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Barry Hirstius

THROWN INTO THE FIRE: Saints Rookie Ramczyk Faces Tough 1st Year Challenge

As the New Orleans Saints hold their first practice of Training Camp later this morning, Saints rookie left tackle Ryan Ramczyk finds himself in a rather suddenly difficult situation --- because he's about to be "thrown into the fire".

"Thrown into the fire" is any one of a handful of different analogies used to describe someone who is usually inexperienced, that suddenly finds themself in a very difficult and extremely high-pressure situation where there is a high probability of failure.

That's exactly where Ramczyk finds himself with the start of the NFL regular season for New Orleans only 6 and a  ½ weeks away, after it was confirmed yesterday by Saints head coach Sean Payton that the 23-year old would indeed begin Training Camp at the offensive left tackle spot, where he will compete to replace the injured Terron Armstead -- who is expected to be out until late November or early December with a torn labrum in his shoulder that he injured in Mini-Camp.

Ramczyk is expected to begin Camp listed 1st on the current depth chart at the left tackle spot, where he will be trying to fend off veterans Khalif Barnes and Bryce Harris; both of whom will be competing with Ramczyk to fill Armstead's role at the team's most critical O-Line position.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Payton told reporters at the team's opening press conference of Training Camp yesterday evening that Ramczyk has had a good summer of work-outs, is in great physical condition, and has been cleared by the team's medical staff following off-season hip surgery that he had back in January following his senior season at Wisconsin last year.

Ramczyk (pronounced RAM-CHECK) was forced to sit out part of OTA's and all of Mini-Camp last month, as he recovered.

With regard to Armstead's status, Payton says that despite rumors to the contrary, the 5th year veteran would in fact play at some point this year; and not miss the entire season as some reports had indicated.

 “He’ll play this year. I’m optimistic that he’s going to be able to contribute this year," the Saints head coach said.

Payton wouldn’t make a commitment as to exactly when he expects to have Armstead back, but would only confirm only that he would be back before the 2017 season comes to a close.

“I’m not going to give you a game, or a date yet, it’s too early to tell.” 

For Ramczyk, it means there's going to be no time whatsoever for him to get acclimated playing at the professional level, and be allowed to have what essentially amounts to a redshirt season in the collegiate ranks --- where NFL teams let young O-Linemen first "grow into the job" for a year (and sometimes two) while developing them right out of college.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

NFL teams have found it increasingly difficult to rely on rookies to play the premium left tackle position, especially given the concern that all teams have: which (unless you have a left-handed QB) is being directly responsible for protecting the quarterback's "blind side" against the defense's outside edge --- and the opponent’s best pass rusher.

After having faced college-level defenders and pass rushers for 4 years, 1st year O-Linemen (and specifically left tackles) come into the NFL and normally struggle at times as rookies; because they not only have to go up against veteran players that have a much more diverse and wider variety of moves, but are also much better at utilizing pass-rushing techniques such as using their hands.

With the NFL having evolved into a pass-heavy League, the fear commonly shared by most teams is their quarterbacks being exposed to more hits. So it’s up to O-Linemen --- and especially left tackles -- to quickly adapt at protecting the passer.

Which of course, is critical for the Saints given that they now have a soon-to-be 39 year old QB named Drew Brees under center once again this year.

Before this year's 2017 NFL Draft, it was NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock who told reporters in a conference call that college O-linemen aren’t “used to the physicality of the NFL game in a three-point stance, and they’re not used to how complex the pass protections are, and I think it slows them all down.”

And not with just the physical aspect, but the mental aspect as well.

"To take these guys and teach them how to play, to hear a play in the huddle and decipher the information, to go up and get down in a stance, to run block that way, to get off on a hard count — it’s very hard for these guys.

“They struggle all spring and a lot of times, they really struggle in Training Camp because that’s the first time they’ve put on pads and actually hit anybody. That’s a problem with our game, we just don’t get to practice enough in pads with these young kids.”

Ramczyk comes from a 'power-run' offense at Wisconsin, but back in mid-February during the NFL Scouting Combine even he was under no illusion about being able to step right in and dominate as he did in the Big Ten.

Photo courtesy of Scout.com

“Going into the NFL is a huge jump,” Ramczyk said. “You’re playing against the best players in the world. So I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to adjust.”

Ramczyk added to the Badgers football program's long history of O-Line success in the NFL when the Saints took the 1st team All-American offensive tackle with the final pick of the 1st round in the 2017 NFL Draft (#32 overall).

The Saints actually drafted Ramczyk to be the eventual successor at right tackle once long-time veteran and current starting right tackle Zach Strief retires, but Armstead's injury now puts Ramczyk right back at the left tackle spot -- the same spot that he excelled at throughout his entire college career.

Ramczyk, a 6-foot-6, 314-pound lineman from Stevens Point, Wisconsin; which is right smack in the heart of the state and about 100 miles due west of Green Bay, was given a 1st-round grade by NFL scouts and personnel men at left tackle and subsequently declared for the draft in early January after just one season in Madison. 

In an article written by ESPN "Big Ten Blog" staff writer Jesse Temple last November, he told the story of how Ramczyk at one time seriously debated if he should give up football for a welder’s life.

After signing to play with Division II Winona State, Ramczyk quit the sport and never played a single down of football in the town of Winona, Minnesota. It was actually Ramczyk’s father, Randy, who then made the suggestion to his son that he should pick up welding as a career --- since welders are in high demand and it could become a career that would eventually pay enough down the line to provide him with some financial security.

Photo courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Fortunately for the Badgers, Ramczyk ended up missing the sport of football so much that he enrolled with Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He was named a Division III All-American with UW-SP, before transferring to Madison with one year of eligibility remaining.

Now nearly 2 years later, Ramczyk finds himself at his 1st practice of an NFL Training Camp in Metairie, Louisiana; as he prepares to be indoctrinated into life in the NFL.

Ramczyk has been mentally preparing himself for this moment this morning, and has immersed himself with learning the Saints offensive playbook.

Ramczyk told reporters at the end of Mini-Camp that he was simply just trying to grasp it all, but also felt that he was going to be up to the challenge of replacing Armstead if called upon to do so.

“Lot of install going in right now. Just trying to figure everything out and then when my time comes, be able to put it out on the field.

“It’s tough not being able to go out there and compete with the guys. For me, I know what I have to do.”

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Payton stated that his new offensive lineman -- and likely now the brand new starting left tackle as a rookie if he can hold off Barnes and Harris -- was right where he needed to be both mentally and physically at this stage of his development:

“He’s picking things up very quickly. He’s in good shape, and much further along than really we anticipated with his surgery. It’s been a good exposure.”

Beginning in a few short hours from now, Ryan Ramczyk is about to get all of the exposure that he can possibly handle.

Good luck, rookie.

And try not to let yourself get burned --- when you get "thrown into the fire".......

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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