The intensifying degrees of normalcy for the New Orleans Saints increased to a sizzle Thursday and, sure, the case could be made that searing temperatures and crawfish bisque-thick humidity were attributable to the status.
But don’t gloss over the fact that Coach Sean Payton was back in place to greet Saints players as they reported for 2013 Training Camp presented by Verizon.
True, Payton and his familiar visor were in full view during OTAs and minicamp, representing a back-to-flesh composition of his “Do Your Job” mural/directive that seemingly covered an entire wall of the team’s indoor practice facility during his NFL-imposed absence in 2012.
But, likely, this year’s OTA and minicamp Payton was a few clicks less intensive than the Thursday Payton. The jaw on that Payton may have been a little less set, the piercing eyes a touch less penetrating, than Thursday’s Payton.
The former probably was all business. The current, All Business.
“A 7-9 record doesn’t sit well with any of us,” Payton said of last season. “There’s an expectation level we have. We’ve developed and worked hard to create that.”
So the directive has been re-issued and re-emphasized, and the pace set as soon as he returned.
The Saints, under the coach with the highest winning percentage in franchise history (64.4 percent, courtesy of a 62-34 record), will seek to return to their winning ways. In the three seasons prior to the 7-9 finish last year, New Orleans rolled to a 37-11 mark.
Payton’s presence has produced a discernible bounce in the steps around the team’s practice facility.
“It’s probably a little fresher excitement than it would be ordinarily, because of what happened a year ago,”
Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said. “I think we’re all a little more focused, maybe, than we would have been otherwise.
“He’s the same guy, but he seems really focused. But when I think back about 2011 and the years before, he was always focused. And I know our players will tell you that. That’s part of his talent, to be able to focus on this team and the task at hand, and he’s right there.”
That shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Payton arrived in 2006 with a singular purpose, to transform the Saints into consistent Super Bowl contenders. One Super Bowl victory (XLIV, following the 2009 season) and five playoff victories later, the franchise is just that.
New Orleans has led the league in yards per game four times – the only four times in franchise history – and in scoring twice in Payton’s six seasons as head coach. Only one other coach in franchise history has a playoff victory to his credit and none have led the team to three consecutive seasons of at least 11 victories.
“Sean, when he came back, he established that he wanted to work out in the weight room and really change some things up,” safety
“(He’s) probably the same guy. He’s a leader and he picks something to improve on every year, and he focuses on that and we follow his lead. It’s definitely nice to have him back. He’s competitive, he wants to win, he’s going to have a plan to win and we’re just trying to follow that plan.”
Part of that plan includes a return to offensive play-calling.
That’s not a slight to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who handled those duties last season during
Payton’s suspension and also for several games in 2011, when Payton injured his leg. The team didn’t miss a beat with Carmichael calling the plays; it went on to set a league record for net yards (7,474) in 2011 and last year, the offense finished second in the NFL in yards per game (410.9) and third in scoring (28.8).
In fact, calling plays for the offense will be a shared duty between Payton and Carmichael.
But the head coach does intend to work his way back into it.
“It’s just a matter of getting back up to speed and getting familiar with all the elements of it,” Payton said.
No objection will be voiced from the quarterback who has prospered under the direction of each.
“I thought Pete Carmichael did a phenomenal job,”
“I’ve got confidence in whoever is calling the plays, whether it’s Sean Payton or Pete Carmichael. I love the fact that Sean is back and he’s taken the reigns and he’s going to be the voice in my ear.”
Payton figures to be the voice in more ears than his quarterback’s.
Likely, Saints players already have re-acclimated to his tone to a degree. For sure, there were times it echoed in their ears last season even while he wasn’t present and without a doubt, they were reacquainted this offseason.
But that heat might not have been a fair representation of what’s about to come. Probably, it’s going to get a lot warmer at Saints training camp, and it’ll have everything to do with the man in charge.