In locker room parlance, the Saints are entering what are simply known as "the dog days of training camp."
The period of time after the initial excitement of putting the pads on for the first time since last season has faded. The players' legs are weary, blisters have formed, fingers bent in wrong directions one too many times, and other countless bumps and bruises are accompanied by heat and humidity that make it regularly feel like 100 degrees or more.
For Saints players, the next six days will feature three days of two-a-day workouts, sprinkled in with three other practices lasting well over two hours late in the afternoons. "There is really no point in looking forward," said MLB Jonathan Vilma. "You just have to work through each day and keep at it and focus on improving. If you do that and not really look at the calendar, then you're alright."
Thus the hitting and competition against the same players will continue for the foreseeable future, at least until the team gets a chance to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday, August 14th in both team's first preseason game. Once the preseason games begin, the monotony of two-a-day practices decrease in frequency, although there are still enough days on the calendar for the players to notice.
"Once the games start to be played, your mindset starts to change a little bit because you are looking forward to playing in a game," Vilma said. "The practices become a little easier to get through and the number of two-a-days drops off quite a bit, then you factor in the occasional day off and in some cases a travel day, and the routine starts to get broken up a bit."
For now though, the players almost put their off-the-field routines into auto-pilot, with early morning wake up calls at their hotel, a shower and a quick bite for breakfast, the drive eastbound through traffic on Airline Drive, getting taped, dressed and then head out to practice. After practice, those players with media obligations stop by the assembled media near the players' entrance and work through the questions that are presented to them, then head inside their air conditioned locker room for a shower and in some cases, treatments.
The players then head back down Airline Drive for lunch at their hotel, followed by an hour-long rest period, then meetings and a trip back to the Saints' complex, where they repeat the morning routine. After dinner in the evening, the players return for a few hours of meetings, followed by a quick snack and maybe time for a phone call to family or friends. Curfew is at 11:00 p.m.
"It's the routine and what we do at this time of year," said Vilma. "Most players make it sound like its grueling, and to an extent, it is tough, but in the grand scheme of things, there are plenty of things worse off than this, and we know that. I know that if you asked every guy out here, they know deep down how much they love playing the game and how lucky we are to be doing this. And when you are all going through a tough time together, it builds a strong team."
Vilma continued and said that some players deal with training camp with gallows humor, often finding humor in the most mundane of activities. "I think they call it being stir crazy or something to that effect," he said. "It's taking things that really aren't funny at all but getting a good laugh out of them."
Saints head coach Sean Payton refers to the situation the players are in right now as the "no light at the end of the tunnel" phase of training camp. "There isn't a whole lot for the players to look forward to at this point of camp, other than just getting better and working hard," Payton said. "And regardless of where you're holding training camp, that's the situation."
Notes: ESPN lead NFL reporter Chris Mortensen made a stop today in Metairie on his tour of NFL training camps. Mortensen, along with a cameraman and producer, arrived in New Orleans in the middle of the night after taking their decked out state-of-the-art customized bus over from San Antonio, where the Dallas Cowboys are practicing. Mortensen's reports will air this evening on ESPN.