Payton getting Saints ready to turn page
Whereas the Bengals begin their offseason conditioning program Monday, the defending Super Bowl champs are celebrating for another couple weeks before their title defense truly begins.
Coach Sean Payton wants the Saints to enjoy the spoils of a truly remarkable season, because when the players report in mid-April, the book on 2009-10 is closed.
Sure, there remains the trip to the White House and a ring ceremony to schedule, but the one thing Payton is beginning to stress is that 2010 is indeed a new year.
"I'm not ever trying to pick up from where we left off. We start all the way back at zero," Payton said at the NFL owners meetings last week. "The players, I want to make sure that feeling doesn't exist.
"I believe that once you get to the top of the mountain you've got to come back down and begin the journey to go back up. You have to start with this offseason and start with the minicamps and then get through training camp and you have to, hopefully, climb back up the same way you did the year before rather than you just stay up there trying to defend it."
Though most of the questions asked of Payton were about what it is going to take to repeat, the former Miami University assistant did discuss what it meant to see the family of Mike Zimmer celebrate the Saints' title.
When Payton became the Saints' head coach in 2006, he hired Adam Zimmer - son of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike - as a defensive assistant. The Payton and Zimmer families are extremely close, and when Mike's wife, Vikki, died in October, the Paytons were hit hard. Payton was part of the Saints contingent that attended Vikki Zimmer's funeral.
Payton got to share in the joy of seeing Mike Zimmer and his son celebrate a championship.
The Super Bowl victory also was extra special for the eight assistants who followed Payton to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in 2006, which required a huge leap of faith. Among those eight was former Miami standout and strength coach Dan Dalrymple.
Payton recalled putting together his staff: "Every phone call that you make and you talk to the assistant coach, at some point the hand went over the phone as he began to talk to his wife about New Orleans and Katrina. The hand went over the phone and then, 'All right, I can talk again, Coach.' And you know what was being said is the wife was looking at him like, 'Really?' You know the idea of possibly moving there was challenging, and that's what made it - when the game was over - so special, because a lot of people sacrificed a lot."
Payton is hoping this year's games against the NFC North will be better than in '06, when the Saints went 1-3. New Orleans visits Cincinnati this year.
"It's always been a physical division, No. 1. It's played great defense," Payton said. "... And when the schedule comes out, I know this: You look not only for those four teams, but you look for December-January and when you're on the road.
"The way (the Bengals) play defensively and offensively is impressive. Mike's done a great job on defense there; Carson (Palmer has) been healthy; they're running the ball better."
OVERTIME OPINION: You could call Tuesday's approval of modified sudden death the NFL's equivalent of the health care debate. Everyone has an opinion, and there is no in-between.
It is not the perfect system, but something had to be done to modify it because special teams, especially the kicking game, had gained a competitive advantage.
The new rule, which is in effect only for the postseason at the moment, gives a team a possession if the first team won the toss and kicked a field goal on its first possession.
It's not perfect, but it is better. It rewards teams for playing defense (either by stopping opponents or forcing a turnover) and scoring touchdowns.
ON THE CLOCK: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has seen the pro days for Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.
On Monday, Spagnuolo goes back to Oklahoma for Sam Bradford's workout, which might be the most vital. Most mock drafts have the Rams taking the quarterback with the first overall pick April 22.
"I'm getting a little used to flying in to Oklahoma City and Norman, Okla.," Spagnuolo said. "I know I'm going to do at least two more after that - probably do the quarterbacks (Colt McCoy at Texas), Jimmy Clausen (at Notre Dame) - but I'm not 100 percent sure."
BENGALS BLIPS: The official draft list was distributed Wednesday. The Bengals' picks are: Round 1. 21; 2. 54 (22); 3. 84 (21), 96 (33); 4. 120 (22), 131 (33); 5. 152 (21); 6. 191 (22); 7. 228 (21).
For those looking at a potential home night game for the Bengals, Week 3 is a possibility. The UC-Oklahoma game is at Paul Brown Stadium that Saturday and could be an 8 p.m. ABC kickoff. The regular-season dates should be announced mid-April.
The Bengals know their first preseason game will be Aug. 8 in Canton against Dallas. The other four opponents and dates should be known in the next week to 10 days. As usual, expect the last week to be against the Colts on a Thursday (Sept. 2), this time in Indy.
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