NFL Nation: Sean Payton

Saints Camp Report: Day 22

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Saints kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke both stumbled a bit during a windy practice Tuesday. Based on the unofficial consensus from media members, they each missed two field goals out of an estimated seven attempts. Neither kicker has been consistent enough to lock down the job this summer, but they’ve both been solid in preseason games (the only miss coming on Graham’s missed 33-yard extra point in Week 1). And coach Sean Payton continued to speak highly of both contenders. “I say this: Both of them are going to be kicking this season. I think other teams see us as a place that has a kicker possibly that is good enough to play for them,” Payton said.
  • Another position battle seems close to being decided. Center Jonathan Goodwin has continued to take snaps with the starters in practice all week after starting each of the past two preseason games. Goodwin has played very well this summer, calling it the best camp he’s had in 13 years. But Payton hasn’t conceded anything yet in Goodwin’s battle against second-year pro Tim Lelito. “We will see where that’s headed, but we are getting pretty good consistent play (from both), and that is encouraging,” Payton said Monday.
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson had a nice practice with a pass breakup in the end zone during team drills and a stripped ball in 7-on-7, among other highlights. Payton revealed that it was a hamstring injury that had limited Robinson earlier in camp. But he said he’s encouraged by his progress. Robinson certainly looks like the front-runner to start opposite Keenan Lewis in Week 1 -- though veteran Champ Bailey has also looked solid in his return from a foot injury.
  • The offensive standout during Tuesday’s practice was probably receiver Joe Morgan, who made a diving catch of a deep pass from Drew Brees that hung up in the air during a two-minute drill late in practice. Morgan sure looks like he has a good beat on a roster spot this year and could be on the field in Week 1 -- especially if Kenny Stills remains out with a quad injury.
  • Stills, safeties Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball, linebacker Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig did not participate in Tuesday’s practice, though Ball made his first appearance in nearly a week as he watched from the sideline. Cornerback Trevin Wade was limited. Receiver Marques Colston appeared to wave himself out during a set of team drills late in practice, then he chatted with a trainer before watching the rest of practice. He didn’t appear to be dealing with anything significant, though.
  • That’s a wrap for training camp. The Saints are scheduled to hold a walk-through that’s closed to the media Wednesday before playing their final preseason game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It should come as no surprise that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy ranked as one of the NFL's top coaches in ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando's extensive project that examined all 32 coaches Insider through the eyes of a wide range of league sources.

In a poll of 30 NFL people -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- McCarthy came out tied for sixth with Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. They ranked behind only New England's Bill Belichick, Seattle's Pete Carroll, New Orleans' Sean Payton, Kansas City's Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

McCarthy's 88-50-1 record in his eight seasons gives him the fourth-highest winning percentage in the league among current coaches with a minimum of 60 games.

Using the same voting system Sando employed earlier this year in his "QB Tiers" project Insider, the coaches were broken up into five different tiers. McCarthy came in near the top of the second tier.

But it was perhaps more interesting what some of those league sources told Sando about McCarthy.

Here's an excerpt:

Like Payton, McCarthy gets high marks for his offensive acumen and overall leadership. The Packers have won with varying run/pass emphasis and they continue to evolve as their personnel changes. But the Packers' defensive performance has declined in recent seasons, leading voters to cite the same reasoning over and over when asked why McCarthy wasn't a '1' in their eyes.

"I like him as a head coach and would love to work for him," one veteran assistant coach said. "I think Mike is a great offensive coordinator who has done some pretty good things as a head coach, but defensively and on special teams, they have never done well enough up there. There is something missing in the program."

A former GM said he thought McCarthy needed to "fix the staff defensively" while noting that the head coach must coach the coaches, not just the players. McCarthy did get 11 votes in the first tier, however. One of those votes came from an executive who blamed some of the defensive issues on personnel, noting that McCarthy had in fact made sweeping staff changes back in 2009.

