Super Bowl 44  

 

Saints' little-known O-line ready to face Colts' speedy defenders

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jermon Bushrod is receiving a lot more attention than he ever imagined.

The New Orleans Saints' left tackle has heard his name mentioned more in the past 24 hours than he has all season. Why? Well, the guy he's supposed to face in Sunday's Super Bowl -- Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney -- might not play because of an ankle injury.

Bushrod has officially earned his way onto the Saints' offensive line. Back-handed recognition is the point of entry into this club that includes three Pro Bowl players (right tackle Jonathan Stinchcomb, right guard Jahri Evans and center Jonathan Goodwin) who even their fans barely know. And they could have had four.

The reason why Bushrod's name has even come to light is because Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown went on season-ending injured reserve in September after having operations for a sports hernia and to repair hip damage. Brown is the best of a group of players that form what might not just be the strength of a very talented Saints roster but is arguably the best O-line in the NFL.

And that's with Bushrod filling in and doing a better-than-adequate job protecting quarterback Drew Brees and helping the Saints boast the league's top-ranked offense.

"We're a close-knit group," Bushrod said. "We're trying to go out here, do something special and fight for each other and everybody on this team."

The Saints' offensive line is big, athletic and, when it needs to be, rough. Evans, Goodwin and left guard Carl Nicks are very physical. Stinchcomb said those interior players must be extra physical Sunday so, by the end of the game, the Saints can further batter a worn-down Colts defensive line that isn't very big and is predicated on quickness instead of muscle.

It's nothing that hasn't been tried before against the Colts, and their defensive line has shown it can hold its own up front, with proof coming in the AFC Championship Game against a New York Jets offensive line that's among the NFL's best.

"What we have to do, to keep in the forefront of our minds, is finishing," Stinchcomb said. "On the backside of a lot of blocks, where guys wouldn't have the speed to close in and be on plays, you watch time and time again, against Indianapolis, they work their way into plays. A lot has to do with the finish of our blocks and making sure that when we do have opportunities, we put a little weight on them with our guards, who are two of the most physical guards in the league and hope we can take advantage of that.

"It's going to be a challenge."

The Saints' offensive line allowed 20 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL this season (the Colts allowed a league-low 13). The unit also helped the Saints average 131.6 rushing yards per game, sixth-best in the league. They can bang and finesse. They also are highly effective blocking in space.

The Saints run a lot of screens and swing passes, and running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush bounce out wide on running plays. The offensive linemen's ability to get a body on a body in the open field has paid huge dividends -- and could again during this Super Bowl showdown.

"It's key in a game like this," Bushrod said. "We understand that Drew is not going to sit back there and hold the ball the whole time. When our guys get the ball in the open field, whether it's a screen or swing pass, and if we get out there and help these guys get three, four, five more yards, it helps. We know it's a game of inches. We're going to fight for every inch that we can get."

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