White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Saturday literally was not the first day of training camp for the New Orleans Saints this year; Thursday and Friday were work days, too, at The Greenbrier.
But the first day in pads always seems to provide a different mind-set and pace for players, a different mental feel and, almost certainly, a different physical one due to the likelihood of collisions.
So it made sense that the Saints appeared to have a little more bounce in their step Saturday. After a full offseason of work and two days of training camp in which they wore no pads, getting back to "football" gave players and coaches alike a new reference point.
"It is Christmas in July," said offensive lineman Senio Kelemete, who worked at right and left guard in practice. "I was happy that we were able to finally put pads on today.
"Getting out here the first day with pads on, we're just trying to get a baseline, trying to see where we're able to do – good, bad, ugly. Just getting out here and figuring out what we need to work on most.
"We've been in underwear, basically, through OTAs and minicamp and two days prior to this, and finally we get to put some pads on and hit each other a little bit."
Said defensive coordinator Dennis Allen: "This is the first day we actually practiced football. We've got a long way to go, we've got a lot of things we've got to get better at, a lot of things we've got to accomplish.
"I think we've had a good first few days of practice. (Coach) Sean (Payton) said it today to the team: 'There's no light at the end of the tunnel, we've just got to put our head down and go to work.' The good thing about it is, that's what our guys are doing."
Payton said he considered it a positive first day. A portion of practice was conducted under increased cloudiness, but the threat of rain never materialized.
"Overall, I thought we handled the periods well," he said. "There's just a handful of things from a pad level standpoint – which oftentimes is the case your first day out with pads – that we've got to be better at."
For Payton, and the linemen, it was the first true evaluation of them. All agree that it's difficult to assess the growth, and areas of growth needed, if linemen aren't actually able to be more physical than they're allowed to be during offseason workouts.
"It was really the first day where they could begin to practice, really, the essence of their job," Payton said. "I thought we had a lot of good periods, the 9-on-7 earlier in practice, the team run, a lot of tape for us to look at."
"When we don't have pads on, it's hard to evaluate," Lelito said. "It's hard evaluate the physicality of anyone, offensive line or defensive line. But when you put the pads on, you finally see who's going to be physical in the run game and who can work moves and stuff like that in the pass game."
There will be more opportunities to discover just that in the coming days.
New Orleans is scheduled to practice in pads the next two days before having an off day, then again in pads for five consecutive days before leaving White Sulphur Springs to have two days of padded joint practices with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The Saints then will play New England in the preseason opener Aug. 11.