Call it the quiet before the storm.
New Orleans Saints players began trickling into the Saints' training facility in Metairie today for individual workouts and the finalizing their preparations of getting ready for training camp, which begins with a team check-in on Thursday, meetings and a conditioning run that will gauge individual fitness levels.
The team will officially hit the practice field for the first two-a-day practices on Friday morning, beginning with a practice session at 8:50-11:00 a.m., followed by an afternoon practice at 4:20-5:45 p.m. The Saints will have the same practice schedule on Saturday, August 1, and will then take to the fields for one practice on Sunday afternoon from 3:20-5:45 p.m.
The Saints' 2009 training camp will return to Metairie this season after spending the past three years at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. And while the location is different, players are still expecting a grueling four-week stretch that will test their physical and mental limits, especially with the ever-present Louisiana heat and humidity in full effect.
A complete schedule of the team's practice schedule is posted here and will be updated with any changes as soon as determinations are made regarding changes. Due to the unpredictability of fast moving storms in the region, practice schedules could be altered with little or very short notice. As opposed to the previous three seasons, the Saints can quickly adjust on the fly and get full practices in the books in their indoor facility in the event of inclement weather, however due to space limitations, practices that are held indoors are not open to the public.
The open practices at the team's practice facility will be conducted over a 33-day period, with 13 opportunities in the first two weeks of camp for fans of the Saints to see their team in action. Gates at 5800 Airline Drive will open 45 minutes before each practice session. Fans are not permitted to use recording devices during the practices, although still cameras are permitted. Many players will stop by the spectator areas following practice to sign autographs, although at times will be unable to do so due to treatments, meetings or other off-the-field commitments.
The Saints, who hosted the Texans for two-days of practice last year during training camp, will have the favor returned this season when they travel to the Lone Star State for practices against Gary Kubiak's squad. The Saints will depart on Tuesday, August 18 for practices against the Texans in Houston on August 19 and 20 before their second preseason game of the season (August 22, CST-7:00 p.m.).
Optimism appears to be running high for the 2009 version of the Saints, due in large part the return of nearly ever player from the top-ranked offense in the league, coupled with the addition of versatile fullback Heath Evans, who signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent in March after three successful seasons with the New England Patriots.
Defensively, it's fair to say that it's a whole new ballgame for the black-and-gold, with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams bringing his aggressive and sound philosophy to the New Orleans. In addition, there have been many key additions to the Saints' defense, highlighted by rookie first-round draft choice cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, and the additions of free safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Jabari Greer, defensive linemen Garrett Hartley/Paul Spicer.aspx">Paul Spicer and Lynell Hamilton/Rod Coleman.aspx">Rod Coleman, among others.
Many familiar faces will also be returning to the practice fields in earnest for the Saints this week after seeing their 2008 seasons either cut very short or halted due to injuries, including second-year cornerback Tracy Porter, running back Reggie Bush, linebacker Mark Simoneau, wide receiver Adrian Arrington, defensive tackle DeMario Pressley and defensive end Charles Grant.
It is expected that nearly every player will be healthy enough to begin practicing on Friday, with the likely exception being wide receiver Lance Moore, who underwent off-season surgery on his shoulder and could be limited to work on the side during the first few weeks of training camp, and rookie linebacker Stanley Arnoux, who suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon during the rookie mini-camp.
Head Coach Sean Payton said before dismissing the players in June for a month long vacation that he was extremely pleased with the effort the team collectively put in during the off-season, which included the off-season strength and conditioning program, organized team activities, a rookie mini-camp and a full-squad mini-camp. "Overall I was pleased," said Payton. "I was pleased not only with the organized team activities and the mini-camps, but most importantly the off-season lifting program."
"We carefully looked at the numbers and really the goal during this whole off-season was 40 workouts for each player," Payton summarized. "More than 90 percent of the team got their 40 workouts in. That's clearly the highest we have had since we've been here."
As such, Payton's expectations will be for the team to hit the ground running early in training camp and for the team to continue the installation of his complex offensive system, while the defense will continue to learn the intricacies of Williams' defensive system. Under Payton's watch, the team is always moving forward and does not allow the absence of players who either elect to hold out or miss time due to injuries to affect the way he conducts practices. In Payton's estimation, the players on the practice fields simply get further opportunities to make plays and demonstrate their candidacy for roster spots, while those missing time are miss valued opportunities to show their abilities.
Payton also said that the team did not hold back from installing the basis of the playbook during the off-season and the team, when they broke for vacation, would have been capable of hitting the field knowing what to do.
"We could play a game today," Payton said in early June. "All of our goal-line, short-yardage, two-minute, third down, red zone-all that stuff is in offensively-and the kicking game. In training camp, we'll have a chance to go right from the beginning and obviously get more reps at it."
With 80 players on the roster, and only 53 roster spots up for grabs, making the most of the "reps" will be paramount for each player.