A GM placing McCarthy in the top tier focused on offensive flexibility. "You look at him as an offensive play-caller and he was grinding the s--- out of the ball when he was in New Orleans, and then he changed things up," the GM said. "He developed a passing game in Green Bay, and he is just the same guy all the time – strong leader.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New Orleans Saints have gotten pretty good at these final preseason “dress rehearsals” over the years.

Their 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts marked the eighth consecutive year that they have won the second-to-last preseason game, which is the game where starters typically play the most.

As they usually do, the Saints took their preparation for Saturday’s game more seriously than other exhibitions, specifically game-planning against the Colts in practices during the week. And they came out sizzling, rolling to a 20-7 lead while most of the starters were still in the game.

“It’s a good thing, because we certainly come into this game saying, ‘Hey, this is like a regular-season game for that time we are in. … We usually prep for it like it’s the dress rehearsal for the season,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose two-touchdown performance was especially impressive considering it was also his preseason debut.

Brees was one of several key Saints veterans who made their preseason debuts Saturday after nursing a variety of injuries -- a group that also included guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey and receiver Kenny Stills.

“We knew coming into this we were going to bring all the guns out and see if we could put a few good drives together and then get them out,” Brees said. “Make sure everybody was ready to roll for the regular season.”

Consider that, “Mission accomplished.”

The Saints weren’t perfect -- especially when it came to penalties, a nagging problem that has plagued them throughout the preseason.

This time, New Orleans was “only” charged with 10 penalties, compared to 22 a week earlier. But eight of them came in the first half. And the Saints also had to burn at least one timeout because they didn’t have the right number of men on the field -- an issue that coach Sean Payton said was his "biggest disappointment."

But Payton was obviously more pleased than he was a week earlier, when he was fuming over the penalties in his postgame press conference.

“Pretty much what I told the players, it was good to get the win. There were a lot of positives. I thought the energy was good. I thought situationally in a lot of areas we did some good things,” Payton said in his opening statement after the game. “We are still high in the penalty count with 10. Substitutionally, that was a mess in the second half, part of it in the first half. We will get that squared away, and we need to because it cost us timeouts and just keeps showing up too often.”

Payton specifically credited the strong play by the Saints’ secondary to the high energy the team was playing with. The Saints had two interceptions and nearly two others.

There was still plenty to nitpick about, though, including a coverage breakdown that led to the Colts’ only first-half touchdown.

The consensus among most players was that they’re getting closer but not quite there yet. That’s how defensive end Cameron Jordan felt after he played outstanding, with the exception of one missed opportunity at a sack when he allowed quarterback Andrew Luck to slip from his grasp.

“The one (missed play) is always nagging at you,” Jordan said. “I feel like we’re headed in the right direction, further along the path than what we started out with.”

Tight end Jimmy Graham made a similar comment after the offense gave its smoothest first-half performance to date.

"It went well. Especially if you compare it, you can tell that we're just growing,” Graham said. “And to have No. 9 back is a big part of that. He really gets the tempo going early, and he's really looking to push the tempo. When we've been able to push the tempo, that's when we’re at our best, so all good things."

