- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- A theme emerged while coach Sean Payton rattled off the qualities of several of the New Orleans Saints' draft picks during rookie minicamp. Leaders, high-character guys, hard workers, tough guys. When asked about that trend, Payton stressed that it's no coincidence.
"Make no mistake about it, [it was] one of the messages way prior to the draft," said Payton, who said the Saints specifically looked at what made their 2006 draft class successful, led by picks like Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Rob Ninkovich, Zach Strief and Marques Colston.
"Every one of those guys has some common boxes that are checked off, and we've gotta make sure we're doing the same thing and clearly look at those traits that we've always valued," Payton said. "And that was a big emphasis here with this class. You start going through the picks here and checking them off. It's a hard league to make it in, and there's some toughness that's needed, and guys gotta be sharp and guys gotta have passion.
"If you go back and have the review of prior drafts and you look at players that didn't hit, there's a good a chance maybe one of those boxes was a little gray or it wasn't as clean. So production's important, and yet you kind of factor all of these things in."
Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and team leaders like Drew Brees and Strief have been stressing since last season that the Saints need to improve intangibles like leadership, professionalism and maturity after last season's collapse, which included some stunningly-lethargic losses.
When Payton was asked if team chemistry needs to improve dramatically, he said yes, but it's a "fickle thing."
"We felt like it needs to be better, and that starts with us [as coaches] and that starts with me," Payton said. "Chemistry is a fickle thing because you can win some games early and say, ‘Hey, we had great team chemistry.' Typically that specific topic is tested through adversity. So when you face a loss or two losses or you face a tough overtime game, it gets put to test more readily than if you win.
"We understand and know, a 16-game season, we're going to have some tough stretches, but we've gotta be able to battle back. So I think back to the makeup with regards to our [past] success and when we've been successful, that was a big point of emphasis."