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Saints take Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga 14th overall

DOUG BENC/AP IMAGES FOR THE NFL
                                Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga poses for a portrait at the NFL football Combine, Feb. 29, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
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DOUG BENC/AP IMAGES FOR THE NFL

Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga poses for a portrait at the NFL football Combine, Feb. 29, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine, March 3, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine, March 3, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

DOUG BENC/AP IMAGES FOR THE NFL
                                Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga poses for a portrait at the NFL football Combine, Feb. 29, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Oregon State offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine, March 3, in Indianapolis. The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

METAIRIE, La. >> Oregon State offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga is a fan of comedic actor Adam Sandler and his 1998 film, “The Waterboy,” which he’s watched numerous times.

Perhaps the 6-foot-6, 324-pound blocker was destined to wind up in Louisiana at the dawn of his NFL career, even if the reasons the New Orleans Saints drafted him were no laughing matter.

The Saints selected Fuaga with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, adding him to an offensive line that could use some bodies, particularly at tackle.

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“We felt like offensive tackle was a position of need for us,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “We’re really excited about Taliese. He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s extremely physical. … We just felt like he was our type of person.”

Trevor Penning, the second of two 2022 first-round picks by New Orleans, was unable to hold on to a starting role at left tackle last season. His replacement in the lineup, Andrus Peat, remains a free agent.

Meanwhile, the health of right tackle Ryan Ramczyk is “up in the air,” Allen said, after the veteran tackle underwent surgery in hopes of addressing a nagging knee injury.

Additionally, versatile lineman James Hurst, who normally plays guard but has filled in at tackle, has decided to retire.

Fuaga, who was the fourth offensive tackle drafted (after Joe Alt at No. 5, JC Latham at No. 7 and Olumuyiwa Fashanu and No. 11 ), said he wasn’t sure an NFL career was realistic for him until the past year or so, stressing that he long viewed football as no more than “a sport I love to play.”

The Tacoma, Washington, native also played youth basketball, he said, but tended to foul out, adding, “Basketball was not my sport.”

During this past college season, Fuaga did not allow a sack, and his performance against UCLA star defensive end Laiatu Latu got the attention of pro scouts.

The Saints ranked 21st in the NFL in yards rushing last season. Derek Carr was sacked 31 times, placing him in a tie for 14th in the NFL for the number of times sacked.

This season, the Saints’ offense will change systems under new coordinator Klint Kubiak, whose scheme is expected to emphasize outside zone runs — a good fit for a prospect like Fuaga, whose ability to run and block in space was seen as a strength.

Fuaga started all 12 games at right tackle in 2023 for Oregon State, which averaged nearly 5 yards per rush, and was named first-team All-Pac-12 last season.

If Ramczyk winds up healthy enough to resume his role as starting right tackle, Fuaga said he’d feel “pretty comfortable” at left tackle as well, having gotten a number of practice snaps at that spot during college.

“Some people like to say it’s like driving on the other side of the freeway,” Fuaga said at a draft party hosted by relatives in Hawaii. “I don’t really see too much of a problem. It’s fresh because I haven’t tested it in a live game, but I feel good on the left side.”

Fuaga also didn’t dismiss the possibility of playing guard if the Saints needed him there, even though he considers it a much different position.

Fuaga said one of his chief areas of improvement in recent seasons was “trying to be a more nasty player.” One of the ways he accomplished that, he said with a grin, was by adopting the psychology of Sandler’s character in “The Waterboy,” a Cajun from Louisiana named Bobby Boucher.

Fuaga said he’d imagine an opposing defender was “talking about my mom, or talking about my brother.”

In any event, his on-field persona evidently made an impression on Allen, who made the phone call to tell Fuaga the Saints were drafting him.

“Look, you’re a tough S.O.B., and that’s what I love about you,” Allen said on the call, a video of which was posted by the Saints on social media. “And that’s the way we’re going to play.”

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