White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – There's one concession to the aging process that Drew Brees will admit. At the age of 36 and with 14 NFL seasons on his resume, the bounce-back has decelerated a bit.
"I think as you get older, that's what the aging process is," he said Thursday following the opening practice of New Orleans Saints training camp presented by Verizon. "It's not necessarily that you can't do it that day, it's how you feel the next day and maybe the day after, and 72 hours later after you do it – the ability to come back and consistently do it, over and over again."
The recovery may not be what it once was, but the ability to come back and consistently do it in games, over and over again, doesn't much seem affected.
The best quarterback in Saints history entered training camp at The Greenbrier this year with nine consecutive seasons of at least 4,000 passing yards, including an NFL-record four 5,000-yard seasons.
It's worth noting that last year, which most considered a "down" year for Brees, was a season in which he completed 456 of 659 passes (69.2 percent) for 4,952 yards (tied for most in the league) and 33 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. And even though he lost three fumbles and was sacked 29 times, it was a season that most teams and quarterbacks would take and file away as a career best.
But because the Brees bar is so high, it was viewed as something less than standout, especially for a team that finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
The good news for Saints fans is that Brees knows exactly where the bar is, because he sets it. And he has his sights fixed on clearing it, again, which is why his preparation for each season has increased as the years have accumulated.
"I'm always adding things to what I do," he said. "I'm always fine-tuning and adding things, always seeking more information and trying to do whatever I can to have an edge in my training, in my work habits, the way that I practice, the way that I recover, the way that I prepare each and every day.
"My mentality doesn't change from year to year. I always feel like there's something to prove. As you get later in your career, people are always looking for the excuse as to if you have a down game or a down year – whatever it might be, (to) give you some type of excuse as to why. 'Oh, the aging process is setting in,' or, 'He's declining,' or whatever it might be.
"But bottom line is, I approach each and every day, practice, rep, game as if I have something to prove, never that I've arrived. I'm always seeking more knowledge, more information, trying to get better, trying to continue even to fine-tune the things that I know we're already good at."
Obviously, that approach has benefited the Saints. The number of 10-victory seasons (five) with Brees at quarterback in nine seasons equals the number of 10-victory seasons (five) the franchise has achieved with every other quarterback in its previous 39 seasons.
"I've been around Drew for three years," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "He seems just as focused, just as driven as he's always been. I really don't see a change.
"I would say that's probably why he is a Hall of Fame player, because the really great Hall of Fame players are not driven by external factors. They're driven by something on the inside."
Said Coach Sean Payton: "I think he is probably his biggest critic, (with) his (high) expectation level and what he wants to accomplish. I think he obviously has a great grasp to what we are doing. I thought the ball's coming out of his hands real well, it did in the spring and it did this morning. I am sure overall you want to reduce the turnovers – we talked about that as a team goal and increase the takeaways. That number, I think, has to change for us to be successful."
It's a number that almost is certain to change for Brees, who only has thrown more than 17 interceptions three times in a season. The safe assumption is that it will change because if nothing else, he has shown an elite ability to recover.
"That's what this game is about; it's about durability, it's about consistency, it's about knowing what to expect each and every time that person steps on the field," Brees said. "I certainly want to be one of those guys that every time I step on the field, guys know exactly what they're going to get out of me."