With no sign of a contract breakthrough for Drew Brees on the
eve of the Saints’ first offseason practice, safety Roman Harper
tried to look on the bright side.
”I’m actually going to really enjoy it,” a grinning Harper
said of practicing against backup quarterback Chase Daniel.
”We’re learning a new defense and we really don’t know left
from right in a lot of this stuff, so you don’t want to get taken
advantage of with Drew,” Harper continued. ”You know he’s going
to pick us apart anyway, so why not get out here and learn what we
can and can’t do against Chase.”
New Orleans is holding its first three offseason practices,
called organized team activities, Tuesday through Thursday. Those
will also be the Saints’ first practices under new defensive
coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Daniel, who has been Brees’ understudy for three seasons, has
been penciled in as first-team QB until Brees is back.
”It’s important to know that Chase is as ready as Drew is, and
we have plenty of confidence in him,” right tackle Zach Strief
said. ”Drew is important to this team in a million different ways,
but it doesn’t mean that when he disappears the wheels are going to
On Monday, several players and coaches took part in a celebrity
golf game to benefit the Saints Hall of Fame, and some talked about
opening offseason practice. They didn’t want to downplay the
importance of getting Brees back as soon as possible. They also did
not dismiss the implications of the club’s bounty scandal that
resulted in season-long suspensions both for head coach Sean Payton
and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Yet their primary message was that they are decidedly upbeat
about returning to practice and are pulling together to overcome
the team’s turbulent offseason while keeping their sights set on
the next Super Bowl, which will be played in New Orleans.
”Guys, more than ever this year probably than in the past, are
trying to focus in,” said defensive end Will Smith, who has been
suspended four games in connection with the bounty probe. ”We know
Drew’s not there and we’ve got a lot of other (stuff) going on
outside of football, so we’re just trying to get over all that and
just focus on football.
Like Vilma and former Saints Anthony Hargrove (now with Green
Bay, suspended eight games) and Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland
and suspended three games), Smith has appealed his suspension. The
players have disputed NFL findings that they pledged, paid or
received money for big hits in which the tackler tried to injure a
Asked about the prospects for their appeals, Smith said, ”We
all feel pretty confident and I’ll leave it at that.”
As for Brees, Saints players and general manager Mickey Loomis
sound confident the star quarterback will return in time to have a
productive season. The Saints will have two more sets of OTAs – one
in late May and one in mid-June – with minicamp scheduled June 5-7.
Training camp starts in late July.
Loomis, who took part in Monday’s golf outing, said there was no
progress to report on Brees’ contract since he spoke about it on
Friday, when he stressed that a deal of the magnitude Brees will
get must be right for the team as well as the quarterback.
The Saints have placed an exclusive franchise tag on Brees,
preventing him from negotiating with other teams, but Brees wants a
long-term deal and has said he would hold out through training camp
if that’s what it takes.
Neither side has publicly discussed the gap between the team’s
offer and the quarterback’s demands, but Brees was expected to seek
more than the $19.2 million a year Denver is paying Peyton Manning,
who is older than Brees and recovering from neck surgery that
sidelined him all of last season.
In the meantime, the Saints say they do not intend to allow
Brees’ absence to slow them down.
”The good thing is the leadership on this team has been spread
among people the last few years, so with some of the key guys
missing right now, it’s easy for guys like me, Roman Harper, and
some other new guys as well … to step into those leadership
roles,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. ”Chase Daniel is doing a
phenomenal job with the offense, so as long as we can lean on those
leaders and spread the responsibility throughout the team, I think
we’ll be all right.”
Strief said the significance of Brees’ absence at this point in
the offseason has been exaggerated by some.
”Whatever the story is in the offseason, it’s overblown,
whether it’s good or bad, because there’s nothing else to talk
about,” Strief said. ”Last year it was the lockout, and when the
season started it still looked a lot like football, and the fears
and worries whether anyone is going to know what they’re doing
weren’t true. It’s the same with Drew. Drew’s going to come back.
He’s not going to forget the offense.
”Drew’s absence will be weird for sure, but we all expect him
to be there in training camp,” Strief added. ”There’s a point
where, yes, it becomes an issue, but we’re months from that
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