White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – To say that the New Orleans Saints were pleased with Wednesday's joint practice with New England would be the understatement of training camp.
Saints players were approaching bubbly after the workout, ecstatic with the amount of productive work that was registered – sans fisticuffs – at The Greenbrier. The Saints and Patriots, winners of Super Bowl XLIX and victors in four of the last 14 Super Bowls, are scheduled for another joint workout Thursday and the teams will play their second preseason game Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans' preseason home opener.
"I thought it was really good," right tackle Zach Strief said. "This is the thing that we know with them coming in – that's a group of professionals that work the right way, practice the right way. I thought the work was really good. It's nice to see some other bodies and get some other looks and to have to be forced to communicate like that. Those guys are very well coached and I thought it was great.
"You can work appropriately – you can work hard, get good looks, this isn't like you're going 80 percent so now there's not any fights. This is guys that understand that we're here to all get better. It's a new face and it's a guy on a different team, but that doesn't mean that I've got to try to hurt someone. There's an understanding there that you can go full speed and still respect each other."
That sentiment was echoed to a man among the Saints.
While the actual drills were no different than many of those New Orleans has employed during training camp, working the drills versus a disciplined, invited guest gave the Saints incentive to put forward an even better foot.
"I think it's that point in camp where it certainly breaks up the monotony," quarterback Drew Brees said. "I mean, you get tired of going up against your guys day in and day out. You get a new defense, a new scheme, new personnel, so you're kind of on high alert.
"It does kick it up a notch because you haven't seen a lot of these looks before, you haven't seen them in a long time and you don't really know what to expect so it's a bit of an expect-the-unexpected mentality. But I thought it was good work with those guys. I thought both teams got a lot out of it.
"We tried to put ourselves in a bunch of different situations. We did first- and second-down stuff, we did third-down stuff, we did red zone, we did two-minute – we did a lot of different situations. We'll continue to kind of build on that as these next two days go on. Certainly, three days' worth of just piling in situation after situation really gets your mind sharpened and focused as you get into playing more games."
Part of the reason the teams were able to have a quality joint practice was the absence of fighting. Saints and Patriots players never neared skirmish levels, though on a handful of occasions players went a step beyond the "thud" principal and took an opponent to the ground.
"The things that are going on around the league with the fights is just, honestly, it's just unnecessary stuff," Strief said. "I get it, you're in camp, you're hot, you're frustrated and especially these late dual practices when you're kind of getting to the end of it. But if you've got two sides that understand what they're doing and understand that being professional means you're not out there to hurt guys, you're there to get better, then you can have a practice like that that's successful."
Said running back Mark Ingram: "We took care of each other, both teams. I think we got good work. It's hard to simulate that work with your team like you can with another team, so I felt like it was very beneficial.
"It's a different look than we get, different players. It was just a different opponent, different team so everybody's juices were flowing a little bit more. It can get a little repetitive when you're going against your same team, beating up on your same teammates over and over again. So it's good to get somebody – different faces, different uniform, different color – in there and get the competition going.
"You want to make plays, you want to go out there and you want to be great. Not only because they're defending champions, but because you want to get better and you want to test yourself against the other best athletes in the league."
The test will continue Thursday morning at The Greenbrier and Saturday in the Superdome. And the Saints believe it will continue to be educational and beneficial.
"We have a chance to practice against the defending world champions," Brees said. "And I know that that's going to get us better, and I know that they have the same mentality going against us."