Down in the trenches, where the battle to protect the most important person on the field plays out on each snap, it stands to reason that an eavesdropper could gain a sizable advantage by listening in on what the offensive linemen are saying to one another.
Every word, every whisper, caught by a defensive linemen could help him figure out how the offensive line is protecting the quarterback and give him an easier path to the quarterback. But this isn’t something the New Orleans Saints worry about — at least not in previous seasons.
“If a D-lineman had direct access to the things me and Jahri (Evans) are to saying to each other during a game, it would help not at all,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “It would be no help to them because it’s like gibberish, basically.”
The two have been working in tandem to hold down the right side of the Saints offensive line since Strief cracked the starting lineup in 2011. By logging countless repetitions next to one another in practices in games, Strief and Evans have developed a level of chemistry that allows them to communicate through shorthand and nonverbal gestures.
Such chemistry takes time to build, and now the offensive line is looking to redevelop the same level of comfort after making some changes to the group this offseason.
Center Max Unger, who replaces Jon Goodwin, was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, and Tim Lelito is taking the place of departed left guard Ben Grubbs.
Lelito enters the fray with an advantage over Unger since he spent the past few years in New Orleans and logged 294 snaps last season while filling in at various spots for injured players. He and left tackle Terron Armstead already have a good amount of familiarity with one another.
“It’s been pretty smooth. Me and Tim came in together,” Armstead said. “We played with each other in preseason for a couple of years. He’s not a stranger to me. But I played with Ben Grubbs the two years before. With Tim going into the starting lineup, we gel pretty nicely.”
But despite that familiarity, Armstead admits it’s a transition, and the two will need some time before it feels the same way it did with Grubbs. That’s expected and normal.
Right now, to help the new guys settle in, everything has slowed down a little. Instead of speaking in gibberish, every call and assignment has to verbalized in a way that everyone understands.
When asked how long it takes for someone to be brought up to speed, Strief estimated the group is only about a quarter of the way there.
“Does it take a week? No. Does it take a month?” Strief said. “I’d say it probably takes 1,000 reps. We’re 200 into that maybe right now. We go to training camp and get another 800.”
It helps that quarterback Drew Brees calls the protections and directs the offensive line. That will make life easier on Unger and help speed up his assimilation into the offense. Which is good, since his focus needs to be on figuring out how to gel with the line and become more comfortable working with Brees.
If there was any doubt the offensive line had a new guy lining up center, it became obvious after a few snaps were botched during OTAs and minicamp. This, too, is something the team is confident will work itself out in time.
“There’s a timing and a rhythm to a lot of what you do in that quarterback-center exchange,” Brees said. “Those are things that are just time on task that I’m confident we will have down here pretty soon.”
For the running backs, on a basic level, there isn’t as much of an adjustment running behind new members of the offensive line. It’s more about those players simply doing their job and being able to execute within the blocking scheme.
“Once they get that down, we’re pros,” running back Mark Ingram said. “We all play with each other well. You learn what they do great and learn what they don’t do so great. We all learn each other, figure out each other, we just gel and go out there and be the best we can be.”
As Brees says, it’s all time on task. Once all the bumps and bruises are scarred over, and the new guys start picking up on the language, there will be no need to worry about eavesdroppers. Everything will work as envisioned.
And once that happens, maybe Brees won’t have to worry about as many invaders crashing his pocket next season.