<span style="">The New Orleans Saints concluded their "summer school" last week, which consisted of a three-day veteran mini-camp and 14-seesions known as "organized team activities."
The next stop for the Black-and-Gold will be training camp beginning late in July. The team will announce the practice dates and times in the coming weeks and will be posted right here at NewOrleansSaints.com.
Many players will continue to work out at the team's Metairie complex, while yet other players will return to their hometowns for some rest and relaxation and will continue their strength and conditioning work on their own following nearly four months of conditioning and strength programs under the direction of the Saints' strength and conditioning coaches.
The off-season has been a particularly busy one for the Saints' front office and coaches, with many key players re-signing with the team, the additions of several key free agents and draft picks and a high profile trade.
Quarterback Drew Brees, who is getting ready to take another USO Tour before training camp begins, summed up the Saints' off-season.
"There are a lot of new faces, but they have come in and fit in right away and impressed us all with their work ethics," said Brees. "I have been really impressed with the draft picks. There are some good players that are going to help us out, which is exciting."
"The busy off-season, to me, illustrated that some changes needed to be made, and our team went out and addressed the needs," Brees said. "Last season is long gone, it's all about what lies in front of us right now."
The major infusion of talent, particularly on defense, took place immediately at the commencement of the 2008 football calendar season early in the winter.
To recap, the team made a few changes to the coaching staff in January, first by naming former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron as the defensive line coach, and then promoting Greg McMahon to the position of special teams coordinator, promoting Dennis Allen to coach the secondary, hiring Aaron Kromer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to coach the running back and adding Travis Jones from the Miami Dolphins to serve as the assistant defensive line coach. Former Louisville special teams coach Mike Mallory was added to assist the Saints' special teams units, as well.
The first move of note occurred on February 12 when kicker Martin Gramatica was re-signed. Gramatica, a veteran heading into his 9th NFL season in 2008, had come in and filled in last season over the course of the final three games and was perfect in the kicking department, as he converted 5-of-5 field goals and all eight extra points.
On the eve of the beginning of free agency, the Saints locked up several key contributors, including center Jonathan Goodwin, G Jamar Nesbit and wide receiver/special teams ace Terrance Cooper.
Two days later the Black-and-Gold swung a trade with the New York Jets and acquired middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma in exchange for a conditional draft choice, which turned out to be the Saints' fourth-round draft choice in the 2008 draft. Vilma, the 2004 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of the '07 season, but by all accounts, has nearly returned to form and his participation during training camp will be a major story for those that follow the team.
One day after Vilma's acquisition, the Saints re-signed veteran defensive tackle Brian Young. The 6-2, 298-pound interior lineman had an up-and-down '07 season, first battling through a troublesome knee injury, only to return to action before being docked the final three games of the season due to a bout of pneumonia. Young has returned to full health and will once again he counted on to help fortify the Saints' defensive front.
The receiving corps also received a boost when speedster Devery Henderson and wily veteran David Patten elected to re-sign with the team early in free agency period. The trio of Cooper, Henderson and Patten combined for 81 reception for 1,279 yards and eight touchdowns last season, with Patten leading the way with 48 reception for 792 yards and three scores.
The Saints' first free agent signee came in the form of former LSU star and New England Patriots cornerback Randall Gay, who signed the Saints despite have several suitors, and elected to return to his home state.
Just three days after Gay's addition, two key contributors and solid all-around players in linebacker Mark Simoneau and running back/special teams captain Aaron Stecker were re-signed. Simoneau has been the starter at middle linebacker the past two seasons for the Saints and has racked up 180 tackles the past two campaigns. Stecker, a veritable jack-of-all trades, gives the Saints a hard-charging, no non-sense runner that filled in last year after injuries to starters Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister depleted the running backs corps.
