Heading into the final two weeks of the season, the Saints still aren’t satisfied with what they have at guard.
After shuffling the deck a few weeks ago to get Andrus Peat, a natural tackle, into the lineup at left guard, the rookie was yanked from last week’s game against the Detroit Lions and might not get the opportunity to step back in with the starting unit.
Tim Lelito, who replaced Peat, could be given the opportunity to regain the job, with the rookie moving back into a reserve role behind tackles Zach Strief and Terron Armstead.
“For Andrus, the challenge for him is he’s a tackle,” coach Sean Payton said. “There are the nuances of playing guard that are a little different. And it’s in your rookie year that all of this is happening, and it can be a bit overwhelming.”
Peat had begun to show improvement at the position. He struggled in his first start against the Houston Texans but played much better the next week against the Carolina Panthers and then again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He allowed a sack and five pressures against the Texans, around five pressures against Carolina, and only one against the Bucs. Peat only played 31 snaps against Detroit.
After the Carolina game, Peat said that he was still learning the nuances of the position but that some of it was starting to become more natural. He said the biggest thing was that he was no longer thinking as much about the techniques required at guard and was able to play faster.
Apparently, he took a step back against the Lions.
“It just takes time to learn and get better and focusing on the film and get better from watching the tape,” Peat said last week when discussing the nuances of the position.
Throughout this, Peat, who was drafted as a tackle out of Stanford, maintained that he eventually wanted to return to his natural position. And while that has remained the vision of the club, Peat was playing so well at guard that a few weeks ago Payton opened the door for a new plan by saying “the vision can change.”
The vision might have shifted back to the original view.
If he loses the job, this shouldn’t be considered a major hiccup in Peat’s development, though it is not a positive development. He tried his hand at a new position and ultimately was unable to make it work, despite showing promise at times.
This would allow him to step back and continue honing his craft at tackle, where the hope is that he we will one day be able to unseat right tackle Zach Strief, who is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
And if that door is closed on Peat playing guard, this means the organization will likely enter the offseason in search a guard who can compete for a starting spot. It’s even possible the Saints will be looking for two guards.
New Orleans has not seemed content with having Lelito serve as a starter, despite the fact that Payton praised his play this week.
Jahri Evans, for his part, has played much better this season after battling through injuries last year, but the organization fielded trade offers on him last offseason and will soon need to explore future possibilities, whether that’s for next season or further down the road.
If Lelito and Senio Kelemete are not viewed as potential long-term successors, which appears to be the case, then finding a pair of players who can compete for jobs or be developed behind the scenes will immediately become one of the top priorities of the offseason.
And that might be for the best. Typically, it’s easier for organizations to find guards than tackles who possesses the ability to lock down one of those spots for the foreseeable future.
New Orleans already has one of those in Armstead, who has emerged as one of the better tackles in the NFL this season. The jury is still out on Peat, but he at least possesses enough traits to eventually be able to do that, which is why the Saints selected him in the first round of the draft.
While guards have been taken earlier and earlier in the draft in recent years, impact players can still be found in the middle rounds. In terms of roster building, the value makes more sense if Peat remains at his natural position.
That doesn’t help right now, but Peat wasn’t drafted with right now in mind.