On the eve of their preseason home opener, the New Orleans Saints returned to Louisiana following a successful three weeks of training camp at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. The Saints will host the Tennesee Titans on Friday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and will conduct the remainder of their preseason program from the familiar confines of the team's facility in nearby Metairie.
Despite a spate of nagging injuries at various positions, the Saints have enjoyed a productive and successful spell at the Greenbrier. The resort, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, has provided a much-welcomed changeup in terms of the outdoor conditions the players were able to practice in. Rather than the usual 90 degree, humid mornings and afternoons in south Louisiana, the players enjoyed much cooler conditions in the altitude at the Greenbrier, often working out with temperatures in the lower 60s with cool breezes and lower humidity.
Coach Sean Payton noted the challenge his team now faces as they head back south, having to re-adjust to the all-too-familiar "comforts" of home.
"The challenge from 62 to 92 degrees will be significant," Payton said. "For the most part, you would say the weather has been unseasonably cool even for up here I think. I think that will be a transition going back and I think they’ll handle it.”
The Saints will find somewhat unseasonably "cooler," and much less humid conditions upon their return to south Louisiana, though temperatures and humidity should be back on the rise to more seasonable readings by the weekend.
Outside of the cool weather, players and staff gushed about the experiences they shared at the Greenbrier, where the Saints are scheduled to conduct their next two training camps. The team and the resort signed a three-year contract earlier this year, and players are already looking forward to their next visit.
"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. Really, honestly, with the experience that we've had ... we'd like to be back here for a lot longer than just (the next two years.)"
Offensive lineman Zach Strief piggybacked on his coach's assessment, but also noted that there is, after all, no place quite like home.
"Oh my gosh, yeah. I already told Coach Payton, 'If you move from here, I don't know if I'm coming back,'" Strief said. "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. 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."
8/13 Practice Notes
The Saints made sure to make the most out of their final full training day in West Virginia, getting in a productive three hour morning practice at the Greenbrier Wednesday.
- Drew Brees remained sidelined with the oblique injury that has kept him out of action since August 1. Brees was, however, fully dressed in uniform and pads, but did not take part in team drills, throwing to receivers in individual drills instead. Payton says it is still too early to determine whether or not Brees will play against the Titans on Friday night, though all signs point to the quarterback sitting out. "Not yet," the Saints coach replied when asked if a decision had been made in regards to Brees suiting up for the game.
- It was a great day for the defense, particularly in goalline and redzone drills. Brodrick Bunkley and Glenn Foster stood out on the defensive line, stuffing multiple rushing attempts, while Corey White, Kenny Vaccaro, and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste broke up passes in the end zone.
- While the offense, sans Brees, struggled at times, Terron Armstead and Khiry Robinson had good days in team drills. Armstead, in particular, has had a phenomenal camp, and looks the part as he heads into his first full season as the team's starting left tackle. Robinson, meanwhile, has continued to develop as a key piece of what the Saints hope will be a consistent, reliable power run game in 2014.
- You've read this before, but, yet again, rookie wideout Brandin Cooks put on another show Wednesday. The team's first-rounder went airborne to snag a 50 yard reception from Luke McCown in tight coverage for a touchdown. Cooks followed up that play with a sweet long reception off a deep post-corner route, snatching the ball in traffic. Saints fans will be eager to get their first up-close glimpse of the rookie standout on Friday against a Titans team that boasts a capable secondary which finished last season ranked 11th against the pass. Business as usual for Brandin Cooks...the rookie keeps making plays at Saints camp.
- In the competitive kicking battle, both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke misfired on field goal attempts Wednesday. Graham went 3-4, while Dimke missed on two of his attempts. The veteran Graham still sits in the catbird seat for the gig, but the younger Dimke has been nipping at his heels all of camp. Things got interesting when Graham missed an extra point in last Friday's preseason opener. The league is experimenting with a 33-yard extra point try this preseason, and Graham's attempt clanged off an upright. Dimke's kicks were more direct and down the middle. Look for this battle to be closely scrutinized throughout the remainder of the preseason slate. With such a tight battle on hand, it will likely come down to who kicks better in the final three preseason games, in addition to the remaining practices before final cuts are made.
- As we noted yesterday, the Saints signed tight end Travis Beckum, a former thrid-round pick of the New York Giants. Beckum practiced with the team on Wednesday, wearing jersey number 81. He took the roster spot of Richard Quinn, who retired on Monday.
All in all, Sean Payton and his staff have to be pleased with what their team has accomplished as they head home. Other than the usual camp ailments, players have improved and developed leaps and bounds from the first day of camp up to now. Outside of a couple of rainy days which led to botched snaps and dropped passes, practices have been sharp and crisp. In summary, the Saints got everything they wanted and then some from their three-week stay in West Virginia.
“We’re still in the middle of training camp," Payton said Wednesday. "It will continue when we get back. We’re still making progress. Are we where we want to be right now? It’s hard to tell. We want to see improvement going into this game. I thought the last two days have been pretty good practices.”
The Saints will approach next week with a more regular season-like feel as the third preseason game typically serves as a dress rehearsal for most NFL teams. New Orleans will tangle with the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy next Saturday night, August 23, in a nationally televised game on CBS. But first things first, the preseason home opener with Tennessee this Friday night.
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