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New Orleans Saints players return to familiar place after stressful, emotional weekend

'When we go out and practice we've got to be locked in. We won't be able to bring this into that space'

The New Orleans Saints host the Jacksonville Jaguars during preseason play at the Caesars Superdome on August 23, 2021.

It's not business as usual for the New Orleans Saints.

Not when a large chunk of the business – executives, coaches, players, support personnel and their respective families – evacuated to Dallas ahead of Hurricane Ida's landfall and destruction. Not when timeout was called, and they watched destruction in and around the city, to people and property and hopes.

But being on the practice field Monday, for the first of at least three practices at AT&T Stadium, presented the first slice of "routine" for players and coaches since last Friday, when the team finished its preparations for its final preseason game, a Saturday matchup against Arizona which eventually was canceled due to the hurricane threat.

"I think to some degree, going out and being able to practice today is going to be good for everyone," Coach Sean Payton said. "From afar, there's only so much you can do. We get updated daily, and then we'll try to communicate that to our players."

"We're here to focus on what we can control," defensive end Cameron Jordan said Monday morning. "We can't control the damage that happened (Sunday), we can't control the friends that are still in New Orleans that waited the storm out.

"But when it comes down to football, when it comes to practice, we have to focus on what we can control. We can focus on the energy that we put out for this practice, we can focus on the energy that will be focused toward gearing up for Green Bay. We're going to work hard, we're going to stay together and we're going to get the focus on what we can control."

The Saints are scheduled to open the regular season against the Packers at the Caesars Superdome on Sept. 12, with a 3:25 p.m. kickoff. After the first three practices this week, players will be off Thursday through Saturday and will return Sunday.

Likely, Payton said their return will not be to the team's practice facility in Metairie. New Orleans and some surrounding areas are expected to be without power and/or water, possibly for weeks. The definitive plan will crystallize after Wednesday.

But for several hours each day through Wednesday, players can slip into something resembling normalcy.

"At the end of the day we still have a job to do," linebacker Demario Davis said. "The show goes on. Nobody's going to be stopping the NFL season because the New Orleans Saints are going through this. We still have a job to do, but to whom much is given, much is required. That's part of the territory; we have to be able to dual shift our minds, tapping into reality and never losing sight of that but also maintaining focus, everything required to get the job done. When we go out here and practice we've got to be locked in. We won't be able to bring this into that space."

Davis said that for him, the field is a serene space.

"I enjoy the game, I enjoy the process," he said. "I enjoy obstacles and adversities, and pushing myself to focus in the middle of those obstacles. I feel like that's when I do my best focusing, when there's an obstacle or adversity in front of me that feels insurmountable. Because I know I can conquer it.

"That's my mentality and that pressing pushes me into a more focused state. And I enjoy that. I think when we go to practice, it's the understanding that I'd normally be kind of calm in this situation. That's going to be the most beneficial place, and the way I get there is becoming more focused and understanding that I have to put things in a certain perspective.

"And so, the perspective of knowing my family is safe and healthy, that's a reason to praise God. Understanding that we're in a chaotic and limbo situation, but there's people going through way worse and my heart is with them. But also understanding that we have a job to do and that mission can't be lost because of what's going on around me.

"So all of that is kind of going on and for lack of a better word, it's almost like being in the eye of the hurricane. So much going on around you, the most peaceful place is in the middle, where it's kind of calm. I think that's the place that I play the game from."

That's not to say players weren't impacted by what they saw, or heard, regarding the hurricane. Jordan's home was damaged, he said, and at least will need a new roof. But his family evacuated with him, and they're safe.

"As long as they're OK, for me, then whatever has happened to our house, whatever has happened to our property in New Orleans, that's just materialistic," he said. "We can be blessed that we have our health and we'll go from there."

Davis said that adversity such as this is a reminder of why unity is important.

"Because there's going to come a time when we all need each other and this is one of those times where we have to lean on each other, and we'll all make it through it," Davis said. "Let's all think outside of ourselves, understanding that we all probably have something going on with our homes, our materials. But they're just materials.

"We need to make sure that all the people around us are OK. I just think that comes from looking outside of ourselves, making sure that we're helping somebody that needs help and just being resilient. The positive takeaway that we can have from this is the Gulf Coast community is a resilient one. It has endured natural disasters before, has recovered from it and I think when you have something like that, you know with confidence that you can make it through this."

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