At 10 a.m sharp Tuesday, the Black and Gold took the field in front of a throng of cheering fans on Airline Drive for the first time this off-season. While the structure and intensity of the mini-camp workout remained the same as it has the last six years, one difference was the presence of Chase Daniel as the club's primary signal-caller.
While the team and QB Drew Brees continue to negotiate a new contract, Daniel has stepped up to take snaps with the first unit offense, supported by Sean Canfield and Luke McCown, who is practicing with the team on a tryout basis for this camp. During Brees' absence due to the negotiation process between the club and the Super Bowl XLIV Most Valuable Player, Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt has been encouraged by the fourth-year former University of Missouri standout's command, preparation and improvement throughout the offseason.
"Chase has done an excellent job for us," said Vitt. "The ball is not on the ground. The quarterback under exchange has been phenomenal. He's operating within the system and parameters. I think his ball location is getting better and better every practice. He opened up our team period today with a 40-yard strike. I think that Chase is progressing and making the most out of this opportunity."
While Daniel jokingly claims that his position on the depth chart is "Quarterback 1B", he understands that his role in Brees' absence is to run the offense the way his mentor and fellow Texan would. According to Daniel, he and Brees talk daily about the system that the offense is running in OTAs and mini-camp, as well as what Steve Spagnuolo's defense has been throwing at him. Daniel has been mentored by Brees for the last three years, and has earned the confidence of the offensive unit.
"Chase is a guy we have a lot of confidence in," said Zach Strief. "He knows the offense as well as anyone. People talk a lot about the time that Drew spends in the facility and the extra work he puts in, but Chase is attached to his hip. The work that is put in by Drew is put in by Chase."
Daniel has taken a leadership role during these off-season practices. In today's morning practice, Daniel completed many several crips passes to David Thomas, Marques Colston, and Pierre Thomas. Another offensive player who has impressed here at camp is rookie wide receiver Nick Toon, who is picking up the team's complex offense at a steady pace. The offensive line, which remains a solid cog in the Saints' offensive machine, returns four starters and has added a pro-bowler in Ben Grubbs who has looked fantastic in workouts. Grubbs, who joined the team this off-season after five years in Baltimore, has fit seamlessly into the team's offensive strategy.
After practice, the Saints signed autographs and were greeted by a warm reception from the ever-loyal fan base.
"It was awesome having people out there," said Daniel. "You know I almost forgot what minicamp was like in the fact that the fans are actually allowed to be out there. It was awesome though. They were into practice, enthusiastic and behind us. They were supportive, and that's what you have come to expect from New Orleans Saints fans."