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pakowitz 05-05-2003 01:29 AM

Saints' offensive line shuffled

Negotiations continue with center Fontenot

Sunday May 04, 2003

By Brian Allee-Walsh
Staff writer

Although negotiations are ongoing, the absence of free-agent center Jerry Fontenot at this weekend's minicamp has caused a domino effect along the Saints' offensive line.

-- Left guard Kendyl Jacox has moved to center to replace Fontenot, whose agent, Tony Agnone, continues to negotiate with the Saints and Dallas Cowboys.

-- Right tackle Spencer Folau has shifted to left guard to replace Jacox.

-- Reserve Victor Riley has been elevated to right tackle to replace Folau.

-- Free agent acquisition Wayne Gandy, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract in March, has replaced departed Kyle Turley at left tackle. Gandy had been a fixture at left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1999 through 2001.

Only one starting Saints offensive lineman finds himself at the same position that he played a season ago -- right guard LeCharles Bentley.

"Everybody feels the same way about Jerry," Saints coach Jim Haslett said Saturday. "We'd like to have Jerry back, but sometimes that doesn't always happen in this league. So you have to be prepared for all situations.

"When Jerry comes back, if he comes back, it will all shake out in time. Jerry's a good football player, and he played well for us last year. But we feel good about the guys we have there now."

In addition to those starting five, veteran tackle Scott Sanderson, first-year free agent tackle P.J. Alexander and rookie draft picks guard/tackle Jon Stinchcomb and guard Montrae Holland are solidly in the mix, Haslett said.

"You can't have enough good football players," Haslett said. "That's why we drafted Holland and Stinchcomb. Some day they're going to step in and play for us. We're going to make sure that we put the best five out there this year to help us win games, no matter who they are."

Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said successful NFL teams are flexible enough to deal with free agent losses.

"We've kind of gone 180 here since our first year in 2000," McCarthy said. "That year we were able to play with our 'Iron Five' and line up and play with the same five starters all 18 games that year. Obviously that helped the success that we had.

"But this is today's NFL. . . . Experience is something you can't put a value on. That's why you have so much movement throughout the league. This is what we signed off on. There's no sense complaining about it, because everybody has the same problems."

The player most affected by Fontenot's absence is Folau, who played briefly at left guard during the 1998 preseason with the Miami Dolphins.

"Playing left guard is a whole different mentality, a whole different stance," Folau said. "You've got to get used to different blocking calls. It's kind of like learning an offense again at a different position. I'm glad it's during minicamp and not right before the season starts.

"(Offensive line coach) Jack Henry is going to help me, and we'll get this thing going."

Jacox started every game at center in 2001 for the San Diego Chargers before signing with the Saints as a free agent May 28, 2002.

He started all 16 games at left guard last season.

"I'd rather play center, but honestly it's whatever and wherever the team needs me to play most," Jacox said. "If Jerry comes back and we're better with Jerry at center and me at guard, then so be it. If we're better with me at center and somebody else at guard, than so be it."

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