Saints’ Cesar Ruiz is finally coming into his own at right guard

His New Orleans Saints career didn’t start out as many hoped, but Cesar Ruiz is finally coming into his own as a dependable right guard:

It’s taken some time, but Cesar Ruiz is beginning to turn the corner. The third-year New Orleans Saints right guard didn’t exactly hit the ground running — his first two years in the starting lineup were full of frustration for him and his team’s fans, and his name was brought up in trade talks early in the offseason. But nothing came of it, and Ruiz has since gone on to play the best football of his pro career.

Right now, Ruiz ranks fourth in total snaps played at right guard (479) around the NFL going into Week 8, and seventh in pass-blocking snaps among players at his position (289). He’s been penalized just once all season, and that was on a bogus foul for being an ineligible receiver downfield (which didn’t hold up under postgame video review, but wasn’t a play that could be challenged during the game). Pro Football Focus play-by-play charting found he’s allowed just 5 pressures (2 sacks) on those reps in pass protection, which is kind of stunning. Ruiz is tied with Pittsburgh Steelers left guard Kevin Dotson for the fewest pressures allows among the top 21 guards (left or right) in total pass-blocking snaps.

The gulf between Ruiz at No. 17 and New York Jets right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 21 is just as wide as that between Vera-Tucker and the No. 22-ranked player in pass pro snaps played at guard (New York Giants right guard Mark Glowinski), hence the sample size. But let’s get back to Ruiz.

The former Michigan Wolverine is playing really well right now, and not just as a pass blocker. New Orleans is averaging 5.2 yards per carry as a team, and 5.8 on runs to the right side where Ruiz and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk are most responsible for paving the way. He’s moving well on both gap and zone running plays. It’s taken a lot of patience and some coaching changes — the Saints brought back Doug Marrone as their offensive line coach this spring, retaining Zach Strief as his assistant, with former All-Pro right guard Jahri Evans joining them for training camp as a coaching intern — but Ruiz is finally coming into his own.

So good for him. Sure, the Saints are 2-5 and struggling in some facets of the game, but Ruiz has been a surprising bright spot for them. He’s looking like a dependable player who can hold down his spot and continue to work well between Ramczyk and longtime center Erik McCoy, who just signed a multiyear contract extension. The Saints have a decision to make on Ruiz’s contract in March 2023 with his fifth-year option coming up, which Over The Cap estimates will be valued at more than $13.9 million for the 2024 season (those options must be picked up a year in advance). If Ruiz keeps this up, he’ll make that decision an easy one for New Orleans, and maybe earn a long-term contract.

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Saints setting high expectations for Cesar Ruiz in his first real offseason

Saints setting high expectations for Cesar Ruiz in his first real offseason after two COVID-abridged summers:

Patience is growing thin for Cesar Ruiz among a lot of New Orleans Saints fans. The team’s 2020 first round pick hasn’t done well through his first two years in the NFL, struggling to convert from center to guard after turning pro out of Michigan. Between breakdowns in pass protection and missed assignments as a run blocker, he’s earned the ire of a lot of would-be supporters.

But the Saints themselves are giving Ruiz some slack. General manager Mickey Loomis observed that he’s taken an unusual road to the NFL with the bulk of his first two offseasons being conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the time Ruiz was spending with his position coaches and the strength and conditioning staff.

People forget,” Loomis told Boot Krewe Media’s Jack Culotta Jr., “This is Cesar Ruiz’s first offseason. There are expectations on some of these guys that, with a full offseason, we’re going to see a jump from these guys.”

Now, making an excuse for Ruiz’s subpar level of play isn’t the same as okaying it. The Saints made moves to better support Ruiz early this year — the first hire that Dennis Allen made to his new coaching staff was offensive line coach Doug Marrone, a former NFL head coach who was arguably overqualified for the job. Getting regular work in with Marrone over the summer leading into training camp should do a lot for Ruiz’s development.

