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pakowitz 05-02-2003 01:45 PM

Mini-camp gives Saints first look

Game Plan
What: New Orleans Saints mini-camp

Where: Saints training facility at 5800 Airline Dr. in Metairie

When: Today through Sunday

Public practices: Today, 4-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon and 4-6 p.m.

Admission: Free. Parking at adjacent Zephyr Field is $3


NEW ORLEANS -NFL coaches think of today as the official start of the 2003 season.

The fancy computers used to look keep track of some obscure Eastern State U. defensive back's 40-yard dash time have been put up for a while. The only personnel evaluation being done is on a select group of free agents the club is keeping tabs on.

Almost all the gnashing of teeth over what changes have to be made from the 2002 season is over. It's all about looking ahead to the next 16-game slate.

Today is Christmas in May.

That's how Saints coaches look at their first three-day mini-camp, which starts today. Time to unwrap the pretty packages and play with their new toys.

It won't be a super glamorous situation for the Saints' seven new draft picks, which includes four offensive or defensive linemen. All the practices will be conducted in helmets and shorts, making it impossible to completely workout the folks in the trenches.

Cramming five practices into three days also makes it challenging for the coaches and front office personnel to see what they've got. Perhaps the biggest benefit from this weekend will be the together time.

"We've got new veteran signees and rookies coming in," coach Jim Haslett said. "You get a chance to know each other and bond."

That small window of activity requires fast-paced practices and jam-packed meeting.

There will be at least five veterans who won't fully participate in the practices this weekend. Joe Horn is expected to sit out the voluntary mini-camp while he tries to renegotiate his contract. It's the second consecutive year the Pro Bowl wide receiver has done it.

Injuries will also sideline four other players. Tight ends Ernie Conwell (knee) and David Sloan (knee, toe) will be out as will fullback Demetrius Smith (knee).

Starting quarterback Aaron Brooks will practice, but it figures to be only for selected segments of drills. He'll probably take some snaps and make some handoffs but won't make any throws.

Brooks, who had arthroscopic surgery performed on his shoulder in January, is within a week or so of throwing, but Saints officials are being careful in bringing him back to full speed.

The tinkering with the Saints roster is not complete. Aside from the Horn negotiations, they're still trying reach terms with center Jerry Fontenot. He's an unrestricted free agent and the Saints think they are close to a deal.


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