Saints Camp Report: Day 19

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
MANDEVILLE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • It didn't take long for safety Jairus Byrd to start living up to his reputation as a ball hawk. In just his second practice doing full team drills, Byrd had two interceptions (one in full team and one in 7-on-7). He also broke up a pass from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham in the end zone in full-team drills. "He's someone that covers a lot of ground quickly. He's really smart with his eyes. He's a veteran player that understands formations and where the ball might be going," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Tonight there were a couple of plays where the quarterbacks just commented, 'Where'd he come from?'" Payton also reiterated that Byrd is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday night at the Indianapolis Colts.
  • There was a lot of good news on the injury front Wednesday night. Cornerback Keenan Lewis and defensive end Akiem Hicks returned to full participation after being limited by injuries earlier this week. Lewis briefly had either his left foot or ankle re-taped by trainers on the sideline early in practice. Cornerback Champ Bailey participated in full-team drills for the first time since July 31. Cornerback Patrick Robinson returned on a limited basis with an undisclosed injury. Receiver Brandin Cooks remained out with a stomach virus/fever. Guard Ben Grubbs, linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig were also among those who remained out with injuries.
  • The Saints took their practice on the road Wednesday night across Lake Pontchartrain to Mandeville High School -- something they haven't done much during Payton's tenure. Payton and players said they loved the atmosphere, both the energy from the announced crowd of 6,617 and the retro feel of the high school surroundings. "I think there's a scent to the locker room," Payton said, adding that the team will consider holding some practices in other areas going forward.
  • Other highlights from Wednesday's practice: Brees looked sharp, aside from the ball that was tipped away by Byrd. He drilled a touchdown to Robert Meachem in red zone drills and sailed a gorgeous touchdown pass to receiver Nick Toon. He even took off running for a long gain on a keeper at one point. ... Receiver Marques Colston was dipping from the same fountain of youth, making two nice grabs in team drills. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman had a great night, catching a pass from Brees in team drills and later making a fantastic effort to reach for a ball and try to tap his toes in bounds in the corner of the end zone (though it was unclear if he stayed in). ... Safety Rafael Bush intercepted quarterback Ryan Griffin on a ball tipped up by tight end Benjamin Watson. Cornerback Derrius Brooks had an even more impressive one-handed pick against quarterback Logan Kilgore. ... Rookie linebacker Ronald Powell shot into the backfield for a tackle-for-loss. ... Center Tim Lelito sailed a shotgun snap over Griffin's head, but he stood out against nose tackle John Jenkins in 1-on-1 pass rush drills.
  • The Saints will be back at their practice facility for a 11 a.m. CT practice on Thursday, though they moved it indoors, which means it's closed to the public.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne go way back. Well, sort of.

Wayne, a New Orleans-area native, was among the ones who got away when Payton was recruiting the area for the University of Illinois in his final year as a college coach in 1996.

Payton brought up that memory Tuesday when asked for his general impressions of Wayne throughout his stellar 13-year career and what he thinks of Wayne now trying to come back from a torn ACL at the age of 35.

It's possible that Wayne will make his preseason debut against the Saints on Saturday night, though that hasn't been decided yet.

"He's an extremely talented player," Payton said. "I know him a little bit uniquely because I was here in Louisiana recruiting high school players for the University of Illinois, C.J. and I."

That "C.J." refers to Curtis Johnson, the current Tulane head coach and former Saints receivers coach, who had a recruiting stranglehold on the New Orleans area back in those days. Johnson helped woo Wayne and safety Ed Reed, among others, to the University of Miami. Johnson also helped lure Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk to San Diego State, where Johnson and Payton first worked together.

"We spent a better part of a week going in and out of these schools," Payton continued. "I would say we got to about 30, 35 schools. Had I been just solo with a map, I probably would have gotten to 12. But Curtis would drive in, parking lot, back door, in a gymnasium, right to the coach, where normally you might go to the front desk and get a pass and go through all the correct steps. But that year, Reggie Wayne was coming out, that year Ed Reed was coming out. There was another good player coming out of St. Augustine High School, I think a defensive tackle, I can't think of his name. There were a handful of good players coming out. So I remember his recruitment, I remember hearing what I heard from Curtis and then over the years followed him.

"Look, he is very competitive. He's the type of player that could do that, that could recover from an injury like that. And he has had a great career."

I asked Payton if he ever beat out Johnson for a New Orleans-area prospect.

"Not while he was at Miami. No," said Payton, who remains close with Johnson and the Tulane program. "Every year there is great talent (in the New Orleans area). And one of the things he is doing so well at Tulane is identifying, recruiting, and those guys are winning their battles. It starts with the procurement of talent. He is very good at that."
METAIRIE, La. -- As expected, penalties were a huge area of emphasis for the New Orleans Saints following Friday night’s flag-fest against the Tennessee Titans.

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.”
NEW ORLEANS -- Sean Payton has talked in the past about the importance of "creating a crisis" to get his team's attention. It's something he learned from mentor Bill Parcells and a tact he used in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIV when he gave some of his New Orleans Saints players a tongue-lashing for arriving late to a meeting.

