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Offseason Brought Plenty Of Lessons For King George’s Jermon Bushrod

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

METAIRIE, La. – Jermon Bushrod learned a lot about himself over the past eight months.

The New Orleans Saints’ left tackle was part of an offense that set multiple league records, earning him a trip to Honolulu for his first Pro Bowl and his first major NFL honor. Surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder demonstrated the importance of patience and determination. An investigation into a bounty program run by the team brought constant attention.

But the King George native learned the most three months ago when his fiancée, Jessica Mendez, gave birth to a son, Jermon Jr.

“It’s been a tremendous feeling, man,” Bushrod said. “It’s been the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of. Being on this earth, it’s been the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.”

Between the birth of his son and the surgery, Bushrod didn’t have much of an opportunity to return home.

That, in a way, will make this weekend more special. When the Saints host the Washington Redskins on Sunday at the Superdome, nearly two dozen family members and close friends will make the trip south.

It’s the beginning of a new season – one Bushrod hopes is as successful as the last. The Saints averaged 467.1 yards a game in 2011, which was the best single-season performance by a team in league history. That effort was led by quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 71.2 percent of his throws for 5,476 yards – also league records.

“It’s a new year, you know?” Bushrod said. “Every new year shapes out different. Of course you want to continue to see what brought us success last year, but we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

Bushrod spent time during the offseason watching film, hoping to isolate what he perceived as his weaknesses, and by outlining goals for the coming year.

He didn’t want to share any specifics, but he worked on enough during the spring to impress his coaches. More importantly, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said, Bushrod looks as determined as ever.

“I don’t that that we have any players on this team that would think, ‘I made the Pro Bowl so I don’t need to work at it,’” Carmichael said. “I think we’ve got a great group of guys that we have always had an outstanding offseason program here. I don’t worry about that with anybody, or Jermon in particular.”

Bushrod first took over as the Saints’ starting left tackle early in the 2009 season when Jammal Brown, now with the Redskins, sustained the first of his lingering hip injuries. He grew into his starting role and allowed only three sacks last season while protecting Brees.

“He jumped in there and, I’m telling you, he struggled early because every left tackle does,” said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who has been serving as the Saints’ interim head coach. “Just getting the opportunity to play, and working through the kinks, working through the techniques that he needed to make himself successful [helped him].”

Bushrod, like the rest of his teammates, also has had to deal with two lingering issues: first, Brees’ holdout, which lasted through offseason workouts before the quarterback signed a five-year, $100 million contract in mid-July, and also the effects of the league’s bounty investigation.

The NFL suspended general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, linebackers coach Joe Vitt for six games and head coach Sean Payton for the season for their roles in a pay-for-play scheme, while two players still on the Saints – linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith – had their suspensions upheld by a review panel Friday afternoon.

“The only way we really realized what’s going on is because our head coaches aren’t here and we have a couple guys who aren’t present, but for the most part we’ve kept our focus going ahead,” Bushrod said. “It’s not the whole substitute teacher effect where you know, ‘Oh, the head coach is gone, we’re not going to work as hard. We’re not going to prepare as hard.’ If anything, we prepared a little bit more. We worked a little bit more.”

That’s all done for Sunday, when the seasons, and the lessons, begin anew.

“You know, nothing beats when you pass the test,” Bushrod said. “When you study and you put the amount of preparation that this organization and this team puts in for our weekly games, when we can go out there and play well and execute our assignments the way we know we’re capable of, it’s just a great feeling.”

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