Saints Questions: Can de la Puente, Collins maintain their surprisingly high level?

Saints Questions: Can de la Puente, Collins maintain their surprisingly high level?

Jed Collins, left, and Brian de la Puente (60) were surprise first-year starters in 2012.

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Posted on July 11, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 11 at 12:45 PM

As summer seems to get hotter and hotter and we get down to only baseball on TV, there’s only one thing to do to keep our interest – answer questions and give our thoughts about the Saints heading into training camp.

We’ll run out one question a day in a hope that we satiate your thirst until actual toe meets leather. The questions are in no particular order of importance…except for No. 1.

14. Can surprise players Brian de la Puente and Jed Collins maintain their high level?
When the Saints gathered after the lockout in July 2011 and began working towards an eventually NFC South title and NFC divisional round playoff run, few people had ever heard of Brian de la Puente and Jed Collins.

It’s likely they’re still bit players in the minds of fans, falling somewhere below name players like Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Malcolm Jenkins and more.

But as players who made the Saints 53-man roster as undrafted players, they played critical roles in the Saints’ success in 2011.

The question is can both or either maintain their success from their first years as main players?

We’ll start with de la Puente. After Jonathan Goodwin signed with San Francisco, the prevailing thought was that Matt Tennant, a former draft pick, would take over the reins. But de la Puente beat him out in training camp, only to lose the job to Olin Kreutz, the former Chicago Bears standout center.

Kreutz, though, kreutzed out and de la Puente once again took over.  All the Saints did with him at center was break the NFL record for total offense and passing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Yes, the Saints’ 2011 offense was the most prolific offense ever to hit the field.

Was de la Puente himself exceptional? Far from it. Nevertheless, he did exactly what the offense required. New Orleans was No. 4 in rushing yards per attempt. But they gained only 3.72 yards per rush up the middle, 24th in the NFL. His run blocking is where he’ll have to improve the most.

They hope his pass blocking, on the other hand, remains. He allowed only two quarterback hits and two sacks in 945 snaps. According to analysis by Pro Football Focus, de la Puente rated in the top third of centers in pass blocking

It’s certainly conceivable that he remains at least at the same level as in 2011, especially if Drew Brees is the quarterback. He has spent much time in New Orleans this offseason and now has a full year under his belt in the offense.

As for Collins, it was a fifth time is the charm scenario. Sean Payton’s offense provided him the perfect situation for him to showcase his skills. Unfortunately for him, the offense doesn’t, at least outwardly, scream great fullback play.

But Collins excelled. He was one of only two fullbacks to play at least 75 percent of his team’s offensive snaps. He was the league’s second-best blocking fullback according to Pro Football Focus and he had the highest catch percentage among his position at 84.6 percent.

His 12.6 rating on PFF was leaps and bounds better than Pro Bowler John Kuhn of the Packers (-3.6) and his Pro Bowl alternate Michael Robinson on Seattle (-5.2). Collins was one of only eight fullbacks with a blocking rating better than 1.0 and one of only five with an overall rating better than 5.0.

We see Collins, a hard worker and consummate professional, following up his first year with another good campaign.

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