Well, whether he wanted it or not, Payton got his crisis on Friday night in one of the uglier New Orleans Saints outings I can ever remember -- preseason or otherwise.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesJimmy Graham was flagged twice for his post-touchdown celebrations Friday night.
The Saints committed 22 penalties, which led to a Payton postgame tirade that channeled some of former Saints coach Jim Mora's classic rants.

And the ugliest moment of all came during a sideline shouting match between Payton and star tight end Jimmy Graham after Graham was twice penalized for dunking after touchdowns.

It was a disturbing moment. Payton's reaction was expected -- players naturally get chewed out after penalties. It's why some of us were following Payton with our binoculars from up in the press box after Graham jogged off the field.

But Graham's emotional reaction was unexpected. As veteran teammate Zach Strief said, Graham had to know the tongue-lashing was coming. But as Strief also said, Graham is an emotional player who obviously feels strongly about protesting the new anti-dunking rule that took away one of his signature emotional outlets.

Graham chose to avoid the media on Friday night, exiting the locker room as reporters arrived. So I won't try to put any words in his mouth or even try to guess whether his frustration goes beyond his thoughts on the NFL's new penalty.

But I've always respected Graham as a player and a person, as a hard and determined worker and as a good locker-room guy and favorite of coaches. So I don't anticipate him allowing this issue to fester any more than it already has.

As for the issue of the Saints' sloppy play -- those 20 other penalties that had nothing to do with dunking -- I'll rank that as mildly disturbing.

It's not something we've seen from the Saints consistently in the past. They have a smart, veteran team for the most part, with a proven, veteran coaching staff.

And you can be absolutely certain that the players and coaches will be sent a message through more tirades to come behind closed doors.

"We'll find ourselves at the short end of a game and then wonder about our offseason goals and what happened. And we won't know exactly when it happened," Payton said, making it clear that there's nothing harmless about a crisis in Week 2 of the preseason.

"We'll say, ‘Hey, when we get to the regular season, it'll clean itself up,'" Payton said. "That's silliness."

NEW ORLEANS -- Although the New Orleans Saints beat the Tennessee Titans 31-24, coach Sean Payton will be seething over the stunning amount of penalties his team committed. The Saints finished with 22 of them (14 in the first half) and had at least four others declined. Payton was already upset when the Saints committed 10 penalties a week ago.

Two in particular stood out. Tight end Jimmy Graham drew 15-yard taunting penalties for dunking over the goalpost after both of his touchdown catches in the first half -- a celebration that was outlawed by the NFL this offseason.

Although Graham obviously felt like it was worth the cost during the preseason, Payton appeared to be upset when he chased down Graham to talk to him after the second one.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' second preseason game of the year.
  • With Drew Brees sidelined again by an oblique strain, both of his potential backups played great. Luke McCown completed 12 of 19 passes for 117 yards and both touchdown passes to Graham. He was especially impressive on the opening drive. Griffin, meanwhile, completed 13 of 20 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns (though he was fortunate to have an interception nullified by a penalty). Griffin went big on a few throws, hitting Joe Morgan twice for 40-plus yards and nearly hitting Brandin Cooks for a deep score that Cooks couldn't reel in.
  • The Saints' defense was maddeningly inconsistent, allowing some big plays and long drives early (including a 64-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter). But it finally started to deliver some of those turnovers the Saints have been preaching about all offseason. The Saints finished with five takeaways (forced fumbles by Kenny Vaccaro and Cameron Jordan that were recovered by Rafael Bush and Akiem Hicks; opportunistic fumble recoveries by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Brandon Deaderick; and an interception by Vinnie Sunseri). Vaccaro also appeared to force another fumble, recovered by Curtis Lofton, but it was overturned by replay.
  • No, Pierre Thomas has not become the odd man out in the Saints' three-way time-share at running back. After sitting out the first preseason game, he was heavily involved Friday -- especially as a pass-catcher and pass-protector on third downs. Thomas caught three passes for 27 yards. As I've been saying, I expected to see him in Darren Sproles' old role tonight. … The Saints' run game wasn't very effective Friday, but Mark Ingram did catch a 23-yard touchdown pass -- showing that he'll have a chance to play a more versatile role this year in the Saints' offense.
  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis left the field with trainers during the first half. The Saints didn't offer any specifics on his injury. He would be a huge loss if he's out for any regular-season games -- maybe as hard to replace as anyone outside of Brees. Rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt also left with an apparent injury.
One of the best marriages in NFL history is heading into its ninth year. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have now been together since they both arrived in New Orleans in 2006, rewriting several league records along the way.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
AP Photo/Matt RourkeThe Sean Payton-Drew Brees partnership has become one of the most successful coach-QB combinations in NFL history.
When asked about that partnership, Payton said he and Brees were just reflecting the other night on how quickly the time has passed.

