Good thing Cesar Ruiz didn't need a lot of time to think, because he didn't have much even if he'd wanted it.
Before the New Orleans Saints completed their first drive on offense in the season opener against Green Bay, center Erik McCoy limped off with a calf injury. Ruiz – drafted to play center last season but in at right guard because an injury slowed his progress at center, and because McCoy stamped his name on the position – quickly moved from right guard to center. And once Calvin Throckmorton came in to play right guard, the Saints' offensive line was set in what became a 38-3 victory.
Ruiz, who had minimal reps at center this year in training camp, said it helped that he didn't have time to stew over the change. He'll likely remain in the position for the immediate future.
"Especially when you get in like that," he said Thursday, Sept. 16. "In a situation like that the last thing you want to do is come into a situation and think too much. So I was like, hey, 'You gotta go.' I'm not thinking about it, I've just got to do my job."
He, and the rest of the offensive line, did just that.
New Orleans had 322 yards on offense, was perfect (4 for 4) in the red zone, ran for 171 yards on 39 carries, didn't allow a sack of quarterback Jameis Winston and bullied its way to 34:36 in time of possession.
Ruiz said he learned during the lead up to the game that he would be the backup center.
"At the beginning of the week, (offensive line) Coach (Brendan) Nugent told me, 'Just be ready to play center in case, God forbid, anything happens or in the event that something happens to Erik. You're going in at center,' " he said. "So I just knew that in the back of my head.
"It wasn't like, 'Surprise, you have to go play center.' I knew if something happened to Erik I was going."
The change worked about as smoothly as could have been hoped for.
"During training camp, I probably had about only three live snaps with Cesar," Winston said. "(But) last year, me and Cesar worked together so much. Erik and (Will) Clapp took the ones and twos reps, so it was just me and Cesar working together during that time when he did play center. That really helped, so we have a good rapport.
"I know how he likes to communicate, and he knows how I like to communicate, so we had a lot in our favor by getting a lot of reps last year. We were able to pick up from that. We are going to miss Erik, though. The way he communicated and commanded things up front was phenomenal. The way he loves football, he's going to be in Cesar's ear and Cesar will do an excellent job for us at that position."
"I've been snapping a football for a long, long time," Cesar said. "So snapping is just muscle memory at this point, it's just natural. Really, (he was concentrating) just on my main responsibilities, making sure my IDs for the protections and the plays were correct."
Help with that came from the time he has invested into improving at guard.
Ruiz said he hadn't played guard at all until he arrived in New Orleans last year, but he spent the offseason honing his skills at that position.
"My goal was ultimately to improve overall as a football player, but overall as a guard as well," he said. "So I was ready to go out there, put my hard work to show at guard, everything I did to see how much I improved. And before you know it, I'm right back at center. After the game it was a little laugh we had between teammates. But ultimately, we're out there just having fun, really."
Probably, it was fun because the guard work proved beneficial for the first time he played center in the NFL.
"Really, just understanding the guard's assignment," he said. "I know my assignment, so going back to center, I know what to tell the guards on different combinations and things like that. So it wasn't like I had to sit there and think too much. It was like, 'This is what I do on this play, so this is what I'm going to tell him to do.'
"The rules carried over, as far as technique wise. It was obviously different playing center than guard, but a lot of stuff carried over as well. It was really just a quick transition, and I just ran with it."