<span>The New Orleans Saints went through their most rigorous workout of the week today on the grounds of their hotel in the countryside northwest of London. The practice, which followed the exact same Wednesday routine of that the team is accustomed to at their training facility in Metairie, La., was an up-tempo affair, despite the absences of several starters who were held out of the practice session for medical reasons.
The players who did not participate in the "team" portions of the practice included TE Jeremy Shockey (hernia), CB Mike McKenzie (knee), RB Reggie Bush (knee), G Jahri Evans (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (knee) and DE Will Smith (abdomen). The only other player that was listed by Head Coach Sean Payton as "limited" was DT Brian Young (knee/foot).
Payton, though, was pleased with how the team worked. "It has been good. The hotel and the logistics of it all have worked out fine. Our meeting room space is good and having the field right here on the grounds has been convenient. It has worked out well."
Besides being over 4,000 miles away from their home practice facility, the only other abnormality from the Saints' perspective was the larger than normal throng of media in attendance, which included many reporters and television crews from the United Kingdom, to the portion of practice that was open to the media and the post-practice interviews.
"There are a lot more media than we are used to, but it's no big deal," said WR Marques Colston. "There is a lot of interest in the game and how we prepare for a game. It's actually pretty exciting to see."
The practice session was conducted under blue skies but a noticeable chill was in the air and most of the players sported long sleeved-tee shirts underneath their pads and jerseys. "It was a bit chilly to start, but once we got running around and done stretching, it felt fine," said Colston.
Much of the attention, naturally, was focused on quarterback Drew Brees, who began his career as a member of the San Diego Chargers and played his first five seasons for the Bolts before joining the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006. The connection was the basis for many questions directed at Brees after the practice, and one of the questioners asked what insights he might have into the Chargers' preparations for Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium.
"It's a good question," Brees stated. "But the reality is that there is a who new coaching staff on board there right now and they are doing things differently both offensively and defensively. While I know some of the players still on their team, it's pretty much just a normal week for us in how we are game-planning and preparing for the game."
Brees and the rest of the Saints focused intently on cleaning up some of the gaffes from Sunday's game against Carolina and worked diligently on implementing the first-and-second down portions of their game plans from both an offensive and defensive perspective, while also working on regular periods of special teams drills during the up-tempo practice session.
"Our focus has to be on executing the game plan and coming out here focused on what we are doing and how we can continue to improve and eliminate the mistakes that have hurt us in our losses," Brees said. "I was pretty pleased with the intensity of the work today and am sure that we will continue it leading up to the game. That's the only way I know how to get things turned around here and headed in the right direction."
The nearly three hour practice sessions, which began with an on-field walk-through and then moved to stretching and individual drills, saw the team's new punter, veteran Ben Graham, don his uniform for the first time. The tall left-footer became acclimated with the long snaps of Kevin Houser and also worked with kicker Taylor Mehlhaff on the placement holds, a job Graham filled as a member of the New York Jets the past four seasons.
"It's exciting," said Graham of joining the Saints. "It's been a hectic few days with the travel and meeting my new mates, but everyone has been very welcoming and we have got right to work. At the end of the day, it's football and while the colors of the uniform are new to me, it didn't take long to get comfortable."
The team concluded their practice around 1:30 p.m. local time, with many players fulfilling interview requests, and then returned inside the hotel for treatments, weight lifting sessions, a team meal, and an afternoon of film-work and more meetings.
The Saints are scheduled to shift practice sites tomorrow, as they will bus to nearby Arsenal Football Club's luxurious practice facility for another lengthy practice session.