Saints' Ryan Ramczyk making Brandin Cooks trade look like win-win

METAIRIE, La. -- Ryan Ramczyk said he never personally owned a cheesehead.

But, yes, the New Orleans Saints' rookie right tackle grew up as a Green Bay Packers fan in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. As did many of the 50 or 60 family members and friends that will be in attendance when he returns to Lambeau Field on Sunday. Ramczyk told reporters this week that his dad will be wearing a split jersey with Packers on the front and Saints on the back.

"It's kind of crazy to think about that," Ramczyk said. "Growing up watching the Packers, obviously watching Clay Matthews and kind of rooting for him I guess, and now I've got to stop him. I'm excited for the challenge."

Ramczyk should be up to the task, based on what he has shown so far after being thrown into the fire as the 32nd pick in this year's draft.

The Saints acquired that pick by trading receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots this offseason. But they didn't expect the trade to pay off so quickly.

Ramczyk (6-foot-5, 314 pounds) wasn't expected to start right away after playing just one year at Wisconsin, then having hip surgery in January.

But Saints left tackle Terron Armstead had shoulder surgery in June and right tackle Zach Strief suffered knee injuries in Week 1 and Week 4.

So Ramczyk has started every game this season -- two at left tackle and three at right tackle -- and has held up very well.

"I just think that he is mentally tougher than maybe any rookie I've ever been around," Strief said. "The ability to flip sides is not just a physical difficulty, it's so hard mentally ... And he's played fantastic.

"He’s been so solid in every area. He's been solid in the run game, he's been solid in the pass game. He has not made mental errors. He's just not playing like a guy who's been here for six months, that's for sure."

Strief also praised Ramczyk for his focus in the meeting rooms, the film room and on the practice field. And he offered him the ultimate compliment by saying he knows the right tackle position will be in good hands for a long time to come.

"I can almost thank Ryan at this point for letting me feel a little bit better about (my injury), because it would be tearing me up if there was no other answer in the locker room. And ultimately, we haven't missed a beat," said Strief, who is on injured reserve with a sprained MCL and "some other stuff," but will try to rehab instead of having surgery to see if he can return in December.

"And I think it's gonna continue to get better and better and better,” Strief said of Ramczyk's development. "It's exciting for me to get to stand back and watch him, it really is."

Saints coach Sean Payton and running back Mark Ingram also praised Ramczyk for his skill set and his ability to handle the position switches.

"You see an athletic tackle, a guy who can run," said Ingram, who said he has especially noticed Ramczyk's play when he watches film. "He does a good job of pass blocking, does a great job of run blocking. And you appreciate it, because he plugged right in."

Obviously Ramczyk remains a work in progress. He had a little trouble with Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Everson Griffen in Week 1 (who doesn't?). But there haven't been any blatant errors or bad games.

Strief said Ramczyk is mostly reacting right now. But he'll start to anticipate things more and more based on his experience.

"I think he's been playing real well," Payton said. "If you're around him and you interview him, you get a sense from his demeanor (like) he's been in this league three or four years at least, I think. I've been really pleased with what we've seen from him so early right now."