NEW ORLEANS There are more valuable players on the New Orleans Saints but few head into training camp with a bigger spotlight shining on him than third-year guard/tackle Andrus Peat.
As Peat goes so goes the Saints offensive line in preparation for the start of the regular season because of the current injuries to center Max Unger (foot) and left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder).
Peat is expected to open the first practice of camp Thursday morning at left guard and not left tackle in Armstead’s absence, according to Coach Sean Payton. Veteran Khalif Barnes and first-round draft pick Ryan Ramzyck are expected to share the workload with the first unit at the blindside tackle position, at least in the early going.
That makes all the sense in the world. Though drafted 13th overall in 2015 as a tackle, Peat probably is best suited to play guard at this early stage of his career.
No sense moving Peat to left tackle and possibly weaken a second position at left guard. The whole idea is to provide the best protection for Drew Brees and open up passing lanes for the gifted 6-foot, 38-year-old quarterback.
If neither Barnes nor Rymcyzk — or anyone else — works out at left tackle, look for Payton to go to Plan B or C, if necessary.
Four other things I’ll be watching:
▪ One ball, two backs: On paper, it seems a deadly combo — incumbent starter Mark Ingram, fresh off his first 1,000-yard season, and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who’s coming off a career-threatening injury at age 32 and trying to add to his legacy. Ingram took exception at one point last season to being removed from the lineup in the shadow of the end zone in favor of teammate Tim Hightower.
▪ Where’s the rush? Saints officials did not sign the marquee pass rusher that many in Who Dat Nation clamored for during the offseason, settling on capable if unspectacular free-agent edge rusher Alex Okafor from Arizona to complement Cameron Jordan. Look for veteran Darryl Tapp and converted linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha to get a crack at this role after missing the entire 2016 season with a third torn left ACL.
▪ Ginn fizz or fizzle? Speedy free-agent signee Ted Ginn Jr. doesn’t have to make people forget Brandin Cooks, he just has to do his job well at the flanker position and complement wideout Michael Thomas and slot receiver Willie Snead. The plan is for the 32-year-old Ginn — and perhaps rookie running back Alvin Kamara — to stretch the field for quarterback Drew Brees and minimize the chances of opposing defenses doubling up on Thomas. Ginn also can make his presence felt in the return game.
▪ Med check: Unger and Armstead will enter camp on the league’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list, along with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and guard/center Senio Kelemete. Unger is expected to be beady for Week 1 while Armstead is not expected back before November at the earliest. Payton provided no injury details for Ellerbe or Kelemete, who figures prominently both at the center and left guard positions. Players can be removed from the active/PUP list at any time.
NOTES: Players report Wednesday. Non-padded practices will be held Thursday and Friday from 8:50-11:40 a.m. and are closed to the public. The first padded practice takes place at 8:50-11:40 a.m. Saturday and is sold out to the general public. Free tickets can be claimed by visiting neworleanssaints.com/trainingcamp.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.