White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – It isn't a new phenomenon, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said, for the team to enter training camp with questions that need to be answered, even when the Saints have been at their peak.
So the fact that there are many questions entering the opening of training camp this year, to be held at The Greenbrier, after the team finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs last year, isn't any more startling than any other year, he said.
"I think we have a lot of question marks every year," Loomis said. "We had a lot of questions after we won the Super Bowl. Every year is different and yet it's the same in terms of, you've always got question marks.
"I know this – right now, we've got hopes and dreams for this team. We've got an opportunity over these next few weeks to evaluate and prepare our club for this season. I think we've got the best coaching staff out there that can evaluate and prepare a team. I've got a lot of confidence in the way we do things, the way (Coach) Sean (Payton) and his staff do things. I'm looking forward to this season."
Part of the reason for the anticipation is that this offseason, the Saints re-emphasized identifying the characteristics that have made them one of the NFL's most successful franchises since 2006.
In terms of personnel, that meant a focus on players who were smart and tough, with high character. And it meant a fairly significant turnover in personnel, whether it was salary or production related.
"That's been what we feel like has allowed us to be successful here," Payton said. "It's not complicated and yet, it's challenging. If you don't pay attention to that constantly, you're hit ratio is not as good."
"We've got to go back and do some of those things that maybe we assumed were happening," Loomis said.
"I feel good about where we're at, and I'm excited about the things that we've done. I kind of feel like we've turned back the clock a little bit to the same type of process and attitude we came into '06 with, and I'm excited to see the results of that, ultimately."
The goal is to recapture the aura that has accompanied Saints teams of recent memory. The Saints had advanced to the playoffs in four consecutive years under Payton until last year; and even while finishing 7-9, they were in the playoff hunt until losing their next-to-last game of the season, to drop to 6-9.
Thus, last season's misfortune, which led Payton to identify as a necessity a change in locker room culture, didn't lead the franchise to believe that its slippage was irreparable.
"I don't think we're dysfunctional at all, as an organization," Loomis said. "I think there were some things that we didn't anticipate last year on our team that we had to address, and I think we've done that. And I think we'll see the results of that in this coming season.
"When you feel like you're a functional organization, you expect to win. When you expect to win instead of hope to win, you run into adversity and you overcome it. You expect to overcome it, and I think that's the type of organization that we are. I think we expect to overcome adversity and I know that we have the people in place that can handle that."
Payton said that part of the preparation for handling adversity will be ramping up the intensity at training camp.
"I think it'll be more challenging," he said. "I think this team will be ready for the challenge."
Practices may be more physical than they were last year at The Greenbrier. But Payton said that despite the fact that the team failed to win at least 11 games for the first time in his last five seasons, the Saints were cognizant of not tinkering just for the sake of tinkering.
So the talk of the Saints' training camp location affecting their play last season was a subject that could be dismissed.
"You've got to be careful," Payton said. "If there's some degree of failure, you've got to be careful you don't start operating on the wrong parts. I just think we're smart enough to look at things, and smart enough to look closely at why."
NOTE: Payton said that the players listed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which includes receiver Marques Colston and safety Jairus Byrd, were not expected to be on the list for an extended period of time.
"Pretty common, when you start training camp," Payton said. "It's not unusual. I don't expect them to be there a long period of time."
Photos from opening press conference with Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis of the 2015 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. Photos taken by Richard Crank (New Orleans Saints photos)