Andrus Peat took a little longer than most to take his first real steps in the NFL.
Thanks to an NFL rule that doesn’t allow rookies to begin workouts with their teams until their school’s academic year has finished, Peat missed the first two organized team activity sessions and participated in only about half of the Saints’ full-team workouts before the squad broke for the summer.
Peat could do nothing about the practices he had to miss but, by the end of New Orleans’ mandatory minicamp, the Saints’ top draft pick felt the difference.
“I really wish I could’ve been here,” he said. “I feel like I’m a little bit behind, because I wasn’t out on the field and actually taking the reps, as opposed to just FaceTiming my coach and going through the playbook that way.”
Peat has few problems with the playbook. He had plenty of time to go over the X’s and O’s. Peat got an in-person introduction during the Saints’ rookie minicamp in mid-May, then took plenty of material home with him and stayed in close contact with offensive line coach Bret Ingalls while he awaited graduation.
Stanford’s pro-style offense gave Peat a head start. New Orleans and the Cardinal use a lot of the same terminology.
Veteran tackles Zach Strief and Terron Armstead filled in any of the gaps once Peat was able to be on the field.
“I just got out here, and they’re already helping me out,” Peat said. “Day One, asking me to ask them questions, and they’ve been really helpful.”
Peat’s problem is physical.
The terminology in the offenses may be similar, but Peat finds himself making a steep technical transition from Stanford to the NFL. Footwork, in particular, is a key point of emphasis, and Peat has to relearn the way he set and moved as a blocker.
Peat knows where he’s supposed to go. The biggest learning curve now is how he gets there.
“I’d say working on just cleaning up my footwork and just refining it, being real particular with how I take steps,” Peat said. “Here, we do a lot of different techniques, as opposed to school.”
None of the practices Peat has participated in so far has been full-contact, but at times the transition he is trying to make is evident. Fellow rookie Hau’oli Kikaha was able to bend the edge against Peat several times during minicamp.
But the coaching staff has trouble reading too much into any hiccups at this point in the process. When the Saints open training camp in West Virginia at the end of the month, Peat can be better evaluated in one-on-one pass rush drills and live 11-on-11 practice periods.
“The guys that are challenged the most with the practices right now are those guys up front, because if I say you have to reach this gap or shut off this gap and then I want you guys to stay off the ground, there is no contact,” coach Sean Payton said. “Pretty soon, you scratch your head, and you’re like, ‘Who is going to submit for the purpose of the drill continuing?’ ”
Peat’s teammates say they can see the potential. The third offensive lineman taken in the draft, Peat has obvious physical gifts.
“I see polished technique from just watching the OTA film,” Armstead said. “I see really quick feet, strong hands, a worker. I’m excited about him.”
Peat opened his Saints career by working on the right side, a spot where he’s expected to eventually compete with Strief for the starting role.
Whether Peat is able to compete against an established veteran this fall remains to be seen, even if Strief already has admitted that he knows Peat likely will be his eventual successor. For the moment, Peat is focused on making up for lost time and getting up to speed.
And he’ll continue to lean on the veterans, including Strief, to help him make up the gap in training camp.
“He’s in his 10th year,” Peat said of Strief. “He’s experienced, and there’s a lot of knowledge I can glean from him. I’m not really worried about competing. I’m just worried about learning from him and becoming better.”