“The continuity of having someone like Drew, having him as our quarterback, has been significant, not just as a player but as a leader. Someone that each week is ready to go,” Payton said. “And you know, just last night we were sitting at the rookie show just talking about the various years and where we’re at now. And it kind of goes by pretty quick. It doesn’t seem like nine, I know that.

“But I don’t think in our game as coaches and players you take any season for granted, or any practice. Because I don’t want to use the word fragile, but it’s a profession that’s fleeting. And he’s been a huge part of us building the success we’ve been able to enjoy and hopefully look forward to.”

Among many other accomplishments during their time together, Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards four times -- including a NFL-record 5,476 in 2011. No other quarterback in league history has reached 5,000 more than once. The entire offense set the record for yards in a season that year (7,474). And Brees also holds the NFL record for completion percentage in a season (71.2 in 2011) and consecutive games with a TD pass (54).

Since 2006, Brees leads all NFL passers with 38,733 passing yards and 283 passing touchdowns.

And, oh by the way, they won a Super Bowl together after the 2009 season -- a feat they’d love to recapture.

Payton’s reflection Wednesday brought to mind the image of coach and player sitting next to each other on the back of a golf cart, cradling the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIV and talking about trying to soak in the moment as much as possible.
The New Orleans Saints are packing up and shipping out Thursday after three weeks of training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. And the universal response among players, coaches and everyone else in the organization is that they can't wait to come back next year.

The Saints' first year of camp at the new custom-built site carved into the Allegheny Mountains was a rousing success, from the cool temperatures to the enclosed environment that had just about every amenity an NFL team could ask for in a home away from home.

The Saints are currently scheduled to return for the next two years. But coach Sean Payton said, "Really, honestly, with the experience that we've had ... we'd like to be back here for a lot longer than just that.

"The setup is outstanding. And the ability to kind of stay in an enclosed environment, I think the people here have been great, I think everything about it," Payton said. "We start putting down notes as to maybe changes for next year, and it's less than a page. There isn't a whole lot."

Payton said there are no plans in place to add an indoor practice facility or bubble at this time. The Saints were fortunate that it only rained twice during 15 practices this year. But Payton said their schedule would have been flexible enough to move practices around if necessary -- and only lightning would have forced that.

Players have been equally enthusiastic about the setup at The Greenbrier.

"Oh my gosh, yeah. I already told Coach Payton, 'If you move from here, I don't know if I'm coming back," offensive tackle Zach Strief said -- though he quickly added that he's also looking forward to returning home.

"Look, we still want to be home. For a lot of us, myself included, New Orleans is our all-year-round home. And there's nothing like home," Strief said. "Camp is what it is, it's this kind of bonding experience when you go away. And it's good to go away for building your team. But it's not home."

Many other players expressed similar sentiments -- especially the ones with families. And many said they're excited to play in front of the hometown fans again -- especially in Friday night's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

But no one is excited about a return to the humidity.

"The challenge from 62 to 92 degrees will be significant," Payton said -- and he wasn't exaggerating after a cool, cloudy Wednesday practice in the low '60s.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints quarterbacks took the ALS ice bucket challenge up a notch by stripping down Wednesday.

Brees then vowed to donate up to $10,000 to former teammate Steve Gleason's Team Gleason foundation for users who retweet the video of the almost-naked ice-bucket challenge.

