Saints rookie center Erik McCoy is ready to “give life” to protect Drew Brees

Seth Dunlap
July 29, 2019 - 7:19 pm
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NFL training camp is always a bit of a hard knock life for any rookie.  Heck, there’s a hit television show that covers camp aptly named around that idea.  It can be even more difficult for a newcomer at center, especially one who is expected to step in and replace an All-Pro.

That’s the task in front of Erik McCoy, the highly touted prospect out of Texas A&M who is the frontrunner to replace Max Unger in the middle of the Saints offensive line.  McCoy had a bit of a rough start to his camp, with a fumbled exchange with Drew Brees marking his first ever training camp snap.  Since then, however, he’s been as solid as any rookie offensive lineman recently in New Orleans.

McCoy is in a battle with Nick Easton and Cameron Tom for the starting center spot.  It’s an oddly typical NFL dynamic where teammates, and oftentimes friends, are competing with each other while also forming bond that will last through the season, if not their careers.   McCoy, however, doesn’t see training camp as much of a competition as he does a chance to learn.

“It’s just a lot of learning still.   Kind of like OTA’s.  I’m just here competing, trying to get better,” he said after practice on Monday. “Iron sharpens iron type of deal.  We’re just supporting each other and we’re all just really focusing on what we can do to help this team get better.”

The transition to the NFL for McCoy could be a bit more difficult than other centers considering the system he played in while at Texas A&M.   The Aggies ran a spread system his first three seasons on campus, and then, when Jimbo Fisher took over, they were still operating out of the shotgun a vast majority of the time.  That will change with the Saints, who are much more balanced in how they use Drew Brees under center.

“We were under center maybe, I’d probably say, 20 percent of the time.  We were in the gun a lot more.  It hasn’t been a huge adjustment, just a chemistry thing with the quarterback.”

That adjustment means different techniques, something McCoy is working hard at during camp.

“The most difficult thing for me, by far, has been my technique.  In college I relied a lot on my athletic ability, and of course that’s what gets you here.  But with these guys, your technique has to be perfect.”

When asked if it helps to have Brees, a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, behind him running the offense, McCoy answered in the affirmative, although he was careful to explain that growth as a professional player is still ultimately his responsibility. 

 “Oh yeah, he helps me out.  Just mental support really,” McCoy explained.  “A lot of the stuff is physically on me that I just have to go do.  The mental support just telling me things are going to be alright, here’s what you’ve got to do when you’re snapping it to me.  Just because we don’t have the chemistry him and a lot of other guys have.”

Chemistry between the quarterback and center is a critical component of any football offense.   That’s exponentially more true in the NFL, where both players must be in sync with protection and line adjustments.   Consider that a work in progress between McCoy and Brees.

“It’s really just a time will tell type of thing.  It’s gotten better each and every day we’ve been together so we’re just looking forward to improving it going forward.”

While that chemistry develops, McCoy still understands the gravity of his job in protecting Brees.  That’s the lifeblood of the Saints franchise standing behind him after all. 

 “It’s Drew Brees back there.  You’ll give your life for the guy.  That’s how much you care about protecting him.”

Now that’s the attitude fans hope every offensive lineman has when protecting No. 9 this season.

 

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