New Saints guard Larry Warford working hard to replicate relationship Zach Strief, Jahri Evans had

Larry Warford has always wanted what Zach Strief and Jahri Evans had together.

Drafted in the same class in 2006, Strief and Evans spent so much time playing next to each other that they no longer had to talk when a defense did something unexpected. A look might do the trick; other times they simply knew exactly what the other person would do.

Now, it's up to Warford to build a kind of camaraderie similar to the one Strief and Evans enjoyed, part of the massive responsibility he inherits after signing a four-year, $34 million deal to replace Evans in the offseason.

The process of getting to know each other has become all too familiar for Warford.

"I've played next to, I think, eight different offensive tackles now in five years," Warford said. "That's always a building process. When you play next to somebody for a certain amount of time, you know what they're going to do, you know how they see it, you start seeing defenses the same way and you don't really have to talk anymore."

Building that kind of relationship isn't as simple as a quarterback and receiver staying after practice to work on routes.

An offensive line tandem's chemistry matters most in the heat of battle, when defenses are moving around pre-snap and setting up to bring pressure from different angles.

Without a defense on the other side of the field, trying to simulate those conditions is virtually impossible.

"Team periods together are where that's going to happen for us," Strief said. "We can't stay after practice and take snaps, it's just too unrealistic."

The good news is that in Strief, Warford has been paired with the kind of right tackle he didn't always get a chance to play with in Detroit.

Headed into his 12th season in the league, Strief is widely recognized as one of the team's smartest players, a virtual encyclopedia on the Saints' offense and offensive line techniques.

Warford thinks of his new teammate as Yoda, the "Star Wars" guru who opened a whole new world of possibilities for Luke Skywalker in his Jedi training.

"You go through the league for a while — I'm five years in — and you wonder how much you can learn," Warford said. "You can learn a whole lot more. Zach has been a great mentor since I've been here."

Strief recognizes something of a kindred spirit in Warford, a sponge who spent his summer trying to overcome his lack of time in the Saints offense all in one fell swoop.

Thanks to the years he spent with Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi coordinating Detroit's offense, Warford already had a solid knowledge of the New Orleans playbook.

Now, all he has to do is learn Strief.

"Larry's run all the stuff that we're running, and actually, Larry knows a lot of the terminology we use," Strief said. "For us, it's a matter of feeling and understanding where each other's feet are. Larry's a different player than Jah. I think knowing where the guy is can be as important as anything."

The early returns have been encouraging.

When something unexpected happens and Strief tells Warford that he doesn't have to worry about a certain wrinkle because Strief already has it covered, the new guard absorbs the information quickly.

"Daily, they do such a good job of communicating," offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. "Watching the two work together, Larry's working on some stuff that complements well what we do, but he's very conscientious of that."

Conscientious enough to get a good start on replacing the kind of relationship that's hard to find in the ever-changing NFL these days.

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Neil S. Schwartz

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