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Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Saints O-line gets high ranking

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Colleague Ross Tucker ranked the offensive lines of the eight teams remaining in the postseason. He has the Saints at No. 2, behind only the Houston Texans.

That’s quite a tribute to the offensive linemen and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Plus, you could throw in offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and coach Sean Payton because they obviously have a lot to do with how the offensive line is used.

But I think the thing that really stands out to me about Tucker’s ranking, is that the Saints really only have two blue-chip offensive linemen. Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are All-Pros and they really carry this line, especially consider the fact the Saints went through some big changes on the line before and during the season.

They let veteran center Jonathan Goodwin go in free agency, coincidentally to the 49ers, who play the Saints on Saturday. They also released veteran right tackle Jon Stinchcomb in training camp. They signed veteran Olin Kreutz to replace Goodwin. But Kreutz got injured, came back briefly, but the left the team, saying his heart no longer was in the game.

After Kreutz left, the Saints got a very nice surprise. Brian de la Puente has stepped in and played pretty well. I’m sure he’s helped by the fact he’s sandwiched between Nicks and Evans, but de la Puente certainly deserves some of the credit.

Right tackle Zach Strief took over for Stinchcomb, but Strief missed five games around the middle of the season with injury. Strief is healthy now and like de la Puente, Strief isn’t considered a big-time talent.

You could even throw left tackle Jermon Bushrod into that category. I know Bushrod made the Pro Bowl this season, but I think that had a lot to do with how prolific the offense is. Bushrod has more talent than Strief or de la Puente and has developed into a solid player. But he’s not a great left tackle.

But I think the moral of this story is that, if you have the two best guards in the NFL, they’re going to make the guys around them look a lot better.