WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The New Orleans Saints practiced in steady rain for the first time during training camp Monday. And they didn’t handle it well.
At least six center-quarterback exchanges were botched (with quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin and centers Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin all guilty multiple times). There were also a handful of dropped balls. And coach Sean Payton was especially upset with the overall energy and effort level on a day that was filled with some physical interior running sessions.
"Overall I thought it was kinda sloppy. A lot of balls on the ground. Too much for my liking, or our liking," Payton said. "I thought the short-yardage period was the same way. It was just OK. So probably one of our more flat practices since we’ve been up here. The weather’s not that bad. We’re gonna play in weather like this ..."
When asked after practice if the run drills were "live" -- meaning full contact -- Payton said, "It was live. ... It’s not a good sign when you have to ask if it was live."
The Saints don’t have an indoor practice facility at their new training camp site in West Virginia. So far, they have been lucky that weather conditions have been ideal for more than two weeks. But Payton said he was glad that the Saints had at least one practice session where they could experience the kind of elements they might face on the road.
Obviously the Saints’ uneven road performances were a huge storyline last season. And it has been a big point of emphasis this offseason -- though it didn’t show on Monday.
"(It’s good to have some days like this) because you try to have a wet ball drill day, and it’s not the same. This is more realistic," Payton said. “So more than anything else you want to see how they respond. And, look, we’ve gotta do a better job as coaches. That’s on me and everyone else as well. It was good for us to see it and recognize that we’ve gotta make improvements. ...
"It does affect how you get ready to practice tomorrow. We’ve gotta do a better job, we’ve gotta have a little bit more sense of urgency, and I’m sure we will. We might repeat a drill or two."
The quarterback-center exchanges were the most blatant and most disturbing errors. They have crept up a few times throughout camp with all of the centers and quarterbacks. But it was almost stunning how much they piled up during one set of team drills Monday.
McCown said the quarterbacks and centers spent extra time after practice working on the snaps with no gloves and no towels to get used to it.
"There’s no excuse for it," McCown said. "That falls on veteran leadership of the team, of the offense, specifically myself, Ryan, the quarterbacks and the centers, and making sure we get that handled. There’s gonna be situations where we play in weather like this, and we’ve got to be able to handle that. ...
"And it takes some getting used to, but you’ve gotta be able to do it. So it was inconsistent today and wasn’t good enough today. And I hope it rains tomorrow so we can be better."
Players on offense and defense alike agreed with Payton that Monday’s practice wasn’t good enough. They all felt that same flat energy level -- which can be common at this stage of training camp, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
"You can feel Sean when he’s kinda aggravated. You can just see it in his face," Saints cornerback Corey White said. "And you don’t want that face, so you’ve gotta pick it up."
One of the few players who seemed unfazed by the conditions was rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, who hasn’t been fazed by anything yet. Cooks caught every ball thrown his way, including a tough low ball near the sideline. And once again, he made a linebacker whiff with a sharp cut that turned into a long gain.
As I joked earlier, we’re still looking for Cooks' Kryptonite, but we haven’t found it yet.
"I played in Corvallis," the former Oregon State star said with a laugh. "It rains like this all the time, so I was kind of used to it. These guys from down South don’t always see this."