<span>On Friday, the newest members of the Saints will get their first taste of action as members of the National Football League when they participate in a three-day rookie and first-year players mini-camp at the team's Metairie headquarters.
The Saints' six draft choices from the 2008 draft will be joined by 16 rookie free agents and 36 players that have been invited by the team for a tryout.
"The goal is to indoctrinate these players into our system," said Head Coach Sean Payton. "It's a chance for them to see how we practice, learn our terminology and get them ready to compete for a position on this team. The mini-camp is here to teach them about our system, the structure and an introduction of the building and the people that are going to be teaching them and instructing them."
The newest members of the team will undergo a whirlwind tour of life in the big leagues soon after their arrival, ranging from five practices, hosts of team and position meetings, their introduction to the team's playbooks, and an assortment of other responsibilities ranging from physicals, uniform and helmet fitting to headshots and their first meeting with the local media.
The selected group of players will arrive from all corners of the country and try to make strong first impressions on Payton and the team's coaching staff and will be put through an intense three-day period that will serve as their introduction to the fast-paced and carefully orchestrated that is life at the Saints' training facility.
"Generally if the players are in shape, they have taken care of themselves and can practice hard and are on time and focused is the best way to make a positive first impression," Payton said. "They also need to pay attention to all the little things, not just the playbook, but all the specifics to the things that are going to be important to them early on in their careers. As a coach, you are constantly gathering information and evaluating and it really begins when they arrive on Thursday night."
Payton and the rest of the Saints coaches know that they simply can't roll the footballs on the field and expect the players to pick up on the complexities of the systems immediately, thus the pace of the rookie camp is adjusted accordingly.
"It's probably a little bit slower and designed to bring them up to speed," Payton said. "The players coming in this weekend are behind right now. The veteran players that are here have been here for the better parts of 30 days in the off-season strength and conditioning program. So really what we are looking to do with these players is to bring them up to speed and how we call things. There is a little bit of orientation that goes into it, because when the veterans are here, it is already understood."
While Saints' first-round draft choice DT Sedrick Ellis from Southern California is sure to receive the lion's share of attention from the press that descends upon the locker room for their first face-to-face meeting with the media on Saturday after the morning practice, other story lines are sure to emerge, as well. Stories such as second-round CB Tracy Porter's first impressions of life as a Saint, particularly after having grown up a Saints fan in nearby Port Allen.
In addition, new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will welcome in both Ellis and fifth-round defensive tackle DeMario Pressley and coach them up on the team's defensive schemes.
On the offensive side of the ball, Nebraska OL Carl Nicks, also a fifth-round pick, will try to make a name for himself at either a tackle or guard position.
K Taylor Mehlhaff, a sixth round pick out of Wisconsin, may have to wait a bit longer to get into the climate controlled conditions that the Saints often practice when preparing for a home game, as the team's outdoor fields are freshly manicured and lined with chalk.
Seventh-round pick Adrian Arrington will attempt to quickly get on the same page with quarterbacks he has never caught a pass from.
Despite the fact that the aforementioned draft picks may be close to being household names in New Orleans, preferential treatment is hardly afforded a player selected in any round, nor are players the team signed as an undrafted free agent or, for that matter, players that were invited for their tryouts.
"It's an opportunity for us to see what they can do," Payton remarked about the players here on tryouts. "We have had players in here, like (tight end) Billy Miller, that were here on tryouts before, and (wide receiver) Jamal Jones in 2006, that we've had success with. We're just trying to find players that can help our team and it gives us a chance to increase the number of players that are here and competing. We take a good look at these players and give them an opportunity to show what they can do."
Thus, in just a few short days, the newest Saints' players will be given direction, their first playbooks and treated like professionals, and it's their responsibility to take the coaching and instruction to the playing fields and display the talents that have earned them a spot in the invitation only mini-camp.
"What's most important to us as a coaching staff," Payton said, "is that we have a tempo and a pace that we expect based on the periods. It's not important to me that we get a lot of offense and defense taught as it is that we get the base fundamentals in.
"It's a chance for us to get some first impressions of what we think we have in the draft class, the free agent class or the guys we invited in for tryouts. It's really designed to get them off and running and to help them get ready for mini-camp, the OTA's and training camp."