At least that’s the expectation. Also consider the circumstances of Ruiz’s age. He turned 23 in June and is younger than some of his rookie teammates, and it’s common for offensive linemen like him to take a couple years getting up to speed (which is something Saints fans experienced before with Andrus Peat). It’s very possible that Ruiz will enjoy a more successful second leg of his career after these initial struggles.

But at the same time, Ruiz wasn’t the only player drafted at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and asked to switch positions in the NFL. He isn’t the only one younger and less experienced than his peers, either. Other players have seen the same hurdles and cleared them. All the coaching changes and practice time in the world won’t matter if he doesn’t cut down on the in-the-moment mental mistakes and botched assignments. At the end of the day, he’s got to do a better job. The Saints have done what they can to throw him a line. Now it’s up to Ruiz to sink or swim.

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Ranking the 9 biggest Saints additions this offseason

Ranking the 9 biggest New Orleans Saints additions during the NFL offseason, via @DillySanders:

The New Orleans Saints decided to continue their quest of a Super Bowl with this roster by bolstering their talent pool and even using future draft picks to do so.

Some surprise retirements made that job much harder than some expected, also some other key losses made new requirements for New Orleans to fill.

The Saints have done almost everything on the offseason checklist through bringing in key veterans, drafting to fill needs, and hiring good positional coaches. Here are the top nine additions the Saints made this offseason:

Dennis Allen has colorful analogy for managing Trevor Penning’s mean streak

Dennis Allen has colorful analogy for managing Trevor Penning’s mean streak

We knew that the New Orleans Saints had a big hole to fill at left tackle after they allowed Terron Armstead to walk away in free agency, so it was no surprise when the team acted quickly to select Northern Iowa product Trevor Penning at No. 19 overall. Known for his dominant reps as a run blocker and solid performance in pass protection against a modest quality of competition, the greatest quality Penning has been lauded for has been his mean streak. He relishes the opportunity to throw opponents around and drive them off the line of scrimmage and into the turf, turning the heads of offensive line coaches everywhere.

But that aggressive play style has its downsides. Penning was fouled 16 times in a dozen games as a senior in 2021, due as much to his habit of playing past the whistle as some holding calls when opponents got underneath him (which, well, is going to happen he stands 6-foot-7). Those are things you hope can be coached out of him, and Dennis Allen feels his staff is up to the task.

“If a puppy doesn’t bite when he’s young, he’s not gonna bite when he grows up and becomes a dog,” Allen mused during the Saints’ post-first round press conference, continuing, “I’d rather pull the reins back than have to kick him in the ass to get him going. I like that about him.”

There may be a mixed metaphor in there between walking dogs and riding horses, but that’s alright, Allen’s message shines through. He doesn’t anticipate any challenges in getting Penning to play with intensity or set the tone. Instead, it’s up to him and Penning’s position coaches Doug Marrone and Zach Strief to keep his energy focused on the right targets — taking care not to hurt the team with penalties. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s nothing unusual. Players on every team struggle to thread the needle between bullying opponents too much or too little.

What’s most promising here is that Penning does have that attitude. If he can put it towards the work ahead in cleaning up his technique and learning to compete with pass rushers that are just as athletic as he is, he has a good shot at reaching his potential. Having a proven coach like Marrone and a longtime NFL starter in Strief (who, like Penning, towers above others on the field at 6-foot-7) gives him some fantastic resources to lean on. It’s easy to see why the Saints valued Penning so highly. Now they’ve got him, and the hard part is getting him ready to start on Sundays.

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Trevor Penning landing with Saints gives him a great shot at reaching his potential

Trevor Penning landing with Saints gives him a great shot at reaching his potential

Whew: the New Orleans Saints made another splash in the 2022 NFL draft, selecting Northern Iowa left tackle Trevor Penning at No. 19 overall. And he’s landed in a great spot to reach his potential after impressing at a lower level of competition in college. Some of those concerns were lessened during a strong week of practices at the Senior Bowl, but it’s still on the radar.

