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New Orleans Saints rookie class learning ropes despite no offseason work with team

'I feel like this young group is doing good, especially in light of not really having the minicamp that you normally would have in the spring'

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The New Orleans Saints didn't only select the players they took in the NFL Draft because they were physically talented and filled specific positions of need.

Repeatedly, during news conferences after center/guard Cesar Ruiz, linebacker Zack Baun, tight end Adam Trautman and quarterback Tommy Stevens were chosen, the word "intelligence" was used.

The characteristic especially would be required this year, with the cancellation of offseason activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And so far, during the limited time the quartet has been with the team and integrated into the systems on offense, defense and special teams, the Saints haven't seen a reason to believe they were off on the intelligence assessment.

"I think it's gone pretty well," Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday, during a teleconference. "We went through a week-and-a-half of walk-throughs and meetings, so you're giving them basically the installation schedule.

"And then today was the first time, essentially, where we put helmets on. It was pretty much a walk-through but a little bit more practice structure.

"I feel like this young group is doing good, especially in light of not really having the minicamp that you normally would have in the spring. At some point here when we go to pad, we'll start back at the beginning and truly go through a training camp install. But I feel like overall it's gone well."

Payton acknowledged that there are nuances to the learning curve, possibly depending on the player or the position.

"Certainly, there's a challenge for every first-year quarterback, just with the volume of information and what they're doing," he said. "But I've found over the years that there are players that are smart enough and pick things up well enough to play at a lot of different positions, and conversely, there are some players that just require more time.

"A lot of it is the individual, the program he's coming from. And then part of it is just his ability to retain quickly. And we're getting a chance to see that and kind of get a feel for that right now."

Adaptation also applies to the schedule, as it pertains to training camp. The significant difference is that there will not be preseason games this year; teams are scheduled to move directly from camp into their regular-season openers.

"It's different, but we're so accustomed to adapting and changing," Payton said. "Someone said this, I think it might have been (Patriots coach) Bill (Belichick) – it's a little bit more like a college season.

"We still have a good month, month-and-change before we begin play. We'll create scrimmage situations during the course of certain practices to make sure we're getting the fundamentals of tackling and pad level, and all those things that you begin to correct in preseason games. But it'll just come a little bit more from our practices.

"I think we're going to have more padded opportunities because we're not playing games. In other words, in a normal preseason, let's say the game was on Friday. You'd be in pads during the week and then probably taper down Thursday, walk-through, play the game Friday. And so, without a specific game each week, you're not restricted necessarily to approaching that weekend the same way.

"Our first weekend coming up here – next weekend – we're not playing a game and so we'll be practicing on a Saturday, and on a given Monday. Of course, there's a day off each week, but without having a preseason game you have a little bit more flexibility to how you lay out your practice schedule."

Payton said that on the whole, he has been pleased with the players' conditioning, after telling them to report in the best shape of their lives.

"We haven't had that one test, per se, and yet today was pretty hot," he said. "They fought through it pretty well, we were on the field for an hour-and-a-half. But I think it is a process and I do think they're in pretty good shape.

"The last couple of weeks we've had a chance really to grind in the weight room and run, and I'm happy with the body weights and where a lot of these guys are at. There's that adjustment to getting in football shape, when you're putting the pads on and really beginning to prepare to play. And that's coming up here in this next month."

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