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Training Camp

The fun continues for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees

'We have to get the best out of ourselves by expecting it out of ourselves'

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This isn't a Benjamin Button thing, where his chronological age is stuck in reverse.

But it doesn't appear to have ascended to 39, either, considering the way Drew Brees entered the 18th training camp of his Hall of Fame career.

"I'm still having fun, still having a lot of fun," Brees said Thursday. "Every year is a new year, it's a new challenge, it's a new team. A lot of the same challenges and same goals and aspirations that you start every training camp with, but there's always new dynamics and new circumstances and new guys that you're trying to get used to.

"And (there's) just that same level of excitement, though, and anticipation for what we can be. This is where we build it, this is where we establish our identity, and (I'm) just excited to get started."

In fact, optimism permeates the roster. The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South Division title last year and a playoff game, before falling one play short of advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

While those results offer no guarantees for this season, expectations are high for a team that has an effective mix of veterans and youth. They're significantly higher than recent seasons that began after three consecutive 7-9 finishes. And Brees is poised to break the NFL all-time record for passing yards; he enters the season with 70,445, and Peyton Manning's record total is 71,940.

"I think you still take the same approach," Brees said. "I think that there's probably more challenges with higher expectations. Everyone loves the underdog mentality; it's easy to get motivated with the underdog mentality.

"It's a little bit harder to maintain that level of focus and concentration when you're supposed to be, or you're expected (to be a contending team). But then again, if we want to be a great team, we have to be able to embrace that and we have to get the best out of ourselves by expecting it out of ourselves, and not worrying about what other people expect of us. It's really about what we expect of ourselves and each other."

It's a similar feeling to 2014, when, after a successful '13 season – an 11-win regular season and wild card victory, which was the first road playoff win in franchise history, before an eight-point road loss to Seattle in the divisional round – the Saints appeared to be on the verge of sustained success.

But that was followed by the three consecutive 7-9 seasons.

"Similar talk and yet, completely different locker room, completely different circumstances," Brees said. "We had the success in '13 where we felt like, hey, we had a team that was good enough to (win the Super Bowl) and lose to Seattle, and they go on and win the championship. So we felt like we were there and ready to take the next step and yet, that offseason, we lost five pretty incredible leaders and highly productive players out of the locker room, on both sides of the ball.

"And it changed the culture a little bit, it changed the dynamics a little bit. Looking back on it, we realize that. At the time we felt like we're young, we're talented, guys are ready to step up and unfortunately, that just wasn't the case.

"I think differently this year is that, yes, we're coming off a successful season last year as far as getting close to and feeling like we were there to accomplish what we had set our goals toward. I'd say the difference is we haven't lost veteran guys, we've gone out and acquired some more veteran leadership and some guys that are great in the locker room, great leaders.

"And we've got this young talent that is continuing to develop. You're always looking forward to seeing that jump from Year 1 to Year 2 for certain guys, from Year 2 to Year 3 for other guys. But it is about making sure that you have the cultural foundation, which we did not have back in '14. I feel like we have it this year. We have to continue to cultivate it."

The leader of that endeavor, as usual, is Brees, whose enthusiasm matches his drive. It's why he keeps doing what he's doing, and defying the odds all the while.

"There's still a lot of things I want to accomplish," he said. "And I understand the amount of work and effort that it's going to take to accomplish those things. And I understand that I don't have a whole lot of time left. So I'm going to stay in the moment, I'm going to enjoy every second of it because I know when it's over, it's over. There's no coming back.

"I want to be able to look back and say, 'Man, I gave it everything I possibly could. I enjoyed every second of it. And now I can move on to the next chapter of my life and be at peace with that.' But there's still a lot of things to accomplish and I know in order to accomplish those things – and there are lots of goals – I've got to work. I've got to work and have high expectations, and sacrifice. Do even more now than maybe I ever have."

Look at photos from Day 1 of New Orleans Saints Training Camp 2018 presented by Verizon at Ochsner Sports Performance Center on July 26, 2018.

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