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The New Orleans Saints starting center and San Clemente native shares his thoughts on the upcoming season
By Steve Breazeale
Brian de la Puente began his first season as the full-time starting center for the New Orleans Saints at a tumultuous time. Three years removed from winning the organizations first Super Bowl Championship, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to an alleged involvement in a player bounty scandal. The aftermath of the suspension left the Saints in a difficult spot as they attempted to pick up the pieces and finished the season with a 7-9 record.
This season, Payton will be on the sidelines calling the shots, which has de la Puente, a San Clemente native, excited about his teams’ chances. We caught up with de la Puente fresh off a 31-23 Saints preseason victory over the Houston Texans, to get his thoughts on the season, “Bounty Gate,” and of course, fantasy football.
San Clemente Times: How has your summer been? Did you get to come back home to San Clemente and spend some time in town?
Brian de la Puente: This summer has been good, we are heading into our fourth preseason game and camps have been good. It’s been a hot summer but I’m excited to get the season started.
My wife and I went home for the tail end of June and a majority of July. It was nice. I got some good surf in and I got to enjoy the beach, which was fun. It was nice going home and coach (Jaime) Ortiz and the high school really opened up their doors to me when I was there so I could go work out at my leisure.
SCT: Did you run in to any of the Tritons players?
BDLP: I tried to get into the weight room when the linemen were there…. Last offseason I worked out with coach (Pat) Harlow down at San Clemente Gym so I always try to come by and talk to the linemen. I tell them this is the time to put in hard work and lay the foundation heading into the season and just to wish them luck. I tell them ultimately it’s a game, and they should enjoy it while it lasts. I just try and talk them into the fact that hard work pays off.
SCT: What has it been like having Sean Payton back on the sidelines?
BDLP: You have your leader back. You have the voice that was missing. You have the ultimate decision maker. He’s our leader. It kind of brings that excitement, that energy, that refocus back as we are looking forward to the future.
SCT: There was a lot of media attention around you guys last year. How big of a distraction was the bounty gate saga?
BDLP: We definitely don’t want that situation at all. But the guys on this team and the leadership that we have was incredible. It was incredible how much focus we had and the ability to put our blinders on, staying the course. It speaks volumes to the leaders we have on this team and the guys the organization brings in and keeps here. The foundation has been set here since the coaching staff came in in 2006… We kind of got closer as a group. When you go through things like that you come out on the other end as a closer, tight-knit group.
SCT: Last year was your first full year as a starter. What was it like learning on the job as the season went on?
BDLP: I kind of went back to my college days, realizing that I am a leader on this team. For me, personally, I’m not a vocal leader but I’m going to lead by example. I want to be the first one in and the last one out…So in terms of being that leader, I know I’m still hungry and you can’t ever let complacency come in.
SCT: Your quarterback, Drew Brees, put up another monster season last year. What’s it like playing with him and being a part of that offense?
BDLP: Drew is a not only an exceptional football player but he’s also an exceptional leader. He was a big part of keeping this whole thing together. Being a part of his success was an honor. With him, you learn how to be the best and compete hard. You talk about work ethic…this guy is in a different world. He sets the bar for the team which is contagious. Being able to work with a guy like that is a privilege.
SCT: Talk to me about the offensive line. There was some roster shakeup after Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod left, but what do you see out of this group and how has your relationship with the linemen changed after playing with them for one full year?
BDLP: Yeah, Bushrod went to Chicago but Charles Brown has stepped in really nicely. We’ve all been getting on the same page … Communication is big and plays into how you set different looks … Having another year with that communication is only helping it get better. We have some undrafted guys that are showing some promise. There are moving parts but I’m getting excited to get the season going.
SCT: I have a fantasy football draft later tonight. Any up and coming players on the Saints I should know about? Any sleeper picks you can key me in on?
BDLP: I don’t’ know much about fantasy but a lot of my buddies play. You can’t go wrong with our guys. Drew, Jimmy (Graham)…Darren Sproles, they’re the guys (laughs). There are no secrets. Our guys are the guys. Fantasy has gotten huge but it’s something I’ve yet to partake in.
SCT: Who is an opposing defensive player that is tough to deal with? Anyone stick out that you would build a defense around?
BDLP: We played the Texans last night. Talking about sacks, and I think J.J. Watt. Talking about swatted balls, J.J. Watt. He’s an exceptional player and he’s going to have a long, great, career. He’s going to cause us linemen some problems. He’s a guy you have to consider. Every team’s defensive line is exceptional at this level. There are no off days. Top to bottom the guys, they’re the best of the best. Just because we played the Texans last night though, I’d say Watt.
The Saints will travel to play the Miami Dolphins in their final preseason game on August 29. They open their season at home against the Atlanta Falcons on September 8.