METAIRIE, La. — Jahri Evans slowly walked off the practice field this week, sweat still pouring down his forehead, down his cheeks and on the hard cement.
He sat down on wooden bench, exhausted from a session that included a physical goal-line drill.
And then he tried to recall where the time went, how he was possibly entering his eighth season in professional football after being taken in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints.
“It seems like a long time ago but like coach always says, it goes fast,” Evans said. “That day was definitely a dream come true for me and we had some good vets here that got my career going early and just built on it from there.”
What he built is a career that will likely end in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Evans is one of the best guards of his generation and one of the best Saints players ever.
He has started 112 consecutive games, the longest streak to start a career in Saints history and the second-longest stretch in franchise history.
When he re-signed with the Saints in 2010, he did so as the then-highest paid guard ever at $56.7 million for seven seasons.
Four seasons later, he still hasn’t lost his drive and spirit to be the best.
“I’ll tell you what he has done in the last seven years – he’s been an extremely good student about what techniques he needs,” offensive line coach Bret Ingalls said. “The things he does even today he carries over from early teachings all the way to what we’re doing today.”
He first learned from Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman himself who eventually became Syracuse’s head coach before taking over the same position for the Buffalo Bills this offseason.
Aaron Kromer, now Chicago’s offensive coordinator, was the offensive line coach from 2009-12. And now he’s with Ingalls, who was the running backs coach previously.
“I just got in that room with them this year and a guy like Jahri has made the transition very smooth,” Ingalls said. “We’re able to keep moving forward just like I’ve been there for the past seven years.”
That same helpfulness isn’t just for the coaching staff.
Evans’ institutional knowledge of the Saints offense has paid dividends for his fellow linemen. He has played next to four different centers, counting the short-lived Olin Kreutz experiment – and the current one looks up to him even though they’ve played together for two-plus seasons now.
“You really can’t say enough good things about Jahri, the way he works, the way he meets, his consistency,” Brian de la Puente said. “He’s consistently honing in his technique in his seventh, eighth year. He’s still trying to master his own craft.”
Then again, it’s not just his offensive teammates who continue to see Evans’ value.
The 6-foot-4, 318-pounder from Bloomsburg is the last remaining starter from the offensive line that helped win Super Bowl XLIV, the first championship in franchise history.
Center Jonathan Goodwin is with the 49ers, Carl Nicks is with Tampa Bay, and Jermon Bushrod signed in free agency with Chicago. Only Jon Stinchcomb is out of the game, injuries forcing him into retirement in 2011.
“He’s clearly one of our leaders on offense,” coach Sean Payton said. “He would be more of a quiet type player and leads by example. He’s very strong and physical. His weight’s down. He’s been an anchor for us.”
Evans credits his longevity to not just his past coaches, but advice from former teammate (Jermane) Mayberry, who told him to take care of his body.
“Stretching, chiropractor work, taking care of your legs, making sure you’re putting the right things in and basically just taking care of your body and making sure your muscles aren’t tight and stuff like that so you get out there and don’t pull muscles,” Evans said.
But there was one lesson he learned from himself his first year that no one could teach him and that he still sticks with to this day.
“My rookie year, I was a deer in headlights but I tried to finish every play,” Evans said. “I tried to go out there and dominate guys and make sure my feet were still moving. Even if I wasn’t going in the right direction, I was going fast and hard. I still try to take that same approach and now I just know a lot more, detailed things before the snap, that make me that much better.”