The preparation nearly is complete, kickoff is less than 48 hours away and the sense is noticeable of a new season dawning.
The New Orleans Saints, in fact, will open the 50th season in franchise history Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, against Oakland. And Coach Sean Payton said that the atmosphere has been a little different this week for the Saints, who have a specific opponent and gameplan on which to focus.
"I think the week feels different, because 100 percent of the time is spent on the opponent, meetings," he said. "There are some schedule things that are a little different when you get in season. Then clearly, as the week winds down and preparation is beginning to conclude, there's a sense of polish and being spot-on with the assignments. So I think it definitely feels different."
Another couple of quick observations from Payton's news conference with the local media:
- The Saints again will enter the season with three quarterbacks. But this time, second-year man Garrett Grayson will do so as a member of the practice squad. Grayson was released, cleared waivers, and was added to the practice squad Thursday. "We needed roster flexibility," Payton said. "It just gets down to trying to get ready to prepare for your first game and trying to be smart about who you're protecting. It isn't always what you want to do, and yet, for him, his development still continues."
- As is the case with many elite pass rushers, Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack (15 sacks last season) will not be a stationary target. "They move him around a lot," Payton said. "We've got to prepare to handle him both to our right, to our left. There's times where he's ended up over the center."
- The Saints announced their All-50th team Friday. Current Saints on the 50-man team are quarterback Drew Brees, right guard Senio Kelemete and punter Thomas Morstead. "That's a big honor," Payton said of the honorees. "I think one of the things that people enjoy about something like that is the discussion that follows with it and the debates and all those other kind of things."