Payton: Saints just beginning transition into new season

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NEW ORLEANS — The Saints have begun the transition into a new season as players have started their off-season conditioning program.

Next week they will begin their 10 Organized Team Activities, which will be followed by their mandatory mini-camp in mid-June before taking a break ahead of the start of training camp in late July.

It’s still a long way until the season opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 9 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the first step of putting aside 2017 and focusing on 2018 is an important one.

Coach Sean Payton said Monday that the players all understand that last year’s success — an 11-5 record, an NFC South title, a divisional-playoff victory and falling one play short of a trip to the NFC Championship — is not a starting point for 2018.

“It’s the beginning of the process with the team coming together and beginning to install your offense and your defense,” Payton said shortly before teeing off at the Saints Hall of Fame golf tournament at Bayou Oaks. “It’s still spring and we’ve got a lot of time. More importantly it’s just guys getting together and hearing the cadence and getting used to the terminology and going through the install that we’ll use in training camp.

“That process starts from square one for everyone. It’s never ‘we’re going to pick up where we left off.’ It starts from the beginning again, putting your work in, starting with the first install and all the details that we have to be better at.”

Video: Sean Payton at Saints Hall of Fame Golf Classic 2018

The preseason expectations are the highest that they’ve been in a while as last year was a significant turnaround from three consecutive 7-9 seasons.

“Every year we feel like we have a real chance,” Payton said. “I would say that this time of year as far as itching to get started it’s too early. It’s May. Certainly as the summer wears on, you’re anxious to start training camp, but I think we’ve got some good young players and a combination of veteran players hopefully that can mesh and do the things necessary to win, but we’ll be excited when that time comes.”

New Orleans has signed a half dozen veteran free agents that the coaches feel have a chance to become significant contributors — linebacker Demario Davis, cornerback Patrick Robinson, wide receiver Cameron Meredith, safety Kurt Coleman, tight end Benjamin Watson and offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod. The Saints traded up in the first round to draft defensive end Marcus Davenport, who they think is capable of being an impact player.

But, Payton cautioned, no one has a good feel for how good a team is going to be at this time of year.

“I think everyone is hopeful and optimistic and excited in the summer, and then I think as soon as you hit adversity in the season you begin learning a little bit about your team,” Payton said. “One of the good things about our league is the parity. That gives teams hope when maybe they didn’t finish that well the year before and it reminds teams that have played well that they better play well again the next year.

“We’ve got a lot of time between now and when we start training camp. Our players are working hard. They’re all in, lifting and running. That part of it has been really good.”

PHOTOS: Saints Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic 2018

Payton spoke with reporters moments after word broke that New Orleans is poised to be named host of the 2024 Super Bowl. The city will be the only one to make a presentation to NFL owners in Atlanta on Wednesday. Barring a glitch, it appears likely New Orleans will be awarded the game later that day.

“I think you could narrow it down to one or two cities that (host a Super Bowl) better than anyone else and this would be one of them,” Payton said. “Just the proximity of the hotels, the restaurants and the stadium really provides a unique venue and experience. You’re not getting in cars and driving 40 minutes out to another site. It just makes sense. It’s good news.”

NOTES: Second-year running back Alvin Kamara said he’s open to whatever the coaches ask him to do during Mark Ingram II’s suspension for the first four games of the season. … The Saints announced the signing of third-round draft choice Tre’Quan Smith, a wide receiver from Central Florida, completing the signing of this year’s seven-player draft class. … Payton said the release of LB Michael Mauti, a native of Mandeville, was partly due to the limitations of a 90-player roster and the presence of nine other linebackers. … The Saints recently signed three players who tried out during the rookie mini-camp two weeks ago, including two veterans — DT Jay Bromley and T Michael Ola. Payton said those are two positions at which it’s difficult to find players closer to the season. The other signee was undrafted rookie FB Ryan Yurachek from Marshall.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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