The video was inspired by Gleason, who true to his bold form, went completely naked for his own ice-bucket dousing before challenging Brees to do the same.

Brees, Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin and Logan Kilgore accepted the challenge by stripping down to their girdles. They turned it into one of their daily competitions by completing a series of six passes and submerging in buckets of ice-cold water for 10 seconds. Griffin was declared the winner.

The Saints' quarterbacks then challenged the quarterbacks from all of their NFC South rivals to follow suit.

The ice-bucket challenges have become a phenomenon, performed by countless celebrities and sports stars while increasing donations to ALS charities by millions, since being started by former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates.

And as The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan pointed out, Frates himself was inspired by Gleason, who has become a world-renowned crusader for ALS patients since being diagnosed with the disease in 2011.

Saints coach Sean Payton also promised to complete his own ice-bucket challenge on Wednesday – though he was planning to remain dressed.

"Look, it's close to home for us with Steve," Payton said. "And I think anything to raise awareness … And I would say this, I don't know that any individual has raised more awareness than Steve Gleason with regards to this disease."

Saints’ Camp Report Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Coaches and players were much more pleased with the effort and energy during Tuesday’s practice after Sean Payton called the team out for having its flattest performance to date on Monday. The Saints held another physical short-yardage session, and you could hear the pads popping and players shouting throughout. “I thought it was better from both sides. When they are arguing over whether you made it or not (it’s a good sign),” Payton said. “We’ll look at it on tape and try to grade each one. But I thought it was more competitive. Definitely more lively.” Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan felt the same way -- also a good sign when both sides are happy. “This was much more like it,” Ryan said. “We liked the hitting there.”
  • Unfortunately we didn’t have a great angle during that session, so it’s hard to point out which individuals stood out. But the first-string defense started strong with two run stuffs, followed by a first-down conversion by the offense on the third try. ... Later in practice, the defensive line appeared to load up on would-be sacks (if they were live-tackling quarterbacks), with Cameron Jordan, Parys Haralson, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster, Rufus Johnson and Kasim Edebali among those bringing pressure. So all in all, it was a standout day for the defensive front seven.
  • The offensive star of the day was probably wide receiver Nick Toon, who made a couple nice catches, including a deep ball from Ryan Griffin against tight coverage by cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste ran stride for stride down the field with Toon but wasn’t able to locate the ball in the air -- similar to what happened in the preseason opener. Jean-Baptiste is still maturing, though, and he rallied back with two pass break-ups, including one against Toon.
  • The Saints were visited by another golf superstar Thursday, when Sir Nick Faldo watched practice and broke down the team afterward. Whatever he said had the team cracking up, and offensive tackle Zach Strief said they tried to invite him to the rookie talent show later that night. Like previous training camp guest Bubba Watson, Faldo has a home in The Greenbrier area in West Virginia where the Saints are training. “That was a pretty cool deal,” Strief said. “I’ve never met a knight before, so that was pretty awesome. He wasn’t dressed exactly how I thought my first knight would be dressed. But you talk about a guy who won six majors, (40) tournaments, that’s a pretty impressive pedigree.”
  • Wednesday will be a bittersweet day for the Saints -- their last day of practices at The Greenbrier. A full practice is scheduled for 8:50 a.m. ET, followed by a 4:30 p.m. walkthrough. The cool temperatures and top-notch facilities have been widely praised by everyone in the organization, and they’re excited about returning in future years. But players said they’re also eager to return home, starting with their debut in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees took one small step closer to getting back to work on Tuesday when he dressed in full pads for the New Orleans Saints' practice.

Brees didn’t participate in any drills, though, as he continued to throw and exercise off to the side with the training staff as he recovers from a strained oblique.

Once again, it appears extremely unlikely that Brees will play in Friday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. But he still appears on schedule to be back in plenty of time for the regular season.

“He's progressing well,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after practice. “So all those things are good signs. Each day he does a little bit more with the training room and then out here. And we just keep working on the rehab and making sure, functionally, that we're not stressing it where it sets him back."