Tight end Billy Miller, a key playmaker the past two seasons, also elected to re-sign early in March and will once again figure into the tight end mix and provide the team with a dependable receiving threat in the Saints' passing game, although he could be in a battle for playing time with youngsters such as Buck Ortega and Ronnie Ghent.
The following day (March 11) the Saints announced the signings pf tall, rangy defensive end Bobby McCray from the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to bolster their pass rush and add quality depth to the ever-important defensive end rotation. The team also agreed to terms with veteran linebacker Dan Morgan, who attempted to return to his once high level of play after having succumbed to concussion problems and an Achilles heal injury. Morgan's comeback, though, was short lived and the former Carolina Panther informed the club a couple of months later that the Achilles wasn't making the progress that he had hoped for and intended to retire.
Morgan's retirement wasn't the only one the Saints were confronted with during the off-season, as Steve Gleason, one of the NFL's top special teams performers throughout his career, called it a career on March 12. Gleason, who spent the 2007 season on injured reserve, was unable to comeback from a serious leg injury that he sustained in 2006. Gleason, though, will always be remembered fondly for his colorful personality and for turning in one of the most memorable plays in franchise history when he blocked an Atlanta punt attempted that was recovered in the end zone for the a touchdown on September 25, 2006 in the electrifying atmosphere at the Superdome in the Saints' thrilling 24-3 win in one of the most memorable Monday Night Football games in the history of the NFL.
On the same day that Gleason announced his retirement, tight end Eric Johnson and the Saints agreed to terms on a new contract, further bolstering the Saints' passing attack with a reliable and sure-handed threat. Johnson went out and recorded 48 receptions for 378 yards last season and two scores despite battling through a groin injury late in the season that robbed him of two games.
Looking to sure up the back up quarterback position, the Saints signed Mark Brunell, a southpaw veteran who has spent the majority of his professional career as a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins. The University of Washington product brings a wealth of experience with 15 years of service and nearly 32,000 career yards passing to his credit and numerous postseason appearances.
The calendar hit April and the thoughts of the collective football world began to zero in on the NFL Draft, but the Saints added yet another intriguing piece to their secondary when speedy veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn, who has played for the Jets, Texans, Cowboys and most recently the Jaguars, signed with the Saints. Glenn, with 41 career interceptions, gives the Saints a player that can play either cornerback spot, as well in playing in the nickel and dome packages.
The draft was indeed the next place the Saints turned, as the two-day draft brought the Saints another infusion of talent, headlined by pugnacious USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis in the first round. The Saints jumped up a few spots in the first round to nab Ellis, and the lightning quick defender jumped right into the mix with the Saints first units throughout the veteran mini-camp and OTA's.
The Saints also added fresh talent to a handful of other positions throughout the draft, adding cornerback Tracy Poster (2nd round-Indiana), defensive tackle DeMario Pressley (5th round-NC State), guard/tackle Carl Nicks (5th round-Nebraska), placekicker Taylor Melhaff (6th round-Wisconsin) and wide receiver Adrian Arrington (7th round-Michigan).
The Saints then added a handful of rookie free agents, bringing their roster to the league maximum, not including thee draft choices, who have yet to sign their initial contracts. Notable signees included the son of former great Jumpy Geathers (Jeremy Geathers-DE-UNLV) and running back Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State).
Thus, as the Saints begin to sign their draft picks as training camp nears, further tweaking to the roster will be made by the Saints' front office.
The busy off-season will now slow down, with some much needed rest and relaxation being fitted in for the players and coaches, but the foundation has been constructed over the last six months, with the additions, the re-signings and the returning members of the squad back in the fold.
The most recent item of business was the contract extension worked out between the Saints and defensive end Will Smith, which was announced last Thursday.
"Summer school" is over. The new "semester" waits. And the tests will come fast and furious in roughly five-and-a-half weeks.
"I know we are all heading our own ways for the next few weeks," Brees said. "But I am sure if you ask any of us (players), training camp and the season is something we are gearing up and excited about. I know it is something we think about every day."