Jonathan Goodwin, Tim Lelito pushing each other to be better _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints center Jonathan Goodwin prepares to snap the ball during practice Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — It would be easy for Jonathan Goodwin to treat Tim Lelito as a threat to his job, because, well, that’s exactly what he is.

The competition at center between these two men is as fierce as any battle unfolding in the New Orleans Saints training camp, yet Goodwin, who was imported from San Francisco this offseason after an earlier stint with the Saints, has been willing to serve as a mentor to his younger teammate.

“It’s nice to have a guy who will actually work with you and teach you things,” Lelito said. “We’re both trying to make this team better.”

It appears, at least on the surface, that the battle for the starting center position is open. Goodwin and Lelito have alternated snaps with the first-team offense throughout the first four days of camp.

Neither has pulled away in the race. Goodwin went 2-0 in one-on-one drills against the defensive line during Friday’s practice. Lelito went 1-1.

Lelito will likely be given every opportunity to win the job since he is under contract for the next two seasons. Goodwin, on the other hand, was brought in on a one-year to provide insurance if Lelito fails to win the role.

It was necessary for the Saints to take out the policy. Outside of some random snaps in practices, Lelito, who was drafted as a guard, has never lined up at center in a game for the Saints.

He has the physical attributes to do the job and has been able to meet those demands, but has found the mental aspects of playing center to be the most challenging aspect of the position switch.

“(The challenges are) identifying defenses, and who’s the Mike (linebacker), and where we’re going,” Lelito said. “It helps with Drew (Brees), because Drew does a lot of that stuff, but just getting up there for me and saying the stuff.”

Lelito says he is becoming more comfortable with doing those things, but he’ll be fighting to get up to speed while he fights to win the center battle.

No safety

Even if Corey White is lined up in the area where a safety typically lines up, and even if he’s playing center field in a single-high set, don’t call him a safety.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like. The Saints maintain that White is a cornerback. And as a cornerback, there are times when the duties of his position cause him to do things that look like things a safety might do.

“It might be because of a formation that we’re in,” coach Sean Payton said. “His primary snaps are coming at corner or in the slot. It might be a formation or an in-and-out coverage that all of the sudden put him high. His role is going to be as a corner, an inside corner, and someone in the kicking game.”

Whatever the case, there have been a number of times that White has ended up lined up as a safety. But according to Payton, it should not be taken as an indication that White is being given a new set of responsibilities.

On the way back

Wide receiver Robert Meachem and guard Ben Grubbs are expected to return to action in the “next day or so,” according to Payton.

Meachem has been sidelined since Sunday because of back tightness, and Payton said Grubbs is being given time to rest.

Wide receiver Kenny Stills has not practice since Friday because of a quad injury. Payton did not update his status, though Stills went through some conditioning work Monday.

Safety Jairus Byrd (back) and nose tackle John Jenkins (pec), both of whom are on the physically unable to perform list, also went through some conditioning work, as did rookie tackle Tavon Rooks (back).

Rookie wide receiver Steve Hull returned for the afternoon walkthrough after being helped off the field during the morning practice.