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Sean Payton: Fast start so important for Saints that even preseason matters

Sean Payton believes the preseason games will be more important to the Saints. AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have both talked about the “sense of urgency” that exists with the New Orleans Saints after back-to-back 7-9 seasons.

But Payton took it a step further during his pre-camp news conference Wednesday, saying that it’s so important for “this team” in particular to get off to a fast start, that even the preseason games will be emphasized.

“I know it’s a preseason game, but it’s gonna be important for us to win those as well, regardless of what we’re doing,” said Payton, who is trying to stress a competitive environment with his team that extends beyond the football field.

“Like, I kind of feel that the group working at the park today did a better job than the group working at the homes,” Payton said of the Saints’ trip Wednesday to help restore a local park damaged by the recent West Virginia floods. “And you pay attention to who’s doing what and how sweaty the shirts are. But that started in the spring [with competitive OTA practices], and that’s a good thing. Shoot, that’s a habit that has to be better.”

Recent history is the most obvious reason for Payton’s emphasis on a fast start. During the five years the Saints made the playoffs in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, they started 5-1, 13-0, 3-1, 4-1 and 5-0.

During the five years they missed the playoffs, they started 0-4, 1-2, 0-4, 1-3 and 0-3. The Saints haven’t been above .500 since 2013.

But more than that, Payton talked at length about one of his favorite mantras that he learned from mentor Bill Parcells, that confidence is born of demonstrated ability.

“You can talk about it, you can wish it and think about it. But until you hit that free throw or until you make that catch -- we’ve all seen that moment when all of a sudden an individual does something and then you just feel like, man, there’s a hurdle [that was crossed],” Payton said. “So I think it’s gonna be important for this team to play well early on.

“Those first four weeks before the bye will be important for this team, I think. And that’s an obvious statement, and yet, certainly for this team.”

That’s why Payton said the approach to the preseason games might be different than it is with other teams or past seasons.

“I think it’s gonna be important to compete and see guys compete,” Payton said. “Granted, one of the elements in a preseason game is getting a number of guys playing time, but it’s gonna be important. And that sense of urgency is certainly gonna exist with our staff, and I think our players already understand the topic we’re on right now.”