Safety Kenny Vaccaro said players had to perform up-downs in Sunday's practice for every penalty. And coach Sean Payton said he might invite a set of NFL officials back to practice to continue to educate players and coaches on the new rule changes and points of emphasis this season.
But more than anything, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, the players need to police themselves. Brees made that point to teammates Friday night after the Saints were flagged 28 times (22 accepted) and has reiterated it since.
“Well, at the end of the day, at some point, the team takes control of itself,” Brees said. “The leaders take control of the team, and you are accountable to one another, you police one another. If things are going to change, it has to change from within. It’s not going to change because coach tells you that something needs to change.
“Now, certainly Sean Payton does a great job of identifying problems, finding solutions and challenging the players. I mean, his message to us at the end was maybe unlike what you would think. I think everyone would assume he’s going to rip us the minute we step foot in the locker room. I think his approach was maybe a bit of the opposite, and that is, if we didn’t get five turnovers, we get beat. We know that, we have to understand what penalties do and we have talked about that a lot here the last two days. But if you want to fix it, it’s up to (us).”
The Saints aren’t alone. Flags are up throughout the NFL as more of an emphasis is being placed on certain penalties, like defensive contact in pass coverage and hands to the face at the line of scrimmage. And Vaccaro admitted that requires the players to adjust.
“It’s kind of a shock for the defense, especially if you’re aggressive and you like to press,” Vaccaro said. “But you’ve gotta play by the rules.”
The expectation around the league is that those penalties will decrease significantly once the regular season starts and once players and officials both adjust to the new norm.
But Payton -- who went on a classic postgame tirade about the penalties on Friday -- reiterated Sunday that the Saints’ discipline problems stretched far beyond the new rules tweaks.
“Typically, preseason is a time where it’s a real point of emphasis to get everyone on the same page,” Payton said. “But after going back through the film, and I felt this way after the game, I didn’t feel like we were sitting on a ton of ‘what-if’ calls.
“There might have been two. But when you get into the 20s, you stop worrying about two.”