Training Camp Postcard: Saints
Posted: Wednesday August 8, 2007 2:35AM; Updated: Wednesday August 8, 2007 11:49AM
At Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., where the Saints have conducted training camp in each of the past two post-Katrina summers. Jackson is roughly three hours due north of New Orleans, and the Saints going through their preseason paces here fits in with the organization's efforts to broaden their regional fan base. Millsaps is a Division III school with a non-scholarship football program, but you have heard of their head coach: Mike DuBose, who not that long ago held the top job at Alabama. From the Crimson Tide to the Millsaps Majors. Now there's a career nosedive for you.
1. I got to Saints camp Tuesday morning about 15 minutes or so after they lost their All-Pro left offensive tackle Jammal Brown to what looked to be a serious right knee injury. This is not exactly what you're looking for when you open the season in less than a month in Indianapolis, where sack specialist Dwight Freeney plays right end for the Colts.
Other than quarterback Drew Brees, Brown is the one Saint the club can least afford to lose for a sustained period. That's the importance of a quality left tackle in today's NFL; and Brown, entering his third season, exceeded all expectations last year when he made a smooth switch from right to left tackle during training camp.
The entire team seemed to be holding its breath while awaiting the results of his X-rays and MRI, and the news Tuesday afternoon was surprisingly good. Brown suffered a bruised knee, but the joint was found to be structurally sound. His absence will be measured in days, not weeks or months, which is a real break for a team that many expect to represent the NFC in next February's Super Bowl.
"That's scary, anytime your [left tackle] goes down and he's holding his knee,'' Brees said. "That's the last thing you want. When any of those guys (the offensive linemen) go down, it's not a good feeling.''
While Brown heals, the Saints likely will ask either second-year man Zach Strief, a seventh-round pick in 2006, or rookie fourth-round-pick Jermon Bushrod to fill the void. Strief started once at left tackle last season, holding Simeon Rice sack-less in a win at Tampa Bay in November. But neither one could have truly filled Brown's shoes.
2. Here's a bit of backstory that would have made Brown's injury tougher to swallow had it been season-ending: Monday morning's practice was originally scheduled as a non-contact walk-through, but Payton switched to a full-pads workout, in part to send a message of sorts to his players after their dismal showing Sunday night against the Steelers in the Hall of Fame game.
"There was a little bit of a message,'' Payton told me. "I think the message was, and the players understood that we wanted a little bit of a gut check this morning. We got after it. It's a short week (the Saints play Friday night at home against Buffalo), and we needed some contact.''
The Saints got their contact in. But if it had wound up costing them Brown for an extended chunk of time, Tuesday would have been one of those days when Payton was reminded how tough the calls are as a head coach.
The Saints run a rugged camp in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Payton had seven consecutive days of two-a-day practices early in camp, which is almost mind-boggling compared to some teams like the Cowboys, who have barely donned their shoulder pads while working out in the air-conditioned Alamodome in San Antonio.
3. The Saints seem to have fairly low expectations for rookie first-round receiver Robert Meachem this year. In fact, he might even face an uphill battle to be active on game days. He's behind starters Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, as well as veterans David Patten and Terrance Copper. Free agent receiver/return man Lance Moore has been the star of Saints camp thus far, and he figures to be active to handle kickoffs and share punt-return duties with Reggie Bush.
Meachem's start has been painfully slow. He had a knee cleaned out late in the offseason, reported to camp in something less than ideal condition because of it, and nursed an ankle injury in the early days of camp. At this point, anything the Saints get out of Meachem in September will register as a bonus.
4. What a quirky schedule the Saints have early in the season. Three of their first five games will be at night. They'll visit Indianapolis in the NFL's season opener on Thursday, Sept. 6. They play their home opener on Monday night, Sept. 24. And a Sunday-night date at Seattle rounds things out in Week 6.
Establishing some sort of continuity this season could be tough, because New Orleans has 10 days between its first and second games, and eight more between Weeks 2 and 3. Then comes a Week 4 bye, with the Saints' first consecutive Sunday afternoon games not until Weeks 7 and 8, at San Francisco and home against Jacksonville.