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Saints Settle In For Practices In California Cool

Club steps on field for first of five workouts

OXNARD, Calif. (AP) -- While the Saints practiced on a postcard-perfect California afternoon, New Orleans owner Tom Benson drove his own golf cart around the practice fields.

"I've just been showing off this ring," Benson said, holding up the gaudy NFL championship ring on his right hand. "I told them, now I need one for the other hand."

The Saints hope a week on the cool West Coast can heat up their preparation for a run at a little more jewelry.

Following a path blazed by the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys in recent years, the Saints have moved five days of their preseason workouts to this Ventura County town best known for strawberries and surfing. The Saints went through their first practice Monday afternoon in ideal conditions an hour northwest of Los Angeles, avoiding the heat and humidity of Louisiana while isolating themselves from distractions.

"When you're at home, there's always a lot going on," quarterback Drew Brees said. "When we're here, all you have to do is eat, drink, sleep and breathe football, and that's what we need to be doing right now."

The Saints uniformly echoed Brees' praise of coach Sean Payton's plan, which was only revealed to the players a couple of weeks ago. With a preseason game scheduled for Sunday in Oakland, New Orleans is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 27-14 loss in Houston last weekend in which both first-team units felt they were outplayed.

"We got off the plane, and instantly the weather was good again," said defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, a USC product and Los Angeles-area native. "It's good to get somewhere away from the hot weather, get away from Louisiana and all the distractions, and just focus on what we need to do."

With two practice fields and an entire residence-style hotel available to visiting teams in Oxnard, the Saints are burrowing in for a strong week of work. Coach Sean Payton, a Cowboys assistant coach from 2003-05, estimates New Orleans can get 25 percent more work done in the 65-degree cool because the players need fewer water breaks.

After morning meetings in the hotel, Payton scheduled a 2 1/2-hour practice for Monday, among his longest workout plans of the preseason - and the Saints still finished 20 minutes early. Hundreds of fans gathered along a sideline, many wearing Saints jerseys as they cheered Darren Sproles' breakaway runs and Marques Colston's big catches during live drills.

"I thought we covered some things that we really needed to address," Payton said. "(Oxnard) has been battle-tested a little bit. Oakland was here, and Dallas before that. All the people involved in bringing a team here understand what it is you have to do. A lot of the little things have been ironed out through the experience they've got."

Brees spent Sunday watching a surfing competition north of San Diego and taking his offensive linemen to the Del Mar racetrack. The quarterback still spends offseason time in San Diego, his home for his first five NFL seasons before he signed with New Orleans in 2006.

"As hot and humid as it is in New Orleans, you can only go so long outside before you're totally drained," Brees said. "Out here, you can get more reps and stay out longer, and yet still be on grass, unlike going inside like we have to. This is as good as it can get, weather-wise."

Other players were even closer to home: Free-agent rookie linebacker Dwight Roberson is battling for a roster spot two minutes away from his childhood home in Ventura, Calif., the next town over from Oxnard. The Oregon State product already plans to take a few teammates to his favorite pizza place.

"When I was a kid, I used to watch the Cowboys out here, so it's great to be a part of it now," Roberson said. "Guys have been saying to me, `Wow, you live out here? You're lucky.' And I just say, "I know.'"

NOTES: Saints DT Aubrayo Franklin has a sprained ligament in his left knee, not his right, as Payton mistakenly said after the loss in Houston. "We're a little guarded, but we're still optimistic," Payton said of Franklin's recovery. "Two or three weeks, depending on the rehab." ... LB Clint Ingram, WR Jarred Fayson and OG Carl Nicks left practice with injuries. Ingram has missed the Saints' last several practices with a strained hamstring. ... The Cowboys have trained in Oxnard six times over the past decade.

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