When asked if it’s difficult to keep Brees patient, Payton said: “Well, he has that nature in him. But I also think he’s smart and he understands that the type of strain he has is something that can reoccur if you’re not careful and you don’t let it heal properly.”

The Saints had a number of positive developments Tuesday with their injury list.

Cornerback Champ Bailey returned to the practice field for the first time in nearly two weeks after suffering an undisclosed injury -- though he was limited to walk-through and individual work.

“He’s progressing well, feeling better, and it’s encouraging,” Payton said.

And guard Jahri Evans was spotted on the sideline for the first time in a week, although he wasn’t dressed in pads and only did some light exercises with the trainers off to the side as he recovers from an undisclosed injury.

Other injury updates:
As he often does, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton referenced his mentor Bill Parcells when describing why he believes Michael Sam is welcomed as the first openly gay player to enter the NFL.

The Saints will face Sam in his preseason debut Friday night when they play at the St. Louis Rams.

"I don't know that the players or the NFL contributed to how big the story was or how little the story was," Payton said when asked if he thinks the way the NFL and players around the league handled Sam's arrival will make it less of a big deal for future players.

"I think I said this back at the owners meeting and at the beginning of training camp with our players in the offseason, if you listen to Bill Parcells' Hall of Fame speech, I think it's very right on," Payton continued. "We're in a business, we're in a league, that's striving to win. And I think the locker room welcomes all those that can help them do that. And the history of our league is to have players from every state, regardless of color and creed, and so I think the same thing would apply.

"I think the uniqueness is that this was a first. And typically after the first it's probably not the same story with the second or third. But I don't know that. Now, once we get into the game, I think that, we use this term, they're 'faceless opponents.' We're blocking assignments. We're playing against a team last year that finished strong and a team that gave us a good butt-kicking in the regular season. So to [the reporter's question on Sam], certainly my expectation would be it would not be as big of a storyline the next time it occurs. And I think history has told us that with regards to other barriers in the sport."

Payton was then asked about the comments of another all-time great coach, Tony Dungy, who made headlines recently by saying he wouldn't have drafted Sam because of the potential distractions that would have come with it.

"It would have been based on our grade," Payton said. "I read partly what Tony said. Our decision strictly during the draft would be based on whether or not we felt like he could help us and whether or not we had the grade on the player. It didn't come up, but that's what we would really look at."
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has dismissed Friday’s upcoming reunion with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as “not a big deal” as the team prepares for its preseason opener at the St. Louis Rams on Friday.

“It’s not a big topic,” Payton said. “Really, our players are playing, it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get guys evaluated. In my opinion, it’s not a big deal at all. ... It’s about the players and us preparing ‘em.”

Payton and Williams, of course, were central figures in the Saints’ bounty scandal, which led to both coaches being suspended for the entire 2012 season. Even before that, Payton opted to let Williams move on when his contract expired following the 2011 season.

Williams is now the Rams’ defensive coordinator. Adding some intrigue to Friday’s game is the memory of the 2011 preseason opener, when Williams blitzed like crazy against the San Francisco 49ers, leading to six first-half sacks.

There was a report at the time (which Saints coach Sean Payton later dismissed as “absolutely crazy”) that Payton was miffed at new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for not calling him before that preseason game to discuss how they planned to approach the game.

Regardless of all that history, Payton said he doesn’t have any plans to talk with Williams or Rams head coach Jeff Fisher about their approach heading into this game.

“No … I don’t expect to have any conversation prior to the game with those guys,” Payton said. “I am sure there are a couple of things that they want to get accomplished. There are certain things we want to get accomplished. Most importantly is evaluating these guys and getting them snaps and paying attention to how many snaps they are getting. I think typically in the first preseason game you work waves, three waves of players and then how many plays they get is really determined in how the early part of the game goes.

“I just finished telling them, this game Friday is a month away. What we’re doing Tuesday, Wednesday, there are a lot of things that we are trying to work on here that are unrelated to that preseason game. I think we have to look at it that way. Obviously it will be our first opportunity to play a game and there will be a good chance for a number of these guys to get reps not only on offense and defense, but in the kicking game.”