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Off And Running

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The New Orleans Saints began their 12-week strength-and-conditioning program for the 66 players currently on the team's roster today. Under the direction of Strength and Conditioning Coach Dan Dalrymple, the Saints' players returned to New Orleans with the intent of preparing for the 2008 season, and by all accounts, day one was a rousing success.

The majority of the work the players will undergo throughout the course of the stringent voluntary program focuses equally on weight training, conditioning and speed development for those players that are physically at the point of being able to fully participate. A handful of other players, such as CB Mike McKenzie and RB Deuce McAllister, are still in phases of injury rehabilitation that may limit some of the exercises that they are able to perform, while still being able to join in the important camaraderie and team-building principles that take place through working together.

"It's good to be back around the guys and catch up," said LB Scott Fujita. "I know that in speaking to the rest of the guys, we want to put the bad taste out of mouths and get started towards our goals in 2008. That's why we are all here and it's great to see virtually every guy here right off the bat."

A few players, including DT Hollis Thomas and QB Drew Brees, are representing the team at NFL Players Association meetings in Hawaii, but are expected to return to New Orleans in the very near future.

Head Coach Sean Payton said today that the off-season work that the players invest in is important for a number of reasons, primarily the ability of the players to get in peak physical condition after having allowed their bodies proper rest over the course of the past two and a half months. "These are professional athletes and this is their vocation," Payton said, sporting a muted green sports shirt in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. "There are a lot of prideful players in that locker room and it's good to see them excited about what lies in front of them. They know the off-season program is challenging but it's for their best interests and most importantly, for the success of our team."

The strength and conditioning sessions will transition into some on-the-field work later in the spring with three weeks of organized team activities (OTA's), while there will also be a mini-camp (May 9-11) soon after the NFL Draft, as well as a full-squad mini-camp (May 30-June 1).

Payton, along with the rest of the Saints' front office and coaching staff, have been busy at work in re-tooling the composition of the team's roster with a handful of new players, including MLB Jonathan Vilma, LB Dan Morgan, CB Randall Gay, DE Bobby McCray and QB Mark Brunell. Many other players re-signed with the team, thus insuring stability and consistency in the team's team-first approach, including such notable contributors such as LB Mark Simoneau, TE's Eric Johnson and Billy Miller, RB Aaron Stecker, WR David Patten, among others.

"That is an important part for all of us," Payton said of the infusion of new players and the chemistry that is associated with the newcomers blending in to the composition of the returning players. "The one thing that I know is that we have a locker room that is made up of good, solid individuals who understand how important teamwork is, and I also feel strongly that we have spent a lot of time thinking and talking and researching them, before we added them, about the new players that we have brought in and what positive impacts they will have on the make-up of our roster. That is important to me and important to us."

Players were given the option of working either in the morning or in the afternoon, with a full-team meeting sandwiched around the workouts sessions. The meeting, according to Payton, was to outline the expectations of what the strength-and-conditioning sessions will entail, the importance of participation, and of the challenges and opportunities that lie in front of the 2008 Saints.

Payton also mentioned that in discussions with RB Reggie Bush, he expects Bush to be a regular in this year's program. Last season Bush split time between his West Coast home and New Orleans. News that evidently pleased Payton, "He (Reggie) is planning on being involved in all of our off-season, which is good and encouraging. I think it's important for him and for all running backs, with the pounding they take, to be real diligent in the weight room."

The team's roster, now in the mid 60's, will swell to close to 80 players in a less than two months, pending the team's 2008 Draft class and incoming rookie free agents. When asked about the direction the team may head in late April's Draft, Payton, as expected, said that the team was still in the process of evaluating all of the draftable candidates and didn't shed any particular insight into what direction the team may head with the 10th overall pick.

"Clearly we will be looking to get a player there that can help us," Payton said. "But I know that our feeling is that we want players in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, as well. We have had players here that were taken in all of those rounds that we count on and we believe that will continue."

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