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Coach Sean Payton returns for New Orleans Saints, linebacker Demario Davis among players placed on Reserve/Covid-19 list 

'If you're out here, you're preparing to play because it's ever changing'


On Friday, the New Orleans Saints regained their head coach.


But they also lost their star linebacker and Pro Bowl special team player, a day after losing their top two quarterbacks heading into Monday night's game against Miami in the Caesars Superdome.

Coach Sean Payton returned to the team, clearing protocols after a one-game absence due to testing positive for Covid-19. But linebacker Demario Davis, who never has missed a game in a career spanning 158 games, was added to the Reserve/Covid-19 list Friday, as was safety J.T. Gray, who was named to the Pro Bowl as a special teamer for the first time in his career.

And Thursday, starting quarterback Taysom Hill and backup Trevor Siemian were among nine players New Orleans placed on the Covid list, setting the stage for rookie Ian Book to make his NFL debut in the nationally televised game.

Payton, who tested positive a week ago, said Friday that he felt fine. Friday, he and the staff prepared Book for his first regular-season snaps.

"He's doing well," Payton said. "I thought today, he threw the ball well. I said it to the team, also: Obviously, you have a new quarterback, but it's more than just the quarterback. It's everyone else painting the right picture, us playing well in the kicking game and on defense.

"He's going to do fine. He's excited about the opportunity and obviously there'll be some plays where you want to get on to the next play. But he's kind of going to class with the gameplan, he's done a good job handling that, and then it's up to us to give him the right things relative to the game and where we're at offensively."

Payton said the obvious objective will be to play to Book's strengths.

"I think there's certain things that he does outside the pocket very well," Payton said. "I think he gets rid of the ball well, I think he's accurate when he throws it. I think he can move and escape.

"I don't think you turn and put a completely different gameplan together. I think you try to look at the things that he knows and feels really comfortable with. And as this week progresses, we get down to the things that we've seen him do and the things he feels comfortable with, and then also the other moving parts offensively with personnel."

Book, New Orleans' fourth-round draft pick (No. 133 overall), only played in the preseason opener this year, in the second half. But he said he has grown tremendously from then to now.

"That feels like it was so long ago," he said. "Every time there was a rep, I got to take it mentally. So add up all those reps, I got to do it mentally. I'd rather do it with the (starters), obviously, but every single time they were doing it and watching film, you've just got to envision that it's you out there and cue those reads over and over until it's really ingrained in your mind.

"Coaches have done a great job getting with me and getting me all set up. It's just time to go out there and do it."

Understandably, Book said he's excited.

"I'm going to be pretty buzzed," he said. "I don't know what it's going to feel like. I've played in big games but I think this is the biggest, obviously. We're professionals now and it's 'Monday Night Football,' and I grew up watching prime-time football since I was a little kid. It's a dream and I'm just going to keep telling myself what a great opportunity.

"There's a million excuses out there, is what I'd say, and we're going to use none of them. Because we've got to go out there and play, we're all professionals and when your name's called you've got to go out there and perform.

"Just excited. Main thing for me is, I want to go out there, have fun, move on to the next play and play with speed. Don't go out there thinking all the time, that's going to slow down my process. Just got to go out there and play, have fun. It's football."

And in today's NFL, it's imperative to be prepared.

"I just finished telling them, if you're out here, you're preparing to play because it's ever changing," Payton said. "We've seen it. It changed (Thursday), it changed again today and I'm sure it'll change again before we play. It's the uniqueness of this season, and yet, we've got to get ready and be prepared if you're in."

BORTLES SIGNED: With Hill and Siemian out, the Saints added free agent quarterback Blake Bortles to the roster Friday. Bortles, a seven-year pro with 73 career starts in 78 games, has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 17,649 yards and 103 touchdowns, with 75 interceptions. After five seasons in Jacksonville (2014-18) and one with the Rams ('19), Bortles didn't take a regular-season snap in '20. "We're familiar with the player," Payton said. "He's had experience in different offenses. We'll get him up to speed and figure out the things that he's most comfortable with in the event he has to play."

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