METAIRIE, La. — During the final break before training camp, Saints rookie offensive tackle received a phone call from quarterback Drew Brees.
While not going into detail about the conversation, Ramczyk acknowledged the significance of the star QB reaching out to him directly during the quiet time between minicamp in June and the start of training camp this week.
“That just shows the urgency that this team has,” said Ramczyk, who has been taking first-team snaps in the opening practices of camp. “It shows that he’s there for me … and if I have anything (to sort out), I’m sure I can run it past him and he’ll help me.”
While the 6-foot-6, 314-pound Ramczyk was a late first-round draft choice , the former Wisconsin starter was expected to have a relatively low-pressure transition period because the Saints had both incumbent starting tackles retuning, with Terron Armstead on the left side and Zach Strief on the right.
But during minicamp in June, Armstead learned he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum, a procedure that will sideline him about half of the regular season.
That raised the prospects of Ramczyk inheriting the responsibility of protecting the right-handed Brees’ blind side on opening day.
The veterans on the Saints’ offensive line have expressed faith in Ramczyk’s ability to handle it but aren’t sugarcoating how tough the transition will be for a player who started one season at Wisconsin after transferring from Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“I wasn’t ready to start at water boy as a rookie. It’s a hard jump,” said Strief, a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern in 2006. “But I also think I was not a tenth as talented (as Ramczyk) as a rookie. I think he has the physical ability to do it and I think he has the work ethic.”
Ramczyk will get his first true test as a pro on Saturday, the first scheduled full-pads practice at Saints camp (teams do no practice in pads during the offseason).
“He has all of the attributes that you would need to have to make that jump successfully,” Strief said. “So it’ll be interesting to see … certainly with the attention put on him as not only a first-round pick but a guy who’s going to be given an opportunity to start.”
Strief has given the rookie lineman the nickname “Ramrod,” laughing as he explained that he wants that name to stick because the rookie grimaced disapprovingly when Strief first uttered it.
In fact, the two say they’ve gotten along well since Ramczyk accepted an invitation to remain in New Orleans this offseason and participate in workouts hosted by Strief and attended by some other Saints linemen including guard Andrus Peat, who was a first-rounder in 2015.
Ramczyk “has a desire to learn and he accepts that he has a lot to learn,” Strief said. “He’s very receptive to change, and that can be hard for any player to have done things a certain way for a long time and then to have someone say: ‘Don’t do it that way. Do it this way.’ That takes a lot of trust and faith in who’s saying that to you.”
For Ramczyk, the eagerness to seek veteran guidance comes with understanding the gravity of the assignment he is trying to win: protecting an elite quarterback upon whom the fortunes of the franchise hinge.
It’s “unfortunate that Terron had to go down, but at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity for me,” Ramczyk said. “And I’ve got to embrace it and make the most out of it.
“It comes with great responsibility, so I just need to keep working every day and make sure I can get it done,” he said.
For now, Ramczyk is competing with veteran Khalif Barnes to fill the void left by Armstead’s injury.
When coach Sean Payton was asked what Ramczyk must do to prove he can protect Brees from elite defensive ends, the coach responded, “The first thing he’s got to do is stay in front of them.
“There’s a lot to that: getting the calls, being able to handle the run and the pass equally well,” Payton continued. “So, it’s a level of consistency and trust.”
NOTES: Payton said the Saints are eager to welcome newly signed guard Orlando Franklin, who’ll join a position group that has three players — Armstead, Senio Kelemete and center Max Unger — sidelined by various injuries. Franklin “is a veteran player that we had high grades on when he was a free agent leaving Denver” in 2015, Payton said. Franklin played the past two seasons with the Chargers, who released him this offseason. “He’s 29. He played, I think, at least half the season or part of the season with an injury last year. We gave him a physical. We went through a pretty good workout. We will see how he looks.”