Tim Lelito confident but insists he still must earn starting gig at guard

KENNER, La. – Earlier, I wrote about how offensive tackle Zach Strief isn’t overreacting in a negative way after the New Orleans Saints drafted his future replacement, Andrus Peat, in Round 1.

In the same vein, guard Tim Lelito hasn’t overreacted in a positive way after the Saints left his position untouched in the draft.

“I guess it says a lot [about the coaches’ confidence in me],” said Lelito, who is projected for now to replace veteran Ben Grubbs as the Saints' starting left guard. “But just because they didn’t sign any big names or draft a [guard], that doesn’t mean there’s not competition out there already.”

Lelito specifically identified fourth-year pro Senio Kelemete as a worthy rival for the left guard job that was vacated when the Saints traded Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’re about neck and neck right now, so it’s all going to come down to training camp and the preseason games,” said Lelito, who also mentioned backups Andrew Miller, Michael Brewster and the recently signed young roster hopefuls. “The job is still open. No one is penciled in right now.”

Coach Sean Payton and others have specifically identified Lelito as the front runner for that left guard job, though, after the former undrafted rookie from Grand Valley State has played well as a spot starter the last two years at both guard and center.

Lelito was unable to fend off veteran Jonathan Goodwin for the starting center job in a similar battle last summer. But now Lelito is moving back to his “natural position” of left guard, where he played all four years in college.

And Lelito, listed at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, appeared noticeably bulked up while speaking at the Saints Hall of Fame golf tournament Monday. He said he gained seven pounds and is up to about 327.

“I definitely want the position, and I’ll definitely have to earn it,” Lelito said. “Through last year and just learning the offense more, and this year getting stronger in the weight room, and then going back to my natural position at left guard … I feel really good and real comfortable.”