. "Obviously, there's some quarterbacks that handle it better than others," Payton said. "It can be more challenging than the rain, actually. But we're going to play in windy conditions, we're going to play in rainy conditions and I think it's important to understand how those can impact the game, and how you adjust accordingly."
SATURDAY PRACTICE: Saturday's practice will be in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as well as another practice next week. Payton said the team will have two practice days in the Dome before its Sept. 13 season opener.