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John DeShazier: High points from Saints OTA

Payton, Saints pay tribute to Cortez Kennedy

The first day of media access for the New Orleans Saints' OTAs is in the books, and a plethora of topics were covered by Coach Sean Payton and the players that were interviewed. Check out NewOrleansSaints.com for several player interviews, as well as Payton's interview in its entirety. But in this space, here are the high points from several of those sessions:

Payton, on the late Cortez Kennedy, Hall of Fame defensive tackle and friend of the franchise, who died on Tuesday at age 48: "If you didn't know better and you saw him, you might think he worked here. My first time here interviewing with (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis), we had dinner and Cortez would always make sure that if it was a nice place, he was there to join you. He was just here for the draft weekend. All of us – devastated would be the way to describe it. It just was so sudden. It's tough. It's tough. I think Mickey said it best – as great a player as he was, and if you had to pull a starting lineup out of the Hall of Fame on defense, he's in the starting lineup – he was that good of a guy off the field." Saints players had Kennedy's number, 96, affixed to the right sides of their helmet on Thursday.

GETTING A LOOK-SEE: Minus Max Unger, who is sidelined after foot surgery, the Saints are getting a look at several players at center. Thursday, Josh LeRibeus, who's listed as a guard, was working at center with the first-team offensive line. LeRibeus is a five-year veteran who previously has been with the Redskins (2012-15) and Eagles (2017, during this offseason). He has started 12 of the 28 games he has played.  "We're taking a look at a few of these guys on special teams," Payton said. "He's someone that we think has some versatility. We'll see as we get going. The trick when we have 90 guys is, Can we bring that many kickers and long snappers to camp? So you're trying to always balance those numbers and this time of the year, where we get a chance to see the long snappers, we get a chance to see those other guys. But he's battling. He's doing a good job."

A look on the field as New Orleans Saints OTAs are underway on May 24, 2017.

CRASH COURSE: Rookie running back Alvin Kamaraalready has experienced the increase in tempo during practice now that the veterans are participating. "They know what's going on, they've been seasoned, they know the plays and they know what Coach Payton wants," the third-round pick said. But his development is being accelerated by post-practice work with quarterback Drew Brees. "He's real good about just working with me," Kamara said. "I've got a lot of questions and he's real responsive. He lets me know what I need to know – just about positioning on certain plays, routes, things like that. (I'm) trying to get in and get some film work in with him. He says whatever I need, just hit him up."

BACK ON THE GRIND: Cornerback P.J. Williams, who finished last season on injured reserve due to a concussion he received in the second game of the season, is back on the scene (now wearing No. 26; safety Rafael Bushhas returned and is wearing his familiar No. 25, which Williams wore last year). Williams worked his way into the starting lineup last offseason, so his return promises to bolster the Saints' secondary. ""Feeling good," he said. "Been working hard this offseason, and looking forward to this season. I'm just looking forward to getting it all going." Williams said he has had no lingering effects and that he's not concerned about future concussions. "That was my first concussion, ever," he said. "I feel like the way I play, that shouldn't happen. So I'm not thinking about that at all."

THE STATESMAN: In terms of Saints service, 26-year-old safety Kenny Vaccarois the most-tenured member of the secondary, which includes 20-year-old rookie safety Marcus Williams, 21-year-old rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimoreand 23-year-old P.J. Williams, who played two NFL games in his first two seasons. Vaccaro does his part to mentor, but also is careful to not step out of bounds. "A.G. (secondary coach Aaron Glenn) is doing a good job staying on top with those guys, extra meetings," Vaccaro said. "I just try to give a pointer here and there when I can. I don't want to be the vet that thinks he knows it all, because I don't have all the answers myself. I'm still learning, I'm still growing as a player in this league. So I try to help them when I can."

NOW, GUARD THIS: First things first: Second-year receiver Michael Thomas(@cantguardmike on Twitter) has put on muscle (6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, up from the 210 that he finished with last season) and hasn't sacrificed speed, quickness or anything else. Second, he's still honing his craft. "Just finishing my routes, being a technician, getting perfect depth, being in the right place at the right time, using my eyes better, visualizing the coverage pre-snap better – stuff like that," he said. Third, after setting franchise rookie records for receptions (92), receiving yards (1,137) and receiving touchdowns (nine), he's as hungry as ever. "I want to be one of the best to ever play the game, so I put a lot of pressure on myself just because coming from a family that played in the NFL (his uncle is Keyshawn Johnson), and then being the guy now, I want to take advantage of my opportunity."

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