New Orleans Saints are following the wishes of suspended coach Sean Payton
James Varney, The Times-Picayune
The Saints wrapped up their pre-training camp work Wednesday with a short-handed, sloppy practice that interim coach Joe Vitt said is far from representative of the team's accomplishments over the past two months. In fact the Saints, faced with off-field obstacles Vitt described as "unprecedented," made great strides during their offseason team activities and minicamp. He ticked off a list of second- and third-down and red-zone packages the team installed, and he praised the new schemes of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
To the outside eye, then, the Saints facing multiple suspensions to key executive and players as well as Coach Sean Payton, and playing without their star quarterback Drew Brees, might seem a team in disarray. Those eyes lie, according to Vitt.
"When you take a look at everything that we have gotten in during these OTAs, it's been outstanding," he said. "The teaching has been great. Our coaches have done an outstanding job at evaluating the personnel that we have on our team, what's their strength, what are their weaknesses."
All in all, the staff and the players have lived up to the order Payton delivered when he was walking out the door to begin serving his 2012 season suspension: "Just do your jobs," he told the club.
"I think Sean would be very, very proud with this coaching staff," Vitt said. "I think Sean would be very, very proud of the job the support staff has done from the trainers to equipment men to the cinematographers. When Sean left here there was one mandate -- do your job, and these guys have definitely done their job. We're not only excited about what took place and happened in the OTAs, we're really, really looking forward to getting to training camp. This might be the most talented football team that we have had since we've been here. Now the mandate is going to be to put this thing together and move forward."
Vitt then spoke at length at what the Saints have meant to him and about the role he has been forced to fill this summer against his wishes.
When the season begins, Vitt will serve his own six-game suspension tied to the bounty system the NFL alleges New Orleans employed on defense from 2009 to 2011, but not a word has been spoken about that or about Monday's appeal hearing for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith before Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The reason I came here, number one, for the first time in my life I felt like I could make a difference with a city that was under water," Vitt said. "I had known Mickey Loomis for 30 years, and I knew what his core beliefs were. I first started working with Sean in 1997, so I knew what his core beliefs were. I'm not going to tell you that when we first got here it wasn't scary. It was. We were running in, and a lot of people were running out. That first year in '06 we brought together a football team and took them to Millsaps in Jackson, Miss. We were there for five weeks because we had nowhere to come home to. We were horrific in training camp.
"When I look back on this journey, this is the best job I've ever had," he said. "I don't like the food. I can't eat the food. It just doesn't sit well with me (laughing), but I love the people. The fans here are great. The passion for football, the resolve of this community, this is the best place I've ever lived."
Vitt, a south Philadelphia product loyal to the Italian dishes and cheesesteaks for which his home neighborhoods are famous, declined to elaborate when asked about the thumbs down he gave New Orleans' celebrated cuisine. He also declined to characterize what he says have been his daily chats with Brees, still locked into negotiations over a long-term contract.
But he didn't shy from the general topic about what this team, which will not gather again on the field until training camp opens July 27, must overcome.
"I don't think that there has been anything that has been easy this offseason," he said. "I don't expect that to be easy. I don't think anyone around here thinks that it is going to be easy. To this point, we have not talked about it. It's like I told you guys that the beginning of OTAs, we wanted to have great OTAs with great teaching sessions. We wanted to have great participation by our players, and when this phase is over we will get into the next phase of training camp."
Quarterback Chase Daniel, who far has taken advantage of Brees' absence to burnish his backup credentials with the team, said he believes he accomplished that mission.
"I think it went as well as it could possibly go for me," he said. "I think the main thing that I was wanting to do was to get the confidence of my teammates. I think without a doubt, I've done that. The guys believe in me. They know I can run this offense and win in the NFL. Quite frankly, I think I can, too. Do I have a long way to go? Absolutely, but I think this was the perfect opportunity for me to get into the type of offense we have, show the coaching staff and show my teammates, the players, that I can do it in a season if my name is called upon."
Perhaps the only player mischievously sidestepping Vitt's dictum that the next month should be devoted to mental and physical preparation for training camp was safety Roman Harper. He employed one of his standard jokes this time of year, saying he was looking forward "to working on my golf game and my tan."
Harper will get a chance to do both today when Vitt perpetuates a Payton tradition by taking the team out of the facility for the last day of OTAs. The Saints will have a golf scramble, and Daniel acknowledged his high-tech hand brace covering a hairline fracture of his right thumb means he will not be able to tee it up. That's a blessing for his teammates, Daniel said, because he had every intention of winning the scramble.
New Orleans Saints are following the wishes of suspended coach Sean Payton - New Orleans Saints Football NFL News - NOLA.com
Sean Payton: "Just do your jobs," he told the club.
Joe Vitt: "When I look back on this journey, this is the best job I've ever had," he said. "I don't like the food. I can't eat the food. It just doesn't sit well with me (laughing)...
Roman Harper: "looking forward to working on my golf game and my tan."
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