Ryan Ramczyk was still a question mark at this point last year.
Hard to believe now.
Ramczyk, the rookie who started out the season on the left side, moved to the right when Zach Strief went down and promptly established himself as one of the NFL’s best right tackles, still hadn’t taken a snap because of recovery from a torn labrum in his hip when the Saints broke for summer vacation.
“Initially, I didn’t think I’d be in the starting role,” Ramczyk said, “but I went in there and gave it all and worked hard.”
And as good as he was as a rookie, Ramczyk’s coaches said he could be even better in his second season.
Ramczyk spent training camp last season learning the nuances of the offense and getting his feet wet in the NFL. When he took the field as a starter against Minnesota, it felt like it was happening faster than he expected.
“It was kind of chaos, jumping into the mix,” Ramczyk said.
The Ramczyk that has been on the field this summer is a veteran.
“Now, you see a much more confident player, understands what he’s doing,” offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. “There’s growth mentally, there’s growth physically.”
Roushar saw it at the end of an organized team activity early this offseason.
As a practice wrapped up, Ramczyk made the comment that there were two parts of his game that he felt he needed to clean up, and he wasn’t happy with the results yet.
Roushar saw it as a sign of a veteran capable of getting himself ready for the challenges of an NFL season.
Ramczyk, who learned the trade from technicians like Strief and left tackle Terron Armstead, is simply ironing out the parts of the game that cost him in the few times he wasn’t locking down the right side of the line a year ago.
“Pad level in run blocking, staying square in my pass set,” Ramczyk said. “Little nuances like that, little details.”
Ramczyk’s athleticism is why the Saints drafted him.
His smarts and his professionalism are what allowed him to make an impact right away. In an era when NFL-ready offensive linemen are increasingly difficult to find in the draft — most need a little time to develop before they can contribute — Ramczyk fit right in with the veterans from the start.
“He’s a player that’s very steady,” head coach Sean Payton said. “He is extremely smart. When we work a ‘dog’ in blitz period or things start moving a little faster, he has a quick way about him to understand what he’s doing. I think he’s transitioned into our league exceptionally well for a young player.”
And he’s only going to get better.
The New Orleans offense is full of stars — big, bright stars who can take up the entire night sky.
Drew Brees is a legend, a future Hall of Famer. Alvin Kamara was the breakout star of the 2017 season, both on and off the field. Mark Ingram’s been in the spotlight since he won the Heisman Trophy, and Michael Thomas is the game’s best young receiver.
All of those stars shine so bright that they sometimes mask the mammoth giants who make it all possible.
New Orleans has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, not simply by lore or acclamation, but by production. Working with a group forced to battle through injury, the Saints finished second in the NFL in yards per carry and second in the NFL in sack percentage allowed.
None of those numbers are by accident.
“I think that, generally, when you look at a good football team, you’re seeing the team that has a good offensive line, both with the protection, and also with the running game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It’s obviously a position group that we feel strongly about, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft, using resources to improve.”