METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints might have two sophomores starting on their offensive line this year, with Terron Armstead a virtual lock for the left tackle job and Tim Lelito a strong contender at center.
The prospect is a little daunting. But remember, the last time the Saints promoted two less-experienced starters into their starting o-line (Zach Strief and Brian De La Puente in 2011), they wound up setting the NFL record for yards gained in a season.
The Saints obviously liked what they saw in small doses from both Armstead and Lelito last year.
Armstead, a third-round draft pick out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, took over the starting left tackle job over the final four games last season. He was considered a bit of a developmental project when the Saints drafted him. But he's a sensational athlete, and he seemed to improve with each start.
Lelito was even more raw, having come in as an undrafted rookie out of Grand Valley State. But he won a roster spot in training camp and made two spot starts at guard during the season (the second one much more impressive than the first).
Lelito is the current front-runner to win the center job, though the Saints could still add an experienced veteran like Jonathan Goodwin or a draft prospect as competition.
Lelito is excited about the opportunity but insisted that he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I just show up to work every day and work out and do what I gotta do to get better," Lelito said earlier this week while appearing with Armstead at a school visit at Airline Park Academy. "Whether that's the starting center role or whatever, like you guys (in the media) have been saying, or whether it's backup guard, it doesn't matter, backup swingman. Whatever I can do to help the team get better this year is what I'm going to do."
Lelito said he's been working diligently this offseason on both his snapping and his mastery of the playbook -- both of which are vital for the center position.
He said he feels much more comfortable in his second offseason. Especially compared to the stress of the pre-draft process a year ago.
But, he insisted, "It's still humbling. To even be here is very humbling."
Armstead, too, said he feels much better going into Year 2.
"It was great to get a chance to get my feet wet, so to speak. I felt like I just needed to build, keep getting better each game. I feel like this year will be a lot better for me," said Armstead, who said his biggest takeaway from last year was, "just getting the timing and the rhythm down of the offense. The terminology of Drew Brees, playing outside of Ben Grubbs. Just the rhythm of it will be a lot better this year."
Armstead said he also vividly remembers that feeling of not playing on Sundays for the first three months of the season.
"It was tough not playing. So when I got the chance to start, I wanted to make the most of my opportunities, remember the feel of being in sweats," said Armstead, who played both playoff games with a torn trigger tendon in his hand before having minor offseason surgery to repair it.
Both Armstead and Lelito were quick to mention their veteran line-mates, Pro Bowl guards Grubbs and Jahri Evans and right tackle Strief.
"Being around those veterans and seeing the work they put in, the preparation they put in, you would be doing yourself a [disservice] if you didn't try to put in the same effort or even more," Armstead said.
Lelito made a rookie mistake when he accidentally caught himself referring to them as "the old guys." But he showed proper reverence while quickly correcting his error.
"I don't want to say old guys. The veterans, sorry. How could you not pay attention to those guys?" Lelito said. "Sometimes you just have to sit there and shut up and pay attention and take as much notes as you can."