2014 DRAFT GUIDE
With Payton back, Saints head to camp with hope

By BRETT MARTEL - AP Sports Writer
    2013-07-23 13:11

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Since Sean Payton returned from his bounty ban in January, the Saints have steered clear of scandal or contract holdouts in a blissfully uneventful offseason. With the focus back on football, optimism abounds in the Big Easy.

``Here we are, really for the first time in four years, where you feel like this is a normal offseason,'' quarterback Drew Brees said recently. ``You come to work every day with no distractions other than just focusing on football and getting better.''

The 2010 offseason was unusual in that the Saints were defending champs. In 2011, there was a lockout. Then 2012 was overshadowed by the NFL's probe of the Saints' cash-for-hits bounty system, which resulted in suspensions, fines and lost draft picks. Further complicating matters was Brees' contract holdout, which ended a couple weeks before 2012 training camp.

Brees still passed for 5,177 yards last season while leading a unit ranked second in yards per game, but such production wasn't enough to get the Saints back to the playoffs for a fourth-straight season because New Orleans' defense sank to historically low depths, yielding a single-season record 7,042 yards.

Now that Payton is back, he is refining the prolific offense he created and he's brought in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Five things to know about the Saints as training camp arrives:

1. PAYTON'S PRESENCE: Payton's record speaks for itself. He coached six seasons before his suspension and in that time rebranded the once-floundering Saints as one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. With his offenses regularly at the top of the league and breaking both franchise and NFL records, he led New Orleans to the playoffs four times, to the NFC title game twice and to the franchise's first Super Bowl title in 2009-10. In his last three seasons before his suspension, the Saints made the playoffs each time, twice racking up 13 regular season wins. In his return, Payton has brought not only his ability to create mismatches with his offensive play design, but also the discipline and intensity to which his players have responded well in the past.

2. DIFFERENT DEFENSE: One of the first changes Payton made upon his return from suspension was to fire 2012 defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and hire Ryan. That meant a change from the 4-3 defensive alignment to the 3-4 preferred by Ryan. The change in scheme has meant a switch in position for several players who once were considered defensive ends and now will play outside linebacker, such as Will Smith and Junior Galette. Players say the adjustment has not been all that difficult because the Saints effectively were in a 3-4 for a number of their blitz packages when Gregg Williams was the coordinator from 2009-11.

3. VETERAN ADJUSTMENTS: As defensive captains Jonathan Vilma and Smith enter their 10th NFL seasons, they are out to prove they can be effective in altered roles. Smith played his first nine seasons at right defensive end. Now he is an outside linebacker, meaning he may have to drop into pass coverage at times. Vilma has been most effective as a middle linebacker in a 4-3. While with the Jets early in his career, he struggled when that club switched to a 3-4. Now he'll be in a 3-4 again, though Payton has said he believes Vilma can be effective on the weak side, while Curtis Lofton will be the strong side middle linebacker.

4. BREES' BLINDSIDE: For the past four seasons, Brees' blind side has been protected by left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who left during free agency for Chicago. The Saints hope 2010 second-round draft choice Charles Brown is ready to step in as a starter. Brown has been injury plagued early in his career, leaving coaches anxious about his reliability. Competing with Brown will be former St. Louis first-round pick Jason Smith, who is hoping to reinvigorate his disappointing career in New Orleans, and 2013 third-round pick Terron Armstead.

5. YOUNG RECEIVERS: The Saints have several young, inexperienced receivers vying for regular playing time behind veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore. The front-runner appears to be Joe Morgan, who joined the club as an undrafted free agent in 2011 but did not see action in 2012 after spending his rookie year on injured reserve. Nick Toon, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick who also spent his rookie year on injured reserve, and rookie Kenny Stills, a fifth-round pick, also are looking to break into the lineup.

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

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Charles BrownSep 1 10:43a

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Ahmad DixonSep 1 10:22a

The Dallas Cowboys released SS Ahmad Dixon.

Lonnie PryorSep 1 09:52a

The Buffalo Bills signed free-agent FB Lonnie Pryor (Buccaneers) and OG D.J. Morrell (Rams) to the practice squad.

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Dee MillinerSep 1 01:02a

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Ryan SuccopSep 1 12:12a

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Kenjon BarnerSep 1 12:02a

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Vincent BrownSep 1 12:02a

San Diego Chargers WR Vincent Brown (calf) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

DeMarcus Van DykeAug 31 11:52p

Kansas City Chiefs CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (undisclosed) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

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Damian WilliamsAug 31 10:22p

The Miami Dolphins released WR Damian Williams Sunday, Aug. 31.

Mike ThomasAug 31 10:12p

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The Washington Redskins have claimed SS Duke Ihenacho off waivers from the Denver Broncos.

Brandon HarrisAug 31 09:53p

The Tennessee Titans have claimed WR T.J. Graham off waivers from the Buffalo Bills, WR Kris Durham from the Detroit Lions and CB Brandon Harris from the Houston Texans.

Garrett GilkeyAug 31 09:42p

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have claimed OG Garrett Gilkey off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.

MarQueis GrayAug 31 09:32p

The Minnesota Vikings have claimed TE MarQueis Gray off waivers from the Cleveland Browns and OT Michael X. Harris from the San Diego Chargers.

Brandian RossAug 31 09:22p

The Miami Dolphins have claimed CB Brandian Ross off waivers from the Oakland Raiders.

Mickey ShulerAug 31 09:12p

The Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed TE Mickey Shuler off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons.

Damaris JohnsonAug 31 09:12p

The Houston Texans have claimed OT Jeff Adams off waivers from the Tennessee Titans, WR Damaris Johnson from the Philadelphia Eagles and CB Darryl Morris from the San Francisco 49ers.

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