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John DeShazier: Tim Lelito has the upper hand in competition to be Saints center

Posted Jun 3, 2014

He started two games at guard in 2013


A tad sheepishly, Tim Lelito offered an apology.

“I’m really boring,” he said with a slight laugh. “I’m sorry.”

He needn’t be. The New Orleans Saints don’t care if the second-year offensive lineman is a boisterous comic genius or if he can spin tales of exploits that’d make him the envy of the locker room.

What the team does care about is whether Lelito, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound undrafted rookie from Grand Valley State last year, can play center well enough to fit in as a starter on the offensive line, sandwiched between Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Because for now Lelito is exactly that, after starting two games at guard last season for the injured Evans, because 2013 starting center Brian de la Puente signed with Chicago as a free agent.

“It feels good,” Lelito said. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and get used to everyone being out there, Ben and Jahri and getting used to Drew’s cadence and stuff like that.”

And as inexperienced as he is, he still has the upper hand on the current competition.

Matt Armstrong, who also played at Grand Valley State, is an undrafted rookie. Mike Golic, Jr. didn’t make an NFL roster last season. So unless a veteran center joins the fray later this offseason, Lelito could remain the Saints’ top option at center.

“It’s hard for a guy to win a position until we get into training camp,” Coach Sean Payton said. “With our depth there, we have a few other younger guys we’re rotating in. We always have the flexibility of signing a veteran. We kind of look at that and really look at this 90-man roster right now each week at a time.

“There will be some changes still before we get to minicamp. There may not be a lot of them, but each week we will look at opportunities to sign players. Tim (Lelito) is someone that has handled the transition right now pretty well, but he is going to have to, when we get into training camp, do it in a live setting.”

But for Lelito, at least there has been some NFL gameday work, the two games he started at right guard.

“I think it does (help) a little bit,” Lelito said. “I think being out there and knowing game situations, and being in a game before, I think that helps me out and gives me a little bit of an advantage over these guys coming in that haven’t played in actual NFL games.”

Said quarterback Drew Brees: “Lelito stepped in on two occasions last year and started at right guard for us and really did a great job when he was in there. He’s a guy who, obviously, we feel very comfortable with, whether it’s at the center position or the guard position. It’s nice to have a guy who has that versatility.

“He’s been able to do some things for us and now he’s having the opportunity to start. I’m happy for him, excited for him.”

That may be a good thing, considering Lelito doesn’t appear to be the excitable kind.


“(I’m) just trying to get better every single day, trying to help the team get to be as good as we possibly can be,” he said.

The Saints soon will learn if the offense being the best it can be coincides with Lelito occupying a starting spot on the offensive line, at center.

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