NEW ORLEANS —The future is where the Saints now have their focus.
Three days into the team’s offseason conditioning program, one without quarterback Drew Brees or coach Sean Payton, the message has been pretty simple for those attending.
“Moving forward, you really can’t dwell on the past,” center Brian de la Puente said Wednesday. “What’s done is done. As a team, as a whole, our mission statement is to move forward and get better tomorrow.”
Not that either Brees or Payton are missing much right now.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement reached in July 2011, offseason gatherings are taking on a different form than in previous years.
Conditioning, weightlifting and rehabilitation workouts, for the first two weeks, can only be run by strength and conditioning coaches. Players aren’t allowed to wear helmets and if quarterbacks are throwing to receivers on club grounds, they’re not allowed to be covered by defensive backs.
The three following weeks will allow more extensive on-field drills, including individual instruction by coaches, but no offense-vs.-defense drills. And finally, the four weeks after that are when the OTAs take place, up to 10 sessions instead of the 14 allowed in the past.
But for de la Puente, there’s very little that’s different.
“I think the only change is to get a little bit of individual football work you’re going to have to be doing it on your own,” the center said. “That’s something most guys in the league have been doing on their own in the past. It’s not that much of ad different. The late start was different, but I think in the end it will prove beneficial with less wear on the body.”
He added, “It makes everybody a little bit more responsible for themselves, I guess, in more of the (off) time. You don’t want to be getting really far behind on something and have a lot of work to do. You want to progressively be getting better.
De la Puente said turnout for these voluntary workouts appears to be high, saying, “I think the majority of people are there. It’s a good showing.”
Brees’ absence isn’t unnoticeable, but the blow has been lessened thanks to the new CBA rules. Right now, players are conditioning in their position groups, not a team as a whole.
In other words, the offensive linemen are working with the offensive linemen, the linebackers with the linebackers and so on.
Though there are instances where Brees’ intensity leads the way on the field regardless of the situation, de la Puente said.
“Drew sets a high standard all the time, whether it’s finishing every drill,” he said. “You can’t help seeing out of the corner Drew finishing drills.”
Vitt’s interim role
De la Puente said interim head coach Joe Vitt briefly talked about the NFL’s investigation and the resulting penalties on Monday during the initial gathering for conditioning.
But then he moved on, bringing the discussion back to football and the direction the offseason will take in preparation for the 2012 season.
“We kind of got a little taste of (Vitt) last year when coach Payton got hurt,” de la Puente said. “We kind of have had a dress rehearsal, so to say. It’s really just business as usual.
“Joe Vitt is leading the ship right now. We’re all 100 percent behind him.”
Vitt will lead the Saints now until after the preseason game, when a six-game suspension begins. He returns in time to guide New Orleans in a Sunday night game at Denver in Week 7.