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JOESAM2002 07-25-2003 11:30 AM

Goin Campin........
Friday July 25, 2003

By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer

The Saints' gleaming new practice facility, replete with air conditioning, a full-service cafeteria and state-of-the-art sound system, more closely resembles a country club than a training complex.

But Saints players who think training camp will be Club Med are in for a rude awakening, Coach Jim Haslett said.

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Players who aren't in shape when they report to camp today will know it as soon as they hit the field for workouts Saturday morning.

Rumors of a kinder, gentler Haslett have been greatly exaggerated.

"I already told (right guard) Kendyl (Jacox), 'You better get ready because I'm going to wear you out,' " Haslett said. "It's going to be like my first year here. The players aren't going to like me too much after this camp."

With the possible exception of first-round draft pick Johnathan Sullivan, who is mired in contract negotiations, Saints officials expect all 90 players to report to the team hotel by today's 6 p.m. deadline.

To a man, the players, coaches and staff are eager to put the disappointing 2002 season -- the grim 0-3 finish, in particular -- behind them.

"It's no secret that we are anxious to get rid of the bitterness from the end of last season," General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "We are ready to roll."

Saints fans have shown their excitement. The club has sold more than 50,000 season tickets, a 31 percent increase from last season.

"I can't remember a time being more excited about starting camp than this season," Director of Player Personnel Rick Mueller said. "We think it's the best team we've had since we've been here."

Others are not as optimistic. The Saints are an almost unanimous preseason pick in preseason polls to finish third in the NFC South Division. Defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and Atlanta, which swept New Orleans last season, are the favorites to win the division.

"It's hard to say how things will play out, but I like our football team," Haslett said. "We're young, but we've got some talent. It's going to depend on how fast we mature and come together."

The roster includes 42 new faces, including six veteran free agents and three players acquired via trade. The defense could have as many as eight new starters. The offense returns mostly intact, but will feature key battles for starting spots at tight end, wide receiver and tackle.

"I think time will tell how fast we mature," Haslett said.

A trio of high-profile visitors are tentatively scheduled to observe camp. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana is expected to visit for a few days and spend time with Aaron Brooks. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who was an offensive assistant on the Kansas City Chiefs staff in 1993 and 1994 when Montana was quarterback, sees similarities in the personality and demeanor of the two quarterbacks.

Haslett has invited former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin to observe camp and offer advice. Former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy also is scheduled to visit.

The Saints added a pair of NFL Europe players to the roster in preparation for camp. Deveron Harper, a 5-11, 187-pound cornerback, played for the Scottish Claymores and spent time with the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and 2000. Peter Heyer, a 6-4, 310-pound offensive guard, played the 2002 and 2003 seasons for the Rhein Fire.

The team will conduct 30 practices in the 28 days before breaking camp Aug. 21. Five of the workouts will be held in the new $15.25 million indoor training facility.

Four of the night workouts will be held off-site at local venues. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Saints will practice at Destrehan High School. At 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5, they'll work at Mandeville High School. Contracts for workouts at West Jefferson High School and Tad Gormley Stadium are expected to be completed soon, officials said.

"I think it is going to be a fun camp," Haslett said. "Being an ex-player, I don't really get too excited about training camp. I can probably say for the first time that I am really looking forward to it. We are trying to be cautiously optimistic, but I like the makeup of our football team."

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