METAIRIE, La. (AP) -The third consecutive year of joint preseason practices between the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans began without the fights that popped up all over the field last season.
No surprise there.
It's the first day,'' Houston quarterback Matt Schaub said.Tomorrow morning is the one that usually gets a little frisky.''
Four fights broke out in a one-hour span of the final practice between the teams last year.
Houston, a 350-mile drive West on I-10, is the closest NFL city to New Orleans. Many New Orleans natives who fled the city during Hurricane Katrina still live in Houston.
The Saints and Texans have a burgeoning rivalry even though they are in opposite conferences and have played only twice in the regular season since Houston joined the league in 2002.
Because we're in pretty close proximity, you might say that we have that intermingling of fans between here and Houston,'' Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.Obviously you look at Houston being a place that a lot of people post-Katrina took refuge, that might be what creates a little bit of that (intensity).''
The teams faced each other at the Saints' practice facility before a preseason game in 2008 and did the same thing in Houston last year. After practicing twice Wednesday, they will finish working out against each other on Thursday morning before playing at the Louisiana Superdome on Saturday.
Today it was pretty clean,'' Houston offensive tackle Duane Brown said.Everyone was being professional and not trying to do anything extra.''
New Orleans' emphasis on forcing turnovers caused some of the tension in last year's practices. At the instruction of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints tried to slap the ball away on every play. If it hit the ground, even on incomplete passes, they picked it up and started running the other way.
You can see why they are so good at stripping the ball the way they practice,'' Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.They are always trying to get it out, and that's good for us.''
New Orleans clearly benefited more from the intersquad practices than Houston last year. The Saints blew out the Texans 38-14 in Reliant Stadium, forcing three turnovers while giving up zero. They went on to finish third in the NFL in turnover differential, outscoring their first five regular-season opponents 192-93.
The Texas lost three of their first five games and could not overcome the slow start, finishing 9-7 and just out of the AFC playoffs.
They have a lot of talent over there,'' Brown said.We knew that last year when he practiced against them and they went on to win the Super Bowl. If we can compete against them, then we're doing pretty good.''
Schaub carved up the Saints' defense Wednesday, throwing to tight ends Joel Dreessen and James Casey for easy scores in a practice moved indoors because of threatening weather. Brees was less successful against the Texans before finally hooking up with running back Pierre Thomas for a touchdown when safety Bernard Pollard gambled for an interception in the flat and whiffed.
Schaub led the NFL with 4,770 yards passing in 2009, one year after Brees threw for a league-best 5,069.
Brees welcomed Wednesday's less-volatile atmosphere.
It's physical, it's hot, so obviously there are times when tensions can rise, but we're all there to get better,'' he said after the morning outdoor practice.We all want to walk away from this experience with everybody healthy feeling like we got something out of it and it wasn't just a brawl.''
The Saints are practicing against another team for the second consecutive week. They faced the New England Patriots for two days before losing to them 27-24 last Thursday in their preseason opener.
If you went against the same team all August, it would be kind of tedious,'' New Orleans linebacker Scott Shanle said.It's just a good change of pace to see different offenses and see different players.''
Notes: News that Brett Favre decided to play another year with the Minnesota Vikings hardly came as a shock to the Saints. Said Brees: ``I'm not surprised. The guy loves football. You just get the feeling he is going to play as long as his body will allow him.'' ... Saints offensive lineman Carl Nicks, who started every game last year, worked at second-team left guard behind offseason pickup Terrence Metcalf, who has not started a game since 2007 with the Chicago Bears. ... Kubiak said the Texans would look around but did not plan to add a running back to replace rookie Ben Tate, who will miss the season with a broken right ankle sustained in the preseason opener against Arizona. Arian Foster, Steve Slaton, Chris Henry and Jeremiah Johnson are the four running backs on the roster.