Lessons learned: Saints’ Andrus Peat looking forward to focusing on what matters this offseason _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) drops back to pass against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch (90) as New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Andrus Peat (75) blocks in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015.

Andrus Peat doesn’t shy away or try to put a spin on things.

The Saints’ first-round draft pick knows he was out of shape when he came to New Orleans for offseason activities. He knows that set him back early in the season and that things could have been different.

He also knows things need to change this offseason.

“I feel like I got a little bit behind not being in the greatest shape,” the offensive tackle said. “I’m really going to focus on that coming into next year.”

The way Peat’s rookie season started put him in a difficult position. Since his college operates on a quarter system, he wasn’t allowed to report to New Orleans until Stanford’s academic year ended, which forced him to miss some of the team’s offseason program.

When Peat finally did report, he was visibly out of shape and at times had trouble finishing conditioning runs during training camp. Instead of focusing on the playbook and his craft while trying to compete for a starting job, getting his conditioning to the NFL level became a major focus.

That’s not an ideal way to start your rookie season.

“I had to work to get into shape rather than focusing on my technique and stuff like that,” Peat said. “That held me back a little bit with all the stuff with the combine, taking trips and school and stuff. There was a lot of stuff going on for me. It will be good for me to be able to focus.”

When talking about his rookie season and the future, Peat repeatedly mentioned how having the ability to focus and clear out the clutter surrounding his entrance into the NFL should be a major benefit this offseason.

Before heading home for the winter, several of the young players voiced similar sentiments. Instead of training for a specific drill at the combine, they can instead work on getting stronger or improving or developing a technique that will help on Sundays.

Coach Sean Payton touched on the topic before the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.

“They’re going to be with their agents and training, working on getting ready for the combine. The minute that ends, the focus then shifts to how much they can lift and how heavy and big they are at the pro day,” Payton said. “So there’s a lot pulling at them in that first year that’s not always conducive to them being ready for rookie camp. It’s very conducive to them improving their status or draft status. So I get that.”

Payton isn’t the only head coach who believes this. New England’s Bill Belichick often talks about how he believes the biggest window for growth is between a player’s first and second seasons.

Not only can the players focus specifically on football during that period, they also know what it takes to compete in the league and what is expected of them. Once those issues are settled, it makes accomplishing those tasks a little bit easier.

Peat now will have all of those things working in his favor. It also will help that he now will be able to focus specifically on playing his natural position. Drafted as a tackle, the rookie also had to figure out how to play guard, where he started a handful of games this season.

Heading into the offseason, his sole focus should be on figuring out a way to wrestle the starting job on the right side of the line away from tackle Zach Strief. Peat wasn’t selected 13th overall to spend more than a season as an understudy.

The promise is there. Peat had some ups and downs along the way, starting four games at left guard and three more at tackle, but there were more positives than negatives.

Peat was pulled from his final start at left guard after about 30 snaps against the Detroit Lions in Week 15 after some issues with effectiveness, though he started Week 16 against the Jacksonville Jaguars in place of an injured Strief. He allowed only one hurry and one quarterback hit.

Peat missed the season finale against the Falcons with a concussion, but he said he’s feeling fine now.

It wasn’t a storybook start for Peat by any means, but he feels he has created a foundation to build upon.

“I’m still kind of reflecting on it,” he said. “I think it was a good first season. A lot to build on this offseason — look at the things I did well and didn’t do well.”

He’ll have time to do that now. No one will care about his 40 time or what he does in the three-cone drill. All that matters from here on out is what he puts on tape.

Good things can happen when that’s all there is to focus on.