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John DeShazier: Practice at Tulane a needed changeup for Saints players

Big crowd greets players at Yulman Stadium

Photos of the scrimmage during 2017 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at Yulman Stadium on August 6, 2017.

After a training camp full of grooved fastballs, Sean Payton tossed in a changeup Sunday night.

The New Orleans Saints coach took the team to Yulman Stadium on Tulane's campus, where the Saints practiced under the lights, a nearly two-hour workout in front of several thousand fans, the largest group to attending a training camp practice this year.

It was a departure for what had become the daily practice routine, New Orleans' roughly three-hour practice that began at 8:50 a.m. at the team's practice facility, the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. And it was a welcome one.

"I thought it was great," Payton said. "We did this two years ago when we got back from West Virginia. It allows more people to come to a practice, to be out of the sun.

"With the schedule we had today, there were a lot of meetings and a lot of recovery aspects this morning. There were then more meetings and a walkthrough. Overall, it was pretty crisp."

Players, too, enjoyed the twist.

"It was a great experience," defensive end Alex Okafor said. "We definitely needed this during camp. We go every day at the facility against one another, so it's great having a fan atmosphere out here. It gets us going a little bit harder."

"It was awesome," linebacker Craig Robertson added. "You practice at the same time every day, things become repetitive. Just the changeup, having a lot of fans out here at a different place.

"It's good for the young guys, too, to get ready to play at night time in the preseason. It's a big changeup from playing noon games a lot of time in the season. It's good for them to get acclimated to playing at night."

The workout at Yulman wasn't the only significant change. Sunday also marked the return of long snapper Justin Drescher to the practice field with New Orleans.

Drescher was a free agent this offseason and the Saints hadn't re-signed him. But having not seen what they were looking for from Chase Dominguez and Thomas Gafford, the Saints returned to Drescher, who has handled all of the Saints' long snapping duties since the final six games of the 2010 season.

"I'm just excited to be back," Drescher said. "Walked in the locker room, saw all these familiar faces. They were happy, I was happy to be back. I can't say what happened in the past, I just stayed in shape and waited for my chance and now I'm here and I'm excited."

Said Payton: "There will be more competition. We will have some more guys that we will continue to work out. We will see how he does. We worked him out (Saturday). We felt that we would be a little bit more consistent. We will keep paying attention to it.

"He has been good with the punts. The key is going to be the short snaps and the coverage element. I think he is healthy. He has battled a groin injury during two of the last three years. We will keep evaluating it and see how he does."

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