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Arena: Saints building strength up front in NFL Draft

The Saints were a good offensive team and bad defensive team for much of last season … until the final quarter of the season, where injuries to tackles Zach Strief and Terron Armstead left even a Drew Brees-led offense toothless. Brees was sacked at least two times in seven of his last nine games, and was dropped at least four times in three of those.

Enter Andrus Peat. The Saints had the 6-foot-7 Stanford tackle as the top lineman available on their board and pulled the trigger. Sean Payton quickly defused any talk of moving Peat to guard, saying he’ll stay at tackle, and is seems unlikely Armstead or Strief will kick over to guard either.

Certainly, at the heart of the Saints’ deficiencies was an inability to protect its own quarterback and pressure the opposing one (and a few coverage issues, to boot), and this could go a long way toward covering that base. The team has also attempted to gravitate more toward the run as Brees ages, and perhaps having a showcase lineman or two in terms of physical ability has gained importance in this regime’s eyes.

By the same token, this has been a team with a history of finding and “coaching up” mid and late-round offensive linemen. Strief was a seventh rounder. Jahri Evans was a fourth rounder, Carl Nicks a fifth. Jermon Bushrod was a fourth. All earned nice-sized second contracts in the league. That well has seemingly run dry of late; then again, the team hasn’t spent its usual bevy of mid-round picks on line talent in recent years, perhaps partially because it’s lost a few of those due to the bounty-related and “trade up” loss of picks

Say what you will about Sean Payton, but one trait he’s seemingly always had in the draft is he refuses to get beat by the same deficiency two years running. A few years ago, his trade for Mark Ingram seemed like an overreaction to a slew of tailback injuries in 2010. If Peat begins this season on the bench, it’ll seem like that to me again. But it’s tough to really fault Payton for making sure this team has capable play on its line, even if it had to invest its top pick to do so, as opposed to venturing for selections later.

On the defensive side, Stephone Anthony was a pick I really liked. They replace stalwart middle linebacker Curtis Lofton with a very athletic playmaker who anchored one of the nation’s top defensive teams. Anthony was productive on the field and is cut from the Seattle Seahawks mold of defensive player: he’s physically gifted and runs like a wide receiver (a 4.5 40 time at the Combine).

Everyone thought Rob Ryan was at Clemson’s pro day to eye up Vic Beasely, and maybe that indeed was the case, but obviously Anthony caught his eye as well.

It wasn’t a spectacular haul on paper by any means, but if you believe the strength of a football team begins up front, it’s tough to find too much fault. With seven more selections as I write this Friday morning, hopefully the team can address all of its needs.