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Offensive line keeps producing for New Orleans Saints despite injuries

'Guys just step in and it's business as usual'

The New Orleans Saints host the Indianapolis Colts at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday, December 16, 2019.
The New Orleans Saints host the Indianapolis Colts at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday, December 16, 2019.

It's not supposed to look this easy.

It actually isn't easy at all, what the New Orleans Saints offensive line has been able to accomplish the last several seasons, including this one, where smoothly it has navigated past injury after injury without the offense experiencing a measurable dip.

Starting left guard Andrus Peat has missed the last five games with a forearm injury. Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead missed one game and part of another with an ankle injury. Left guard Larry Warford left the last game with a knee injury (he didn't practice Wednesday) and his playing status will continue to be evaluated.

And in recent seasons, New Orleans (11-3 entering Sunday's game against Tennessee at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.) has weathered injuries at left tackle, left guard and right tackle en route to winning three straight NFC South Division titles, and posting three straight seasons of 11 or more victories.

Since Peat was injured – veteran Nick Easton, who had been inactive five straight games, replaced him in the lineup – the Saints have averaged 34.8 points per game, and haven't scored less than 26. When Armstead missed the Thanksgiving night victory over Atlanta, the offense managed two touchdowns but ground out a 26-18 victory that mainly was a one-score game because New Orleans twice failed to cover onside kicks. Warford departed the most recent victory, 34-7 over Indianapolis, while the Saints were rolling up four touchdowns and 424 yards.

The main fill-ins have been Easton and Patrick Omameh, who stepped up at left tackle for Armstead to finish the Carolina game and to start against Atlanta, and then came in to play right guard when Warford was injured against the Colts. Will Clapp, the popular tackle-eligible for the Saints' heavy run sets, also entered for some play at right guard against Indianapolis.

"I think it's a testament to all the guys in the room, and everybody's commitment to the common goal that we all have, and understanding that when you go in there, we know what the expectation is and that's to go out there and perform," Omameh said. "We've been blessed with the guys that we've been able to put on the field and the guys that have been able get the job done and put us in position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out for at the beginning of the season."

That said, Omameh, a seven-year veteran who logged time for Tampa Bay, Chicago, Jacksonville and the Giants before joining New Orleans, may have experienced three offensive line starters missing starts during the course of a season, but hasn't seen it handled as well.

"After you've been in the league a certain number of years, you've probably seen a number of different situations with some guys going down," he said. "One thing that I think has been pretty impressive about this team is, usually it doesn't lead to much of a difference as far as production goes. Guys just step in and it's business as usual."

The Saints have honed in on the skill of making it look much easier than it actually appears to be.

"It's a credit to getting the right type of guys, and guys that have the ability to step in and play multiple positions," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We've been in that situation, too. Andrus Peat, throughout his career, now he's our staple at left guard but he's had to bounce out and play left tackle on a bunch of occasions.

"I think (right tackle Ryan) Ramczyk started out playing left tackle because Terron was down (Ramczyk's) rookie year, then he bounced over to right tackle when (Zach) Strief got hurt. You just keep adding those guys.

"Nick Easton has been a guy who has plugged in, done a great job. Will Clapp, Omameh. You name it. All these guys, it's kind of like, 'Wherever I'm needed.' So the versatility, the ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line – obviously, that's a skill. That's a trait that if a guy has, that becomes very valuable because you just never know how it's going to shake out throughout the course of a game. Those guys have been able to plug and play and do a great job."

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