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New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz, teammates, working to simulate new game conditions

'We have to find a way to get better with what we think is going to happen'

Conservatively, the annoyance provided by one Craig Robertson is the equivalence of distraction offered by a group of five to seven hecklers.

Which is exactly why New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl kicker Wil Lutz asked the linebacker – his teammate, a captain and a core member of the Saints' special team units – to bring the noise during training camp practice when Lutz lines up to kick.

The 2020 NFL season will begin without fans in stadiums. And while the attention is given to the noise generated when offenses and defenses are on the field making plays, it's somewhat overlooked that special team units – kickers, in particular – are a derided specimen, especially on the road.

So Lutz said he asked Robertson and his teammates to do the honors, to prepare him for what likely will occur this season, when opposing players will provide the only audible heckling.

P.S. Robertson is good at it.

"I think we have to find a way to prepare for something that we don't really know what's going to happen right now," Lutz said. "We don't know if there's going to be crowd noise, we don't know if it's going to be quiet, we don't know how much crowd noise if any. And so we have to find a way to get better on a daily basis with what we think is going to happen.

"When we're in (the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) with just us and another team, I would assume that every team's going to have tactics to mess with every position on the field and so, without knowing what's going to happen, I'm doing the best thing I can to prepare personally, and those guys want me to be on my 'A' game, so they're going to do whatever they can to help me be prepared. There's no better person to (do) it than Craig Robertson."

But, there aren't many better NFL kickers than Lutz.

Last year was the best of his first four seasons: 32 of 36 on field goals and three game-winners – two as time expired, including a career-long 58-yarder against Houston in the season opener. Lutz has made 87.5 percent (119 of 136) of his field-goal attempts, and he holds the NFL record with 35 consecutive field goals made on the road.

"He's been real steady for us," Coach Sean Payton said Saturday night. "He's got real good leg strength. We like his get-off times. I think that (snap-hold-kick) operation, knock on wood, has been pretty smooth.

"I know that he's someone that works just like (punter) Thomas (Morstead) does, spends a lot of time in the offseason at his craft. He's been a real good player for us and I'm glad we've gotten him, especially at a young age."

Robertson values Lutz as the "best kicker in the game," and said he's happy to chip in where he can.

"We did talk about that, that's the reason why we did it, me and (safety) Marcus (Williams)," Robertson said. "Because obviously, it's going to be a little bit different for kickers as well, right?

"When there's fans in the stands, it becomes a point of, they have white noise, they don't really hear anything. Now, they don't have that white noise. It's going to be an echo, you know, playing in a Superdome where there's no people. So you're going to be able to hear, you know, more taunting, more this, more that. So just trying to find ways to block it out and continue being the best kicker in the game."

For Lutz, that's precisely the goal, to find a way to navigate through the newest set of circumstances.

"I can have 200,000 people screaming at me and it's white noise versus eight guys screaming at it," he said. "Everyone knows it's impossible to drown that out, no matter what you say. The best I can do is keep going through the motions, going through my setup, not changing what I do.

"In practice every day, I lock in and I kick and it's like, next thing you know, I hit my kicks and practice is over. So I'm pretty good at getting through my work, zoning everything out, but in a game you're not hitting seven kicks in a row. Obviously, come the first game, we'll figure out how it's going to go."

For his part, Lutz has excelled at problem solving. The six field goals he missed as a rookie (28 of 34) equals the number he has missed, combined, the last two seasons (60 of 66). And he's working to make it better.

"I think the biggest thing right now is we are trying to make up for lost time," he said. "We did not have those two months (in the offseason) as a unit to work on our timing. Right now, I do feel like we are getting close to hitting stride, but we are trying to figure out our timing right now and kind of make up for the time that we did not have in the spring.

"All we can do is keep working together, keep trying to mesh. And so as far as specifics, I am trying to put the ball a little more down the middle than last year. Obviously, I always want to beat my percentage (from) the year before, but there as some things that are out of your control. I am working on what I control right now and, hopefully, that leads to success."

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