<span>The New Orleans Saints returned to the practice field this afternoon for a lengthy practice session that focused on the team working on fundamentals and certain other aspects of preparation as they begin on-field groundwork for their NFC Divisional Playoff game next Saturday afternoon at the Louisiana Superdome.
"We had a really good day of meetings and practice," said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. "I'm pleased with the work we got in today and believe it will be very similar tomorrow."
Today's practice, the first of two this weekend, took place hours before the commencement of the NFL's Wild Card weekend. The game with ramifications for the Saints (this evening's Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys) doesn't begin until 7:00 p.m. central time. If the Eagles win the game, the Saints would host the Eagles next Sunday (3:30 p.m. CT). On the other hand, if the Cowboys win the contest they (Dallas) would be pitted against the Minnesota Vikings next week in the other divisional playoff game, while the Saints would be forced to wait until the conclusion of the Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Wild Card game tomorrow afternoon.
"It's one of those things that you pay attention to because obviously there are things that could happen, like the Eagles winning tonight, that will set the stage for what our next week looks like," said C Jonathan Goodwin, the NFC's first alternate at center for the Pro Bowl. "(Tonight's) really a chance to get off your feet, get some more rest and look for any little thing that you can look for in case we're playing the Eagles. If not, then you do the same thing tomorrow."
Payton said that this weekend's practice schedule allows the team to concentrate on sharpening the skills of the players and also using the time to self-scout the Saints and carefully monitor the progress of the team.
"You want to be smart with the time, and this gives us the time to go back and look carefully at a lot of things and then get out on the practice field and make corrections and adjustments," Payton said.
Starting strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said that the practice tempo was fast and intense, with the offense and defense working against each other, as opposed to working against scout teams. "Guys were flying around and that's a combination of players being well-rested and then adding in the normal competitive things that we do against each other and the faster you practice, the better you simulate the games," Fujita said. "We know what's at stake and we're getting ready. It was good work today."
Fujita said that for the most part he would watch the game tonight after it has already started via his digital television recorder, thus allowing him to fast forward to when the NFC teams have the ball. "No commercials," he said. "I will be watching the other offenses to see if there is anything I can pick up on, but you really can't see that much on the broadcast copies. You really can see a whole lot more from the coaching film and that's what we're used to getting ready for the game plans with anyway. But sure, I'll pay attention."
After tomorrow's practice the Saints will get their normal day off, followed by a routine practice schedule that will move up a day, with the team conducting a normal Wednesday-style practice on Tuesday, a normal Thursday-style practice on Wednesday, a normal Friday-style of practice on Friday and a walk-though, usually held on Saturday's to be held on Friday.
"Then it becomes a normal routine," Payton said. "But we've done quite a bit of work on the teams that are in the playoffs. We've done our homework and then once we know who we're going to play next week, then we will really focus in and hone in on getting ready."
The Saints, just as their opponents will be required to do, will submit their first practice participation report of the week on Wednesday. Payton shed little insight into the current overall health of the team during his briefing with media members following practice, but certainly the extra days rest that he afforded the players could only serve to help mend the various nicks and bruises accumulated over the course of the grueling NFL regular season. Team members that required rehabilitation or treatment of injuries were required to be at the Saints' complex throughout the past week, while players that were in better shape were allowed to take a few days off.
"All those guys are doing well," Payton said of the litany of injured players that were on the Saints' most recent injury report prior to the season finale at Carolina a week ago.
Payton said that he and the staff have already undergone extensive review and scouting of all of the remaining teams left in the NFC playoff race, with particular emphasis on the three teams the Saints could potentially play next Saturday.
"It will be a late night tomorrow night," Payton admitted. "We (the coaching staff) will be in the office early tomorrow morning and are ready to work as late as we need to in order to (get the game plan) get ready."