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Lyons Yellin / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: lyellin@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

Watch the video above as Doug and Lyons talk about a dominating practice by Jairus Byrd

MANDEVILLE, La. -- Though it was a Wednesday, the Friday Night Lights lit up the Mandeville High School football field while on it the New Orleans Saints did much the same to the 6,617 fans in attendance.

Hoping for a change of pace and a brief reprieve from the sweltering summer heat the team faced the day before, the Saints journeyed to the Northshore for an evening practice.

'It was good to come out here in Mandeville and perform in front of the fans out here,' running back Pierre Thomas said. 'Just to hear the excitement out of them and see the support and just to hear it was an amazing feeling.'

Thomas even joked with the crowd, telling them their presence made it more enjoyable than a typical practice.

'I like to entertain them a little bit,' he said.

By all accounts, the experience was a positive. Head coach Sean Payton revealed he's already had discussions about bringing the show on the road again.

'You just wish you could bring your team to more areas,' he said.'And one of the things (general manager) Mickey (Loomis) and I just finished talking about is next year, looking at bringing this type of practice to another region, another area.

'You can't cover them all but there are so many different fans. I think when you have an evening practice it allows so many more families to be involved because school's out, work is over with and it's a little bit easier to plan around.'

The fans enjoyed what they saw, most notably the play of ball-hawking safety Jarius Byrd, who, in just his second day of live team activities, finally got to show why the Saints doled out (at the time) the richest contract (six years, $54 million) for a safety in league history.

As the Saints' last line of defense, Byrd made several instinctive plays, including a one-handed interception of Drew Brees in the end zone and a touchdown-saving pass breakup of tight end Jimmy Graham.Byrd wasn't finished, though.He also picked off Luke McCown on an errant throw.

'It was good to have him out there in the team (drills) tonight,' Payton said. 'He is someone that covers a lot of ground quickly. He is real smart with his eyes and he's a veteran player that understands formations and where the ball might be going.'

Byrd is expected to provide a boost to the Saints second-ranked pass defense from a season ago, which, despite its lofty ranking, forced just 12 interceptions. As a three-time Pro Bowler in five seasons with Buffalo, Byrd had 22 interceptions, including nine as a rookie.

'He's a ball hawk, and everybody knows that,' linebacker David Hawthorne said. 'The wisdom and the level of play that he brings will definitely make us better.'

Payton has been pleased with Byrd's play thus far, and expects the safety to play on Saturday in Indianapolis, though he wouldn't say how much.

With the return of Byrd, as well as cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey, the beleaguered Saints secondary looks to be inching towards full strength for the first time this season. Still, Payton took a wait-and-see approach with Bailey and Lewis.

'One of the things we talked about was tomorrow would be an important day to see how some of these guys did following tonight's practice,' he said.

'We are not playing until Saturday so we still have time.We will be smart but we are going to evaluate all of those guys and then the bigger question is how many reps.'

Payton would like to see his revamped secondary of Byrd, Bailey, Lewis, Kenny Vacarro and Rafael Bush on the field before the preseason concludes.It may, however, not be possible with all the injuries.

'Listen, you may or may not have a choice,' he said.'I just think the key is getting them healthy and getting them ready to go.We still have a long ways to go before we get started.We are in camp all week next week.'

Payton said he'd consider playing some starters in the fourth preseason game if they need reps, however it would on a case-by-case basis, not as a collective unit.

'We played starters in the fourth preseason game before,' he said. 'Yes, absolutely, if they haven't gotten the reps maybe that the others have.'

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