Trai Turner gets to work trying to earn a spot with the Saints
METAIRIE – A new job brought Trai Turner back home.
Now he hopes he can make himself at home with the New Orleans Saints.
The Crescent City native and former St. Augustine High School and LSU offensive lineman had a tryout with the Saints on Monday, accepted a contact offer from them on Tuesday and joined the team for its first practice of training camp Wednesday morning.
It has been a whirlwind.
Turner said his family and friends naturally were excited to see him join the hometown team and for him “it’s cool to be home.”
“It feels pretty good to wake up in my own bed,” Turner added. “I played high-school football right up the road. My house is right up the road. So there’s a little comfort in that.
“My parents are right there so I get to see them often. It’s some cool perks, but the work starts now. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that after the congrats, the work starts. I’m just looking forward to keep putting in this work and keep getting better.”
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 25, 2023
Turner, 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, has played right guard in the NFL for the last nine seasons.
“My goal was just to play as long as I can,” he said. “I turned 30 not too long ago (June 14) and I’m still playing a kids game. So I’m just appreciative for the opportunity. I’m a decade in and not many can say that. No complaints on my end. I’m proud of what I’ve been doing.”
Turner entered the league as a third-round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers and proved to be a quick study. After just four games he moved into the starting lineup and stayed there for the remaining nine games in which he was active.
He started every game in each of the next two seasons, when started a streak of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections as a Panther.
That quick ascension to becoming a fixture in the starting lineup was reminiscent of his career at LSU.
After redshirting as a true freshmen in 2011, he was forced into the starting lineup during a game at Florida in the sixth game of his redshirt freshman season because of injuries. He played exceptionally well, earning a start against South Carolina a week later. He never left the lineup, starting the final 20 games of his two-year playing career with the Tigers.
Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu, who’s a year older than Turner and was a teammate of his with the Tigers and the Purple Knights, said reuniting with him “definitely feels like home.”
“Trai has always been a great player even going back to St. Aug,” Mathieu added, “so it’s good to have him around.”
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 26, 2023
Turner recognized that it’s “pretty rare” to be teammates with the same player in high school, college and the NFL.
“I definitely appreciate that opportunity,” Turner said. “It’s cool to have two Purple Knights in the building.”
After playing his first six seasons in Carolina, Turner hasn’t played multiple seasons with any of his subsequent teams. He played in nine games and started four with the Chargers in 2020, played in 17 games and started six with the Steelers in 2021 and played in 12 games and started five with the Commanders last season.
“Sometimes you get into situations,” Turner said, “maybe your coach isn’t there any more, there are different personnel switches, sometimes you might not be playing up to par. It’s the ebbs and flows of the game, but I continue to get a job so I must be doing something right.”
The Saints return their starting guards from last season – Cesar Ruiz at Turner’s customary position on the right side and Andrus Peat on the left.
Ruiz, whose contract expires after this season, has played in 46 games, starting 40, in three seasons and has started all 31 games he has played in the last two. Peat has never played a full season in his nine-year, injury-plagued career. He has played in just half of the games the last two seasons. His contract expires in 2025.
James Hurst is a dependable backup that head coach Dennis Allen described as a “starting-caliber” player at both guard and tackle. Calvin Throckmorton has started 20 of the 31 games he has played in the last two seasons, filling in for injured players.
Lewis Kidd made the roster as an undrafted free agent last season and started one game at left guard, and the Saints signed veteran interior lineman Max Garcia on Tuesday.
So Turner faces a lot of competition to make the roster, let alone regain a spot as a starter in the NFL.
“I’m a firm believer in myself,” he said. “I’ve always been like that.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…