There aren’t many more athletic linemen in this year’s draft than Penning, who committed to Northern Iowa as a 230-pound high schooler and packed on 100 pounds of muscle to lock down the left tackle spot. And there probably isn’t anyone in the draft with a more aggressive style of play, but that’s something Penning must do a better job of reining in — setting the tone is valuable, but he was penalized often at Northern Iowa for taking things past the whistle.

So it’s reassuring to know the Saints have some great coaches ready to work with him. They hired former Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone as their new offensive line coach, retaining assistant coach and longtime Saints right tackle Zach Strief. Both of them should be tremendous resources for Penning as he transitions to the NFL.

And that’s exciting. You’ll see Penning projected to start right away, but look for the Saints to put him in a true training camp competition with James Hurst, an experienced veteran who logged more snaps at left tackle than Terron Armstead did in 2021. Hopefully Penning takes well to coaching and wins that job, but if he needs a little time to get ready, the Saints are positioned well to wait on him. But it shouldn’t take long if his attitude on the field translates to the classroom.

Former Washington HC Jay Gruden interviews for Saints offensive coordinator job

Former Washington HC, Bengals OC Jay Gruden interviews for Saints offensive coordinator job:

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Here’s another name to add to the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator search: Jay Gruden, as first reported by Matt Zenits of On3.com. The former Washington Commanders head coach most recently worked as Doug Marrone’s offensive coordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. And Marrone, of course, is expected to take over the offensive line coaching job with the Saints. So there’s a connection there.

And Gruden could maintain some continuity with the established Sean Payton offense. Both coaches follow West Coast passing philosophies and tendencies, so bringing in Gruden to revitalize the passing game while Marrone coaches up the line and reemphasizes the running game might make sense. Gruden’s run in Washington didn’t go far (his teams went 35-49-1, losing their only playoff game) but he was successful as a play caller for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2011 to 2013.

Maybe that’s the best role for him rather than all of the other responsibilities that come in an executive position. It’s likely exactly what the Saints hoped to figure out in meeting with Gruden to discuss the job. Other candidates they’ve interviewed for the position include newly-hired Dallas Cowboys wide receivers coach Robert Prince and Indianapolis Colts running backs coach Scottie Montgomery. Montgomery and Gruden were both finalists for the Carolina Panthers coordinator gig, though it went to ex-New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo in the end.

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Former Bills coach Doug Marrone hired by Saints

Doug Marrone, back in the NFL:

Former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone has come back to the NFL.

Marrone has been hired by the New Orleans Saints as their offensive line coach, according to Saints Wire. He replaces Brendan Nugent in that role for New Orleans.

Over the weekend, the Saints named Dennis Allen their new head coach. He was previously their defensive coordinator and he replaces Sean Payton, who retired.

Allen has made a few changes on the Saints’ coaching staff and adding Marrone is among them.

Most recently, Marrone was Alabama’s offensive line coach in 2021 at the college level.

Marrone, 57, was Buffalo’s head coach in 2013 and 2014. Upon the sale of the team to the Pegula family, Marrone decided to leave his post. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Syracuse University.

After the Bills, Marrone spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and eventually was their head coach.

Earlier in his career, Marrone did spend time coaching offensive lines both at the college and NFL level, including with the Saints from 2006 to 2008.

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Former Jags HC Doug Marrone lands with Saints, expected to have a ‘key role’ on offense

Doug Marrone is back in the NFL.

After a year of coaching on the collegiate level with the Alabama Crimson Tide, former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is back in the NFL.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the veteran head coach is returning to one of the first NFL teams he was employed by in the New Orleans Saints. And while it wasn’t disclosed what role he will hold, Rapoport added that he will have a key role coaching the offensive side of the football.

When the 2022 season starts, Marrone will be entering his 16th as an NFL coach. He got his start in the NFL with the New York Jets in 2002 and remained there until 2005 as their offensive line coach.

