NEW ORLEANS -- If the Saints’ returning to the heat and humidity for training camp brings a fraction of the endurance Sean Payton displayed during his opening press conference, the Saints may be just fine in 2017.
Payton talked for a lengthy 45 minutes about the state of the team on the eve of the team’s first camp away from West Virginia in four seasons. Topics covered included replacing Terron Armstead (though Payton believes he will play at some point this season), positional battles on defense, and the head coach even reflected back on his first training camp with the team in Jackson, MS.
“In ’06 we had the conditioning test in the AM on that AstroTurf and that was about 125 degrees,” Payton said, “and in the PM we had a padded practice.”
Those two-a-days are long-gone, but like this offseason, few had hopes that sweltering summer that the Saints would be successful following a Katrina-devastated 3-13 finish in 2005. All the team ended up doing that year is win the team’s third division title & reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time, something Payton could hardly foresee that August.
“I can recall sitting in the locker room after a preseason loss to Dallas, telling Mickey we weren’t going to win a game,” he said. “This is the time of the year where hope is across the whole league and as the months go forward it begins to diminish in some cities, and we’ve got to find a way this year to make sure it’s not happening here.”
Achievements like those in 2006 may be a bit lofty for the Saints at this point, but the fact is the cool weather and mountains of West Virginia are far in the rear-view mirror.
Payton and the Saints staff annually talk about each Saints team being a different group than the previous year, but the sauna-like setting in which this team will begin the 2017 season on Thursday morning is a long, long way from The Greenbrier….and it should be. Fans have already snatched up all available tickets for both Saturday and Sundays practices. There’s excitement surrounding new players like Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn and A.J. Klein.
However, wins this season may be hard to come by. The Saints will be clear underdogs in their first two regular season games against the Vikings and Patriots. The roster is full of young talent which will have to overcome injuries on both side of the ball, and they’ll have to do it quickly.
Each of the last three seasons, the Saints started the regular season 1-3. The last two seasons brought winless preseasons as well, and while meaningless in the record books, those showed that by the time the team returned to the Louisiana heat after training camp there was little to be excited about in the locker room.
Ask any Saint (well, ask the only two remaining who were there, Drew Brees and Zach Strief) what that trial-by-fire training camp in Jackson did for the team in 2006. When the Saints wrap up their opening session Thursday on Airline Drive, the temperature is expected to be approaching ninety degrees.
This year’s camp may not provide the motivation that 2006 team gained in Jackson, but it will hopefully help this year’s team feel the heat needed to start the season off right.