METAIRIE - After just four days of practice, it would be foolish to think second-year pro Matt Tennant could be the starting center for the New Orleans Saints’ season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and Tennant himself would be the first to tell you, however, that it’s not a knock against the Saints’ fifth-round draft pick in 2010 - just a fact.
“Well, after the fourth practice, I’d say no,” a candid Kromer said when asked if Tennant is ready to make his first NFL start in the season opener between the last two Super Bowl champions. “But at the end of this training camp, I would say that I hope he is (ready). I know that’s his goal.”
The reason Tennant isn’t ready is simple, Kromer said.
It’s not about his ability, it’s about not getting many practice snaps last season as a backup to 10-year veteran Jonathan Goodwin and the fact he didn’t have a full offseason of classroom study, minicamps and organized team activities.
“Right now, we don’t have everything in and I can’t judge a half-product,” said Kromer. “When we get the whole product on the field and everyone’s working together, we’ll be able to evaluate him.”
The 24-year-old Tennant said it’s a fair assessment of where he is while Goodwin, an unrestricted free agent, remains out of the Saints’ camp.
At this point, Tennant said he’s simply trying to learn the ropes - which means his focus is on the short-term and not what might happen Sept. 8.
“You know, it hasn’t hit me yet,” he said when asked about possibly starting. “You just have to go out there and prepare every day like you could be (starting). It’s the same thing I had to do last year being the backup guard and center, and that’s just what I’m doing now.”
Saints coach Sean Payton and Kromer say Tennant, who played mostly on special teams in 2010, is doing that well enough so far in the early stages of camp.
“Matt’s done a good job, a solid job,” said Kromer. “But it’s on-the-job learning, though.”
“I think in his second year that transition has gone real well,” Payton said. “These reps are important for him. He’s a player that’s going to get as many reps as possible, and he’s handled it well.”
Tennant, a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder who played several line positions at Boston College, got a good taste of it when the players worked out for six weeks under the direction of Drew Brees this spring during the lockout.
Tennant said Goodwin, a three-year starter at center for the Saints, was a big help to him as he tried to continue the learning process.
“I feel pretty good about what I’m doing because we did a lot of work at Tulane,” Tennant said. “ ?Goody’ was there and he kind of let me rotate in from time to time. That was good because you have to get a feel for the way Drew runs a huddle.
“Drew is very quick about it and you really have to play catch-up with him,” he said. “But right now, I feel I’ve adjusted pretty well and things are going good so far.”
But there’s no doubt the repetitions Tennant is getting in the first four days of camp will help him tremendously down the road. As a rookie, he was set back immediately when he missed almost the entire first week of camp after his mother died.
“Yeah, that set me back a bit, but at (Boston College) I had three different head coaches and it made you have to understand things a lot quicker,” he said. “I had little time here for rookie minicamp and organized team activities and then I was gone for a little bit.
“Things were similar when I got here for training camp, there were just some different named. But if you can understand the basics, you can pretty much understand it all.”
The biggest thing, however, is the responsibilities that come with being a center.
The center calls out the signals for his teammates when he gets to the line of scrimmage, standing over the ball and making adjustments according to what the defense is showing - and he has to do it on the fly.
“Matt is developing with these chances he’s getting,” Kromer said. “To see all the things he’s seeing, he’s handling the calls for the offensive line and making the adjustments. So this has been a great opportunity for him.”