Will Saints have first-rounder Taliese Fuaga switch position?

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METAIRIE, La. -- Three weeks ago, offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga was surrounded by 100 members of his friends and family in Oahu, Hawaii.

The room erupted into cheers as Fuaga, 22, received the call that the New Orleans Saints had selected him with their first-round pick, causing an uproar so loud that Fuaga had to strain to hear Saints coach Dennis Allen on the phone.

Fuaga joked at the time that his draft celebration would likely continue well into the night. By the time he got to New Orleans to sign his contract a few weeks later, the party had dwindled down to himself and his parents, all set to begin the next phase of his career.

"It's unreal," Fuaga said at rookie minicamp last week. "I'm just speechless when it comes to that, because me and my family have been dreaming about that for many years."

That phase could begin quickly for Fuaga, the first Saints offensive lineman to be selected with a top-15 pick since Andrus Peat, who was drafted in 2015 with the No. 13 pick. Peat, who was originally envisioned as a future successor to Zach Strief at right tackle, wasn't a Day 1 starter. Fuaga, the No. 14 pick of the 2024 draft, likely won't have that luxury with major questions lingering about both offensive tackle positions this season.

The Saints clearly have high expectations already as the bulk of the offseason training program begins.

"We love the person, we love his work ethic and we love the type of teammate that he was at Oregon State," said Saints offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. "Amongst all the skills that made him a first-round draft pick, it's really the intangibles that he brings that we're looking forward to."

Those intangibles were part of the reason the Saints threw Fuaga a curveball in his first week: When New Orleans opened rookie minicamp last week, it started him out on the left tackle instead of the right, where he played in college and more recently at the Senior Bowl.

"I think they just saw me as a fit," Fuaga said. "They're trying me at left but I'm ready to play whatever, whatever coach DA wants me at. He's trying me at different positions."

Fuaga comes into the league as a two-year starter on the right side for Oregon State, although he said he cross trained at left tackle leading up to the draft and feels comfortable playing anywhere. Allen didn't voice the exact reason for the switch, but the unspoken intent was clear: Figure out how to get Fuaga in the lineup as quickly as possible.

Allen indicated that Fuaga's work at left tackle might last beyond rookie minicamp and into OTAs next week.

"I think we want to take a look at him on the left side and see how he does over there. I think we're pretty confident that he can play right tackle. So getting him some work over on the left side, I think is important, and then we'll evaluate it as we go and see how he does," Allen said.

The Saints have to figure out how to get their best five starting offensive linemen on the field as soon as they can, and Allen said that might involve cross-training other linemen at various spots. As many as three spots could be up for grabs after the departure of Peat and James Hurst's retirement, both of whom played guard and tackle.

Both the tackle spots and the left guard spot have major question marks after 2022 first-round left tackle Trevor Penning was benched early into last season. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk could not finish out the season because of a knee injury that isn't healing as quickly as both he and Allen expected.

The offensive line's early struggles last season were a key part of some early losses, including a Week 3 loss to the Green Bay Packers after quarterback Derek Carr was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. The Saints can't afford to repeat that mistake this season, particularly with a Week 2 game at the Dallas Cowboys and All-Pro pass rusher Micah Parsons looming. But, with a summer of work still ahead, Allen declined to make any proclamations for the future at this early point.

"We haven't made any decisions in terms of concrete decisions," Allen said. "... I think it's more about, let's see if he can play left tackle or not."

If Fuaga switches sides permanently in the future, it will likely draw comparison to Peat in 2015 and current right guard Cesar Ruiz, who was selected in the first round of the 2020 draft after two seasons as the starting center for Michigan.

Fuaga admitted moving around does take some getting used to, comparing the change to driving a car on the other side of the highway.

"It's just the understanding of, you're flipping your whole body now, your hips," he said.

Kubiak said he's capable of making the switch, noting that Fuaga had lived up to expectations two days into camp

"He came out and definitely has not disappointed, but it's two days into it and we're not going to crown anybody or go the other way on the first two days, but we are happy with what we've got thus far," Kubiak said.

It will be several months before Fuaga's true role is defined and will likely depend on factors out of his control, particularly Ramczyk's health and Penning's growth going into his third season.

Right now he's just trying to prove himself in whatever way he can.

"I think it's like, what I'm willing to do for this team," Fuaga said. "I love this team. I'm saying 'Who Dat.' ... It's a blessing to be here."