No clear leader in Saints' center battle

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- More than a week into training camp, the New Orleans Saints' battle for the starting center job is still too close to call.

Both 13-year veteran Jonathan Goodwin and second-year pro Tim Lelito have stood out a handful of times in full-team and individual drills as they’ve taken turns working with the first-string offense. And we’ve seen a few fumbled center-quarterback exchanges from each of them.

It’s a difficult position to judge with the naked eye from the sideline in practice. Even coach Sean Payton said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the only way to truly evaluate an offensive lineman is to go back and look at the tape (not to mention knowing the assignments).

I did notice Lelito making two very nice blocks on two of the Saints’ big plays during Saturday’s scrimmage. But before that, Goodwin had stood out to me a couple more times in some of the Saints’ physical run drills.

And it’s clear from talking to Saints coaches and players that Goodwin is very much in the competition.

When asked what it is about Goodwin that will make it hard for Lelito to beat him out, Payton said, “He is consistent and he obviously knows exactly where to go. He will go six, seven weeks without a mental error. That is the type of player he is.”

Guard Jahri Evans said he’s seen the same Goodwin who was around from 2006-2010 before he left to spend three years with the San Francisco 49ers.

Ultimately, though, Evans agreed with Payton that the “eye in the sky” will be the ultimate judge for both players.

“Tim’s getting better. There’s a lot going on for Tim. It’s the first time he’s played center, especially at this level. The one thing I can say is that he’s getting better,” Evans said. “Goody is a seasoned vet, he’s a pro. He’s played 13-14 years in this league and Goody is just like we all remember Goody. We jell well together, we know where each other is going to be. We have those games and those reps with each other.

“I think both guys are working hard, and the thing is that the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. Go back to the film and see who’s the better guy.”