Tackle is a very interesting position for the Saints this year with Jermon Bushrod gone, as there's tons of depth but not a lot of proven talent. There are a number of players on the roster with intriguing potential so you have to feel pretty good on one or two panning out, especially given the track record of success this regime has had with offensive linemen. That said, Aaron Kromer is gone and the fear is the development aspect won't be quite as up to snuff as it has been in years past. Unfortunately development is at a premium now that the left tackle spot has been left wide open. Here are the players:
Zach Strief: He enters his third season as a starter at right tackle. After grading out extremely well in 2011, he had a drop off in 2012 due to injuries. At 6'7" and 320lbs, Strief is one of the biggest and stronger players on the team. He can be a devastating blocker, especially if he can get his paws on you. His technique is also very good, and he attributes a lot of that to the tutelage he received from Jon Stinchcomb. Strief is also one of the best guys on the team from a character standpoint, always accountable and showing fantastic leadership. He's a pillar in the community, too. His limitation is his movement, particularly laterally (he does a little better north and south on pulls). Explosive pass rushers tend to expose that, particularly if he's not 100%. To me Strief, if healthy, is the unquestioned starter at RT. His roster spot is a lock.
Charles Brown: He's played 21 games in three seasons, starting eight times thanks to injuries before suffering some of his own. Despite the high investment in Brown with a 2nd round draft pick, he's yet to come close to living up to that status. He's been injured entirely too much, and when he's been healthy he's grossly under performed. I still have nightmares about watching him play right tackle and attempt to block Chris Long. And that's just it, he couldn't cut it at right tackle, and now he's expected to play left tackle? Brown is the favorite to be the opening day starter at left tackle, and that makes me more than a little uneasy based on his short history with the team. Brown has quick feat, but strength has always been something the coaching staff has pressed him to improve. I'm not sure how that's coming along, but added strength should help with his consistently reoccurring injuries, too. He should make the team, unless something crazy happens.
Jason Smith: Smith was the 2nd pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft, and based on the fact that he is on his third team now at a minimum salary, it's fair to say he's been a complete bust. Obviously he graded off the charts at the NFL combine and in measurables, but he's never lived up to it on the field. With the Rams, he was a starter for three seasons but only last more than 8 games in a season once (2010 he started 15 games). Last year he was a backup for the Jets and never cracked the starting lineup on an offensive line riddled with issues. So trusting he'll pan out is misguided, most likely, but based on the incredibly low investment the Saints made it's definitely worth a shot. Sometimes it takes a veteran getting desperate before he reaches his full potential. I kind of feel like this is it for Smith now that he's on his third team. If he fails to make the roster, or make any sort of worthwhile contribution, he's pretty likely done in the NFL. The funny thing is, if he shows anything at all, he could end up being the starting left tackle. So the opportunity is definitely there and we'll see if he can seize it and finally live up as anything close to where he was drafted. Ultimately he could either be waived if he continues to struggle, or he could wind up the starter.
Terron Armstead: Armstead is a freak of nature and while he has an outside shot at being the starting left tackle for the Saints this season, I think few will disagree he's likely the LT of the future for this team. It's hard to see him not succeeding based on his athletic talent. Indeed, he ran a 4.71 40 which is the fastest time for an offensive lineman in the history of the combine! He also has nice size (6'5", 306lbs) so the Saints drafted him high in the 3rd round despite coming from a small school in Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He already has decent strength, which he needs to improve, and his foot quickness make him a no brainer at left tackle. If he can refine his technique he should be able to neutralize some of the best pass rushers in the game. If healthy, his ceiling is just too high for his roster spot not to be a lock. Even if he's not ready to play this year, there is no way the Saints will let him get away.
Marcel Jones: At 6'7", 320lbs, he has the same intimidating mammoth size as Zach Strief. He was a 7th round pick out of Nebraska for the Saints last season and spent the year on IR. Jones also sports a sweet afro that makes him easy to recognize in a crowd of Saints players. Jones is a prototypical right tackle and I think he possibly has a nice future with this team. I definitely like his potential, and who knows, he could possibly even push Zach Strief for a starting spot at right tackle. I like his chances of making the team but he'll need to show something in camp and preseason to stick.
Bryce Harris: Harris was the 3rd string right tackle last year and came in when both Strief and Charles Brown went down. His performance was an utter disaster of epic proportions. Not only that, but he would start the next week and injure himself on the very first drive, costing himself the rest of the season. The Saints would thus turn to their 5th string guy if you count Marcel Jones going on IR (William Robinson, who is no longer on the team) before opting to go back to a barely funtioning Zach Strief. The fact that Strief operating at 60% was the best option tells you something about the state of the tackle depth last season. Harris in my opinion is a camp body that should have never seen the final roster, or the field, last season but got in the mix thanks to unreal crazy luck and a rash of injuries at one position. Fortunately with Marcel Jones back, as well as Brown, Smith and Armstead, I think Harris is on the bottom of the depth chart. If the Saints can stay relatively healthy he's a long shot to make the team.
Prediction – I think Jason Smith won't pan out and the Saints will cut him. I think Harris gets dumped, too, and Charles Brown will start the season with Armstead coming in at left tackle earlier than we expect. The guys I see on the 53 man roster at this point are Brown, Armstead, Strief and Jones. I could see the Saints keeping five if they only hang on to five tight ends, though.