Saints to bury Past.
Saints seek to bury past as camp looms
By SHELDON MICKLES
Nearly seven months after a disastrous ending to a promising season, the pain lingers for New Orleans Saints wide receiver/kick returner Michael Lewis and many of his teammates.
Lewis knows the wretched feeling won't go away until Friday, when he and the rest of the Saints report to the team's Metairie practice facility for the start of training camp and their first practice at 9 a.m. Saturday.
At that moment, the Saints will finally bury all thoughts of the three-game, season-ending losing streak that left them out of the playoffs last December and happily look at what's ahead instead of what's behind them.
"It still hurts," said Lewis, one of four Saints who made the Pro Bowl and the only member of the squad to be voted to the All-Pro team. "Just think about it. We had three games left and needed to win only one of them to make the playoffs.
"You just have to try and forget about that," he added. "We all know where we were supposed to be last year."
At that point, his voice trails off. Lewis knows it's almost time to stop thinking about the past and look ahead to a new slate. And new is definitely the theme as the Saints head into Jim Haslett's fourth season as head coach.
For starters, the Saints have a new training camp site. They're staying home for their 31/2-week camp for the first time in the franchise's 37-year history after ending a three-year summer stay at Nicholls State University.
They also have a new locker room and meeting rooms, a new indoor practice facility and 44 new names on the roster -- including three players acquired in trades, six unrestricted free agents and seven draft picks.
The decision to train at home was made possible by $15 million of improvements to the Saints training facility in the spring.
The crown jewel of the project is a $10 million indoor practice facility -- which also includes a weight room and cafeteria -- that will be ready for the second practice Saturday night. The state put up $6.7 million for the facility, with the Saints paying the balance.
"I think all of us are as excited and eager to get started as we have ever been," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "We're excited about the elements we've added to the team. We have some young guys and some new guys, and the excitement level is extremely high."
Loomis said the players and coaches are certainly excited about having camp at home, eliminating the task of packing up and heading off for four weeks. Friends and family will be able to see them easier, as will fans who are invited to attend the practices that are not held in the indoor facility.
There will be plenty of other opportunities to see the Saints. Four night practices, which will be held at various high school stadiums in New Orleans and the surrounding area, will also be open to the public. The exact sites will be announced soon, Loomis said.
The annual Black and Gold Scrimmage is set for Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Cajun Field and exhibition games in the Superdome are scheduled for Aug. 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Aug. 28 against Ricky Williams and the Miami Dolphins.
While there was lots of construction work going on around the Saints' facility the past seven months, extensive remodeling was also being done to the roster -- especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The Saints finished 26th out of 32 teams in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed last season, which signaled the end for strong safety Sammy Knight, defensive end Norman Hand, and middle linebacker Charlie Clemons.
As a result, the defense will likely open training camp with new starters in eight positions. The group is topped by free safety Tebucky Jones, who was tagged as the New England Patriots' franchise player before being traded to the Saints, and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, the club's top draft pick.
Other newcomers include weakside linebacker Derrick Rodgers, middle linebacker Orlando Ruff, tackle Wayne Gandy, backup quarterback Todd Bouman, and tight ends Ernie Conwell and Walter Rasby.
Gandy was signed as an unrestricted free agent to play left tackle. He replaces Kyle Turley, who was traded to the St. Louis Rams after publicly criticizing team management and Haslett for the team's season-ending slide.
Bouman will be the backup for starter Aaron Brooks, who is expected to be ready for camp after undergoing surgery in January to re-attach a tendon in his throwing shoulder.
Gandy, Bouman and Conwell, who will likely start, are the only key changes to a potent offense that features three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn and Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister, who led the NFC in rushing with 1,388 yards.
Only two of the team's seven draft picks are signed, but Loomis said things will pick up. Sullivan, the sixth pick in the draft and a projected starter, will likely be the last rookie to make it to camp because negotiations with a top-10 pick are more tedious for both sides.
"I expect, and think, that everybody will be in camp on time," Loomis said. "If Johnathan is not here, it's going to open the door for (veteran) Grady (Jackson) to take over the starting job."
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[Edited on 22/7/2003 by BillyCarpenter1]
Saints to bury Past.
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