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Saints program cover story: Jahri Evans

Right guard is one of most decorated offensive linemen in team history

Photos of Jahri Evans at 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. (New Orleans Saints photos)

Roll call doesn't last long in the class of best ever New Orleans Saints offensive linemen before Jahri Evans gets to raise his hand.

William Roaf, Hall of Famer, seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro in nine seasons with the Saints?

Present.

Evans?

Present.

Everyone else falls in line behind. Because as the former fourth-round draft pick (No. 108 overall) from Bloomsburg (Pa.) churns through his ninth NFL season in New Orleans, the right guard, who played left tackle in college, has achieved accolades as a Saints offensive lineman that only have been topped by Roaf, the best left tackle in franchise history and one of the most accomplished tackles in league history.

The last five seasons for Evans all have been All-Pro, Pro Bowl years. And since he was drafted in 2006, he has been one of the mainstays for an offense that four times (2006, '08, '09 and '11) has led the league in net yards per game and twice ('08 and '09) has led the league in scoring.

Evans has played more games (135) as a Saint than did Roaf (131) and if he plays all 16 this season, his career total will stand at 142. In franchise history, only tackle Stan Brock (186), guard/tackle Jim Dombrowski (151) and center Joel Hilgenberg (142) have played at least that many games as offensive linemen for the Saints.

That's heady stuff even for Evans, who graduated 10th in his high school class and attended Bloomsburg on an academic scholarship, but wasn't wise enough to see any of this coming.

"Not at all," he said. "Not at all. It's truly a blessing. As an offensive lineman, everybody has to do well to get those accolades.

"You've got to have the quarterback play, you've got to have the receiver play, you've got to have the running backs. It's not a spot where you can get those accolades without the success of others. We've had a lot of success on the offensive side here. I knew I always wanted to be a good player, I always wanted to be the best player I can be, but it's really humbling to do what I've done."

What he has done is to join Roaf as the only offensive linemen in franchise history with multiple All-Pro nods, and become one of the most respected members of the locker room.

Few possibly could have projected that in 2006.

"One of the challenges with a smaller school is the level of competition," Coach Sean Payton said. "So there's got to be a few things that, hopefully, you see.

"You have to see him dominate. In other words, if we just put the tape on and we said, 'Try to find the player we're looking at.' All of us here would be able to identify, in a matter of a quarter, who that prospect would be.

"Now, to predict that he's going to come in and start his rookie year, to predict he's going to go on and become a (Pro Bowler and All-Pro), those are things that, obviously, if we knew then what we know now, he's selected in the first or second round. But I would say that it's really important to him and there's this other intangible that you can't put a measure on, and it's how competitive, how much drive a player has even when he's paid. And I think you check all those boxes with Jahri."

Another box to check could be "willing."

At Bloomsburg, Evans was a dominant left tackle who twice was a finalist for the Division II Gene Upshaw Offensive Player of the Year Award. But he moved to right guard as a pro, and became a starter as a rookie.

"For me, it was the perfect transition at this level," he said. "The level at offensive tackle at Division II to the NFL is completely different. You're seeing different athletes. The defensive ends that I saw in college are linebackers in the NFL, so me moving inside was the perfect fit for me.

"I took it and had a great coach coming in, and just tried to get better every year. It's a little bit different, the area on the field and the different body types that you're seeing and going up against, and the proximity of the guy across from you is a little bit different. But for me, it worked out great.

"My main goal was just to get there, I didn't care where it was. When they told me I was going to play guard, I was cool with it because my first year (in college), I was playing tackle and guard. I was the utility guy, wherever they wanted me. My second year, I was right tackle and my last two years, I was left tackle. So I played that position in college and it wasn't anything new to me. It was a great move for me."

It's a move he took and maximized, to the tune of becoming the second-most decorated offensive lineman in franchise history.

"Most definitely, I think about half a decade of Pro Bowls, All-Pros," Evans said. "It's pretty good. A lot of that has to do with the system here, Coach Payton, (quarterback) Drew Brees, (receiver) Marques Colston, the running backs that have come through here – a lot of credit goes to those guys.

"And also the offensive linemen my first year, coming in very raw and learning the system with (right tackle Jon Stinchcomb) Stinch and (center Jeff) Faine helping me out, (left guard Jamar) Nesbitt and (left tackle) Jammal Brown. Those guys got my career going.

"For me, when I got drafted, my expectations were to just go to work. I was happy to be in an NFL locker room but you understand that you've haven't arrived yet. It was just working hard and getting better. I kind of still approach that today, trying to get better every day, trying to work on different things that are going to make me a better player."

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