Even with Louisiana's humidity hovering near a grueling 70 percent, the New Orleans Saints defense started their mini-camp with a buzz and eagerness under the direction of Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt and Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The feeling in the locker room was one of excitement. The players were thrilled to get out in front of their fans for the first time, some of whom were at the Saints' suburban Metairie practice facility as early as three hours prior to the gates being opened. A similar level of anticipation was present among the coaches in their staff gatherings as well as working with players in OTA's and meetings over the past month.
Entering his fifth month on the job, while Spagnuolo is excited to evaluate his charges on the field, he is still emphasizing the teaching process and repetition as well at this point in both meetings and drills.
"When you are putting in something new, you have to go at a teaching tempo," said Spagnuolo. "You have to keep feeding it to them and repeating it. I hope that they pick it up. It doesn't do us any good to know. It is the players that have to know and they are the ones working."
"We came out and worked on the little things because the little things can turn into the big things, and just grew as a defense," said LB Curtis Lofton. "We have a goal in mind (reaching the Super Bowl), and that's what everybody is trying to shoot for."
Lofton, who joined New Orleans this spring after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons, is getting accustomed to the scheme under Steve Spagnuolo along with his teammates who return to the Black and Gold. While competition is present at all positions on defense, the linebacker position group features extensive competition with newcomers Lofton, Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne as well as returning contributors in Nate Bussey, Jonathan Casillas, Scott Shanle and Jonathan Vilma. This is a group that Vitt has called his deepest linebacker corps from top to bottom in his coaching career.
"I'm taking it one day at a time right now," said Lofton. "I am trying not to put too much on myself. It's a challenge playing middle linebacker in this defense, but I'm just trying to live up to that challenge. With the group of linebackers we have, we push each other. We are competing for spots but trying to improve at the same time."
Wiping his brow after an intense on-field workout, CB Jabari Greer feels that he and the secondary are adjusting to Spagnuolo's scheme administered by Defensive Backs Coach Ken Flajole. With veteran corners such as himself and Patrick Robinson and safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins in the fold, the secondary's elder statesman says that the learning and adjustment process is a challenge, but very exciting.
"The new playbook is definitely something to grasp," said Greer. "You have to study, you have to be cerebral and know your checks and adjustments. You have to be one step ahead of the motions and shifts. I feel like it's going to be a learning process, but we're here at minicamp to learn and continue to improve."