Andrus Peat’s ascension into the starting lineup wasn’t created by force or will.
Peat didn’t get his chance and run away with it or immediately start opening up eyes, causing people to question why he wasn’t serving in this role all along. Maybe this will end up being like the Terron Armstead story, but it still isn’t clear how Peat’s situation will end up.
Peat kind of fell into serving as the Saints’ left guard. It was a move created more out of necessity and curiosity than him grossly outperforming another player and climbing over them on the depth chart.
Guard is not Peat’s natural position. He was drafted as a tackle and hopes to end up back in that spot next season, perhaps competing with Zach Strief on the right side of the line. But this will do for now, and he’s trying to make the best of it and is showing signs of promise at his new position.
So far, in two starts at guard, Peat’s results have been mixed, a series of highs with some obvious lows that he’s working to correct.
His first start, against the Houston Texans and their fearsome defensive line, which is led by J.J. Watt, will likely end up being classified as the low point of the season by many members of the offensive line. Houston battered the line from start to finish, often causing Drew Brees to duck, dodge and scramble his way to safety before being knocked on his back.
Peat was not exempt from this. He gave up a quarterback hit, a sack, two pressures and a run stuff. The first-round pick lined up against a variety of players, including defensive end Jared Crick, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, and pass rushers Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Watt.
He surrendered the sack when he was beat by Watt, and had two low moments when he was beaten by Wilfork, one of which resulted in a run stuff when he was tossed to the ground by the big nose tackle.
Mixed within, Peat had some positive moments, and even more of those came during last week’s 41-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Though there’s plenty of room for improvement, his week-to-week growth has impressed the coaching staff.
“I would say that he played well last week or that he has gotten better,” coach Sean Payton said. “There is a play or two that you look at that you really want to correct. The thing that is encouraging is that he is improving. If he makes a mistake, he isn’t making it a second time.”
Peat had a similar view of his performance and classified it as solid. He again matched up with a variety of players, including defensive ends Ryan Delaire, Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, but spent most of his time blocking defensive tackle Kawann Short, who has recorded eight sacks and 45 quarterback pressures this season.
The rookie allowed at least four pressures during the game, and had a couple of poor moments in the running game, but the performance felt stronger than his first start at left guard. It didn’t take him long to get in the plus column after he sealed off Short on the first series of the game to create a running lane on a 14-yard gain by Ingram, and then later got in the second level to block a linebacker on a 13-yard run by Ingram.
He also showed good awareness by switching and picking blocks on five occasions when the defensive line ran a stunt at him. And his best moment of the game might have been when he pulled to block Johnson coming off the right side of the line a first-quarter touchdown pass to Ben Watson, which is something tackles do not often do, though Peat said he had some experience doing in college at Stanford.
“You’ve been playing tackle for your entire college career and then you come here and he is a tackle and all of a sudden you get moved to guard and having to start against some pretty good players,” Brees said. “Obviously there is an adjustment to be made. I think he has really done a nice job and gotten better with more reps he has had.”
It wasn’t all perfect. Peat could play with better technique at times. Brees was sacked when Peat had to pass off Short to Terron Armstead and pick up another player following a stunt. Armstead ultimately allowed the sack, but the tackle could have been put in a better position if Peat had gotten a stronger initial block.
The rookie also failed to notice a blitz on one play, instead choosing to double team a defensive tackle, which left an open lane for linebacker Luke Kuechly to record a hit on Brees. He also appeared lost on another occasion and ended up allowing a pressure during the same play Brees was sacked by linebacker Thomas Davis.
Those are the things Peat is working to improve. He believes he just needs more experience and teachable moments to get to a place where his instincts can take over.
“Knowing what I’m doing and not really having to think about it on certain plays and protections,” Peat said. “I felt like I played faster (against Carolina) and wasn’t thinking as much and just played.
“It just takes time to learn and get better and focusing on the film and get better from watching the tape.”
Peat also had a nice block when he pulled on one play against the Texans and did a good enough job on another play to draw praise from Watt, a moment caught by a microphone the defensive end was wearing throughout the contest.
The positive moments have Peat feeling more confident in his new role heading into this weekend’s matchup with Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, who is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the league.
Peat said he’s looking forward to the game.
“I definitely am. Those are great players,” he said. “I just want to go out there and compete, that’s my mindset. I’m going against the best, I got to bring my best.”
The Saints still see Peat as tackle down the road. But if he keeps playing well and showing growth, who knows what could happen.
“The long term vision, again, is the way we drafted him and how we see it,” Payton said. “But that can change.”
For now, the current vision shows some promise.