METAIRIE — Hot, sweaty and looking for a cool spot to land after a recent steamy morning practice, New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer cut to the chase when asked what third-year reserve lineman Matt Tennant must do to stay on the 53-man roster.
“We’re going to keep eight guys,’’ Kromer said. “We’re going to dress seven guys on game day. Somebody has to play backup to both tackles and somebody has to play backup guard and center.
“If Matt can do that better than the other backups, then he can make the team. It’s that simple.’’
And what happens if Tennant strays from Kromer’s easy-to-follow blueprint for success?
“Matt knows his situation — it’s a make-or-break year for him,’’ Kromer said. “That’s what your third year is. What he needs to do is take advantage of the training camp, and that’s what we talked about last year. He did not take advantage of training camp.’’
Kromer is alluding to the start of the 2011 training camp, when Tennant was given an opportunity with the first offensive unit in the wake of veteran free agent center Jonathan Goodwin’s abrupt departure to the San Francisco 49ers.
In a matter of days, Saints officials signed veteran free agent center Olin Kreutz away from the Chicago Bears and Tennant returned to reserve duty. Then, one month into the regular season, Kreutz decided to retire, and the Saints turned to journeyman center Brian de la Puente.
And the rest is history.
“I felt like I did pretty well, but, then again, I’m not the starting center right now,’’ said Tennant, a frequent contributor on special teams in his first two seasons but rarely seen the field on offense. “So maybe I did something wrong somewhere along the line. Right now, I’m just trying to give 100 percent effort and be a better player.
“Last year is in the past, and I have to look at the opportunity that is presented here in front of me, and that’s to go out every day and help the team whenever I can and push the guys in front of me and make sure they are doing the right things.’’
Based on Kromer’s expectations of Tennant, that sounds like a solid game plan.
“When we’re evaluating it’s just all ‘what have you done lately,’ ” Kromer said. “Have you blocked? Have you handled your assignment and made the guys around you better? If you have more than the guy behind you, then you’ll start.
“We don’t play favorites here, or we don’t play guys just because they’re drafted or vice-versa. Look at Brian, he got cut by eight teams. He came in here a nobody and he played better than the other guys and he played.
“We don’t care where they come from as long as they produce when they’re here, they fit our system and they buy into what we do.’’
After three exhibition games, it appears Tennant is among the team’s top eight offensive linemen in training camp, playing the dual roles of backup center to de la Puente and swing guard behind starters Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans.
Ultimately, Tennant will be judged by how well he handles the backup guard positions in practice and exhibition games.
Tennant’s next exam comes Saturday night against the Houston Texans (2-0) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“Center is my natural position, but I will play whatever this team tells me to play,’’ said Tennant, who was selected by the Saints in the fifth-round of the 2010 draft out of Boston College. “If they want me to go play tight end, I’ll do that.
“I feel every year I’ve had to come in and compete and fight to be part of this team, and this year is no different. This is a very competitive team. You got guys who are willing to sacrifice money to come here and be part of this team. It’s an extremely tough team to make, so I got to go out and do everything I can to continue to get better each day.’’
Players were off Sunday and return to practice Monday at 11:15 a.m. All remaining preseason practices are closed to the public.