Healthy this time, Brees challenges team, city, to do better
For Drew Brees, training camp is a breeze, compared to this time last year.
A year ago, his throws were limited by a shoulder injury and doctor's orders. This year, nobody's worried about the health of his throwing arm -- or about whether the Saints are any good.
He says he feels much farther along offensively than he did last year.
If that's truly the case, defenses could be in trouble, since Brees led the league in passing last season.
A year ago, the San Diego Chargers had let him become a free agent, and the Saints outbid the Miami Dolphins for his services.
Brees entered 2006 training camp with a 6-year contract in which only the first year was guaranteed.
He had such a good year he was the NFC starter in the Pro Bowl.
He says the Saints fell a game short of their real goal last year -- a Super Bowl victory. He says their attitude now is "Expect more" -- and that also should be the motto of all New Orleans, as it rebuilds.
Being on the bubble is old hat for Stecker
Don't count Aaron Stecker out just yet.
The versatile veteran running back said he wasn't about to assume his time in a Saints uniform was up when New Orleans traded up in the fourth round of the NFL draft to take Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman.
Stecker says every year, he's felt that he was on the bubble and had to do his best to remain on the team.
Stecker came to the Saints in 2004 from Tampa Bay, which won the Super Bowl in 2003.
Before Reggie Bush arrived, Stecker was the smaller, quicker, more elusive running back who would catch screen passes or run short receiving routes out of the backfield.
Last season, he was used more sparingly in the offense and got most of his action in the passing and kicking games.
Barring injuries to either Bush or McAllister, Stecker likely would see limited time in the field this season as well, especially if Pittman shows promise. But Stecker appears to be in excellent shape, and believes his versatility and playoff experience make him valuable to a team that is no longer rebuilding, but rather trying to make it to the Super Bowl.
Brees and Payton sign autographs long after other Saints
Quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton often talk about how well their philosophies mesh when in comes to game planning and play-calling during the game.
Saturday afternoon, they appeared to be like-minded in community relations, as well.
Nearly 2,000 fans attended a hot afternoon practice held in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. When coaches sounded the final horn, many gathered behind a fence along the sidelines, seeking autographs.
Many players obliged for a few minutes. Brees and Payton kept signing for more than a half-hour, missing the team bus back to the Millsaps College campus a few blocks away. The team's chief spokesman and marketing director drove them back to campus on golf carts.
About 3,700 attend Saints practices
A bit more than 3,700 people came out to watch the New Orleans Saints practice Saturday, with about 2,000 of them at the afternoon practice.
The Saints ran a number of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 plays during the afternoon practice. Those are the plays observers seem to enjoy most.
Although defenders generally don't tackle ball carriers in such sessions, long runs by Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush enlivened the crowd.
Quarterback Drew Brees also hit receiver David Patten with a long, pinpoint accurate pass, his third such catch in the last three practices.
Devery Henderson also made an acrobatic catch along the sidelines.
Johnson back on the field
New Orleans Saints tight end Eric Johnson, who missed Friday afternoon's practice with a migraine, returned to the field for both of Saturday's sessions.
But defensive tackle Brian Young, rookie cornerback Usama Young and Jon Hamm all spent most of the day riding stationary bicycles -- though Usama Young ran a few wind springs along the sidelines.
Brian Young has an injured foot; the other two have quad injuries.