Saints players and staff prepare for the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl during NFC practice on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Orlando – New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson and his wife, Executive Officer Gayle Benson, aren't on the sideline during the players' stretch period, and General Manager Mickey Loomis also is absent due to another assignment (the Senior Bowl, in Mobile, Ala.).
And, too, that portion of practice took place without the musical accompaniment that usually is provided by Director of Player Engagement/D.J. Fred McAfee.
Otherwise, though, confusing the NFC Pro Bowl practice for a Saints workout isn't a monumental stretch, given the distinct New Orleans flavor on the field Wednesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
Seven players – quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, receiver Michael Thomas, guard Larry Warford, defensive end Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore – plus Saints Coach Sean Payton and his staff definitely provide a Saints lean to the proceedings.
"Man, I think that just shows what type of impact we had on the league this year," Kamara said. "To have seven guys here is amazing. Our coaching staff is here, our trainers, our equipment staff – everybody is here. It's just fun to see that."
LeBRONS 1, SOCKS 0: The Saints have a couple of notable ball boys this week in Brees' sons, Bowen and Baylen. Noticeable on Wednesday was that Baylen performed most of his duties minus shoes.
"Baylen just got his new LeBrons for his birthday and he didn't want to get them dirty," Brees said, smiling, holding up the sneakers. "He already got a bunch of grass stains, so now he's totally trashing his socks."
Payton, tongue in cheek, noticed the footwear adjustment but said the Brees boys performed their duties well.
"They did good," Payton said. "We had a little shoe problem with one of them, we got that corrected. They got the water squared away. Overall, I'd say a pretty good first day."
MESSAGE DELIVERED, AND RECEIVED: You'd have had to have your eyes closed to not have noticed the chain around Thomas' neck Wednesday. And even then, the shine might have pierced through your eyelids.
The necklace featured a medallion hanging from it, with the words "No Limit" on top, and "Mike" at the bottom.
"Because there's no limit," explained Thomas, who set an NFL record for most receptions in the first two seasons (196) and a franchise single-season record for receptions (104). "I feel like the brand, how I approach the game, I've had a lot of early success but I feel like I can still take it to another level, I can still level up, I can still elevate my game. There are still things I can improve on."
GAME RESPECTS GAME, TALENT RESPECTS TALENT: The ultra-competitive Thomas this week finds himself a teammate of two cornerbacks he jostled with during the regular season – Detroit's Darius Slay and Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes. And "jostled" is a fairly tame description.
This week, though, the cornerbacks are among his NFC Pro Bowl comrades.
"They're on my team," he said, smiling. "They're on the NFC, so it's fun. But they understand: It's a competition game. I tell them all the time, the good ones – how I envision it is, because I was a basketball guy, I liked Allen Iverson. So, (I envision it as) Allen Iverson against (Michael) Jordan.
"A.I. didn't back down from Jordan, Jordan had his name and (Iverson) still went at him. So, we've got to get it however we've got to get it. Whoever they put in front of me, I've got to handle my business. So I can't really shy away from that. But now that we're here, we're on the same team, it's a blessing. Game respects game and talent respects talent."
CAPTAINS: NFC players took a vote and named captains Wednesday. On offense, the captains are Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and Brees. On defense, the captains are Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Seattle safety Earl Thomas.