Photos of New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Micky Loomis at the pre-training camp press conference at Ochsner Sports Performance Center on July 25, 2018.
The New Orleans Saints, as expected, will not enter training camp as a team that considers itself complete. It's doubtful that status ever will be attained.
But New Orleans is closer than it has been in previous years, coming off an NFC South Division title and wild card playoff game victory, with a roster stocked with young and hopefully ascending players.
"I think that we probably feel like we have fewer holes," General Manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of training camp. "We had a good crop of young players come in last year and contribute, some unexpectedly. I don't think you ever expect real heavy contributions from first-year players, like the kind that we got.
"I think overall we've got a young team. We've got a lot of first- and second-year players, along with our rookies. I'm anxious to see how those guys develop and get better, so I think we feel good about that."
The Saints had one of the best rookie classes in NFL history in 2017, headlined by the NFL's Defensive (first-round pick Marshon Lattimore) and Offensive (third-round pick Alvin Kamara) Rookies of the Year.
Several of them, including Lattimore and second-round pick Marcus Williams, significantly contributed to the Saints' defensive improvement. That unit appears even more deep and talented than last year.
"I think, like in every camp, you're wanting to accomplish a handful of things – the improvement in areas we felt like we weren't as strong in a year ago, and that being said, the competition within the position groups," Coach Sean Payton said. "There'll be a number of guys competing for jobs and also competing for playing time. All of that begins to take place here and there is that sense of urgency because you know you're getting ready to move into the padded practices and very soon, preseason games.
"I think we're a young team. That's exciting. Obviously, when the season ends the way it does, you have a bitter taste in your mouth. You're having some success, and yet it ends in a tough fashion. There's a process that's involved and I think it's very important as we begin the process of building and putting together the 2018 team."
Thursday's non-padded workout will begin the Saints' second consecutive training camp at the team's practice facility, after three straight years at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Camp in Louisiana carries with it the need for extra precautions.
"As a head coach, the very first think I was taught was securing the proper practice field and making sure that it's safe," Payton said. "In other words, you're trained to look at things with regards to the sideline, you're trained to look at things with regard to the weather.
"Obviously, we get thunderstorms here, and we've got to be mindful of that. The heat is no different. I think probably, one of the things that first comes to my mind is, we just take more and more breaks to keep the body temperature from getting past a safe spot. We do have a cool zone, a tent area. And there'll be times where we go inside because of the heat. But part of that is really paying attention to the day, the period, your team and how guys are behaving and how they're performing.
"Our first meeting today at 2 was spent on hydration, was spent on the proper footwear, handling the heat and rest. That meeting we used to have 10 years ago handled all sorts of areas. We're to the point now where that 2 o'clock meeting is strictly medical, and for a good reason."