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John DeShazier: Addition of pads signals beginning of real training camp practices

Payton: 'today is the first day that you’re able to start talking about pad level and really, truly playing the game'

Training camp practice for the New Orleans Saints began Thursday. But for the majority of players, the belief was that football practice began Saturday.

The first padded practice changed the tone and tenor of the work at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, where "thuds" replaced swipes and two-handed touches, and caution dissipated to a large degree while players practiced in front of fans for the first time in this camp.

Not full-scale tackling yet, but enough of a simulation for the assessment process to rise another degree.

"It is different," Coach Sean Payton said. "Prior to this, there's so many elements to the game that you're not really able to apply and today is the first day that you're able to start talking about pad level and really, truly playing the game.

"So the evaluation process gets a little bit clearer when you've seen them in pads, how they carry their pads, what type of physical presence they have based on the position they're playing. But I'm sure there will be a lot to clean up after today.

"I thought it was OK. I think we're going to have periods and we're going to have practices that are more physical. And yet, it was the first one so I think we'll be smart. But it's their first day in the pads, but I think you're going to see some practices probably with a little bit more hitting."

Five thousand tickets were distributed for the open practice, the Saints were spared inclement weather and players had a noticeable bounce in their step.

"I think there's a heightened sense of urgency once the pads come on," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said, "and it's the first time we've had pads on in probably six months or so. I think there was an excitement about being back in pads, but the main focus for us is, let's worry about how we're going to get better each day."

One of the methods by which that will be accomplished is practicing with pads. And Saturday was a good beginning for the Saints.

"It's football for the first time," right tackle Zach Strief said. "We can run around in jerseys out here all day and as offensive and defensive linemen, it's really good for creating terrible habits. I understand the purpose of it, but it's really not football.

"So I think for the first time today, you can work on your pad level, you can work on striking, you can finish a block. At the end of the day, when we're in jerseys, my No. 1 goal is to not get (defensive end) Cam (Jordan) hurt. I'm not going to get him hurt in T-shirts. I'm not proving anything in that moment.

"I think today we're protected, we can go, we can work on things that we need to get better at. I think that's kind of the process you go through in camp. Your legs feel totally different today than they did yesterday. It's a totally different kind of energy that you're using."

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