Then in 2006, he joined Sean Payton and the Saints from 2006-08 before becoming the head coach of his alma mater in the University of Syracuse for four seasons. He then found his way to Buffalo with the Bills for two seasons as a head coach before finally joining the Jags as an assistant under Gus Bradley.

The early firing of Bradley propelled Marrone to the Jags head coaching role as an interim in December of 2016, and in the following month, it was announced that Marrone would hold on to the role minus the interim tag.

Marrone held the title as the Jags’ head coach from 2017-20 and was fired last January. He was able to accumulate a record of 23–43 (.348) and a playoff record of 2–1 (.667).

Marrone will join the Saints after being with the Alabama Crimson Tide throughout another impressive run where they went to the national championship. Along the way, he coached star tackle Evan Neal, who could end up being selected first overall in April’s draft.

Marrone will coach under Dennis Allen during this run with the Saints as Payton stepped away from the game in January. However, there is still some familiarity with the head coach as Allen and Marrone were on the same Saints’ staff from 2006-08.

Report: Saints expect to name Doug Marrone OL coach, dismiss WR coach Curtis Johnson

Report: Saints expect to name Doug Marrone OL coach, dismiss WR coach Curtis Johnson

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We’ve got movement: NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill first reported Wednesday evening that first-year head coach Dennis Allen is moving on from multiple assistants, including wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. He also reports that Allen expects to name the newly-hired Doug Marrone to offensive line coach, replacing the outgoing Brendan Nugent.

Johnson, the former Tulane Green Wave head coach, was on staff with New Orleans in two different stints from 2006 to 2011 and again from 2017 to 2021. But with the Saints struggling to draft and develop receivers as of late, it made sense to look for a fresher approach. No replacement for Johnson has been immediately identified.

But let’s circle back to Marrone. He was Alabama’s offensive line coach in 2021 and has worked in that role before, including in New Orleans from 2006 to 2008 (when he was also named offensive coordinator). It might be a good fit for him as someone with plenty of experience in that role, though the Saints still need an offensive coordinator with Pete Carmichael Jr. moving into a different post.

Additionally, Underhill reports that the Saints won’t be retaining offensive analyst Jim Chaney (brought on last year) or longtime strength coach Dan Dalrymple, who has been with the team since 2006. Both of these departures were later confirmed by Nola.com’s Jeff Duncan. So that’s two position coaches on the outs in Johnson and Nugent, with another opening on top of the strength and conditioning staff.

But as both Underhill and Duncan observed, this is an extremely fluid situation. Allen is actively evaluating his staff and meeting with coaches every single day as he gets everyone in place. Things could continue to change as he speaks with different candidates and gets a better idea of who should be coaching which positions and holding certain responsibilities. As other options emerge, some coaches may end up in a different spot than initially planned. So keep a close eye out for updates.

Frankly, it’s good to see Allen shake things up with some underperforming units. Staying complacent isn’t the way forward. If he feels Marrone is an upgrade over Nugent as the offensive line coach, it’s worth pursuing. The same holds true for whichever candidates are in line to coach the receiving corps, which was the weak link of the offense last season. The initial move to bring in Marrone didn’t sit well with me given how it looked like a stagnant move to “just run the hits” and bring back a retread. But now that Allen’s vision is being executed, it’s exciting to see what more is in store.

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Former Alabama OL coach Doug Marrone to join New Orleans Saints offensive staff

Doug Marrone will be returning to the NFL after one season at Alabama.

Alabama brought Doug Marrone onto the football staff for the 2021 season as the team’s offensive line coach. Marrone had just been relieved of his head coaching duties from the Jacksonville Jaguars at the time.

Marrone received criticism from fans and analysts for the Crimson Tide’s offensive line performance in 2021. He separated from the program after the season concluded.

Recently, Alabama hired Kentucky’s former offensive line coach from this past season, Eric Wolford. The hire was announced prior to Marrone landing this position with the New Orleans Saints.

As NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported today, Marrone will be joining the Saints’ offensive staff, but his official role has not yet been announced.

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