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New Orleans Saints look to move ahead with winning parts

SEATTLE PRACTICE 9-18-2019

2019 New Orleans Saints
All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert
SEATTLE PRACTICE 9-18-2019 2019 New Orleans Saints All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert

Seattle – This is why the New Orleans Saints traded for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 2018, and then signed him as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

And why, in 2017, they snatched up quarterback Taysom Hill the day after he was waived by Green Bay.

And why they drafted receiver Michael Thomas in the second round, running back Alvin Kamara in the third round, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the first and center Erik McCoy in the second.

It's why they extended the contract of defensive end Cam Jordan, and added linebackers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein as unrestricted free agents. And why they traded for cornerback Eli Apple, drafted defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the first round, and took safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams in the second.

The objective has been, and continues to be, to build a complete team, that wasn't as reliant on any one player's heroics, even if that player happens to be the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, completion percentage and 5,000-yard seasons.

Now that Drew Brees is unable to play due to thumb surgery to repair a torn ligament, the Saints (1-1) enter Sunday's game against Seattle (2-0) at CenturyLink Field for just the second time without Brees due to an injury.

In the coming weeks, they'll learn just how much more evenly balanced is the roster, one that has proved capable of winning a 43-37 overtime shootout or a 12-9 body-puncher's delight – two results the Saints were able to post last season against Atlanta and Carolina, respectively, en route to their second consecutive NFC South Division title.

Those results were accomplished with Brees. The next several will be posted without.

"We're getting ready to find out," Coach Sean Payton said earlier this week, when asked if the Saints were built to withstand the absence of Brees. "But, again, that's part of our sport."

"We have 53 people on our team," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "Drew is a huge part of that. You can't replace Drew but at the same time, we don't know exactly what Teddy brings to the table. It's been two years, three years, since he had a complete, Pro Bowl season he had over in Minnesota. With him at the helm, we'll have to be able to tighten up on defense and see what we have on offense.

"The Saints haven't had to deal with (a team minus Brees) for nine years, 10 years, 11 years? Twelve? Whatever the timeframe is, there hasn't been a picture without Drew in the Saints' offices. So this is a chance."

It's a chance that the aforementioned collection of talent, and the rest of its teammates, will look to capitalize on.

"I'm confident," Kamara said. "I think that's been a message that we've echoed throughout the team. The roster, the next-man-up mentality that we have, guys being able to step up and fill roles when their number is called – guys that make plays every week just got to make plays and other guys got to step up."

Before Brees tore his thumb ligament against the Rams, the Saints weren't able to gather momentum offensively. He only was available for nine plays.

The unit continued to sputter in his absence, much of it due to the offensive line's struggles. The line committed four holding penalties (excluding one that was declined) against the Rams. Any hopes of winning without – or with – any quarterback largely will depend on cleaner play from the offensive line.

"I think communication is going to be the biggest thing with us," right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. "Outside of getting the call and getting the "Mike" (linebacker) ID'd and stuff like that, communication is the biggest thing. Teddy's obviously a very capable and good quarterback in this league, and we're going to have that this week and make sure we're solid with everything going forward into this Seattle game.

"I think it's just being able to run our blocks, avoid those holding calls, getting ourselves in the right positions. Some of those (holding) calls are iffy, but they called them on the field and that's how we've got to play the game. We've got to get our feet and get our bodies in front of bodies and not get extended and hold, and that kind of stuff. That will definitely be an emphasis this week."

Also noteworthy, to everyone, is that the Saints are different. They believe they are built to withstand it.

"You don't go into a week or a game or anything where a guy like that – a guy that caliber, that skill set, that presence – where he's not missed," Kamara said. "Of course we miss Drew, his leadership.

"But this is where guys have got to step up. A guy like me, a guy like (receiver) Mike Thomas, that have some pelts on the wall, that have a voice. We've got to fill in for Drew, and then it's a good time for Teddy to step up and be that presence in the huddle. It's challenging for everybody, but I think it's just answering the call."

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