'Coming into his own': Andrus Peat looking like a new man for Saints _lowres

New Orleans Saints tackle Andrus Peat (75) goes through drills during NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, June 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Andrus Peat looks like a new man this offseason.

Peat, who will always be monstrous at 6-foot-7 and more than 300 pounds, is visibly leaner than he was as a rookie, carrying a burly NBA power forward’s torso atop his massive lower body.

By design, he hasn’t lost much weight, only a few pounds off of the roughly 320-pound frame he carried last season. Peat’s overall weight wasn’t the problem when the Saints opened training camp last August; the way that weight was distributed is what set him back. With that in mind, Peat spent the months after his rookie year working hard to turn fat into muscle.

“I really just focused on changing my body composition and kind of leaning up a little bit,” Peat said. “I’m feeling better, that’s the biggest thing. More energy in practice, I’m doing better in conditioning and those types of things. I’m still working at it.”

By all accounts, the No. 13 pick in the 2015 draft is far ahead of where he was as a rookie.

And with good reason. Rookies rarely get a chance to train for football shape during the draft process; they spend the months leading up to the NFL scouting combine by doing track workouts to improve speed and agility, then spend the next couple of months traveling all over the country to visit teams across the NFL.

All of that travel cost Peat a chance to stay in peak condition, and then he was forced to miss the first month or so of the Saints’ offseason program last summer because of Stanford’s academic schedule. By the time he arrived in New Orleans, he had a long way to go. Peat opened his first NFL training camp in less than peak condition, and it cost him a chance to fully develop during the weeks the Saints spent in West Virginia.

“(Conditioning) hasn’t been a problem for me (before),” Peat said. “Just taking those few weeks off when I was taking visits, I feel like I was set back a bit.”

Peat has downplayed the approach he’s taken to conditioning this offseason, saying he’s eaten better and focused on running during his workouts.

But a few former teammates know Peat has made some big changes.

“The way he’s eating now, there’s things that he’s adopted now that made him get into great shape,” former Stanford teammate Josh Garnett, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, said at the Senior Bowl. “He’s made a lot of changes, a lot of great changes, and I’m so excited to see what this guy’s going to do next year.”

All those changes are allowing Peat to take a ton of snaps up and down the offensive line this summer.

New Orleans sees the former first-round pick as a starter. The only question is where he will play. With that in mind, Peat has spent most of his time shifting back and forth between right tackle and right guard, although he did get some work at left tackle last week when the Saints held Terron Armstead out of practice.

Where Peat lands to open the season largely depends on the players around him. If New Orleans feels comfortable with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete at guard, Peat will battle veteran Zach Strief at right tackle. If the Saints decide they need help inside, Peat has shown he can play the interior.

“He’s a good football player, we have to keep making him better,” new offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. “I don’t think right now we’re focused on where a guy’s at regarding a position, we’re more interested in looking at the position and the development of the position and trying to get the best five guys on the field at the right time.”

Playing guard is no longer the monumental shift it was for Peat last season, when he started four games at the position as a rookie.

Back then, the position was entirely new for Peat, who ideally projects as a right tackle opposite Armstead. Now, there’s a level of familiarity inside.

“I like guard, I like tackle as well. Wherever my coaches want me to play, I’ll be happy,” Peat said. “I feel like I’m just progressing where I’m learning to play guard better, because I never had played it before.”

For the Saints veterans, the differences in Peat’s game are as obvious as the physical changes he’s made.

“Andrus Peat, I think, is really now coming into his own, too,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Whereas last year, I think with any young guy, it is kind of like a deer in a headlights when they come here for the first time and it is the speed and tempo at which we practice and it’s the playbook and all those things.”

Peat, who improved by leaps and bounds as his rookie season progressed, has spent the offseason eliminating any obstacles to a spot in the starting lineup.

Now, he’s ready to live up to the billing he got when the Saints took him with the 13th overall pick.

“He finished strong last season,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Obviously, he played at a few different spots a year ago. He is in great shape, and I think that is going to serve him well as we are in these practices and as we move into training camp. Certainly, we see him starting. Whether it’s at right guard or right tackle, we’ve got some time and some flexibility with regards to that. I’m encouraged with how he’s progressing.”

This time, he’s right on schedule.