Saints expectations clear even without slogan
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints’ motto last season was “Prove Them Right.”
The message was to embrace the lofty expectations that were placed on the defending NFC South champions that had narrowly missed a trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2017.
The Saints did, in fact, embrace those expectations, repeated as division champions and went a step farther, reaching the NFC Championship Game and narrowly missing a trip to the Super Bowl after an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The team reported for training camp Thursday with the expectation of taking that final step back to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it 10 years ago.
“We don’t have a specific slogan,” head coach Sean Payton said, adding that one could be adopted at some point.
But with or without a slogan, the expectation is obvious – to get to the Super Bowl.
The Saints were the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season and almost certainly would have beaten the Rams if not for an egregious no-call by the officials that led the NFL to change its rules regarding pass interference and instant replay during the offseason.
The roster returns mostly in tact with the changes likely to produce a net gain.
The news Thursday that All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas is holding out while negotiating a new contract was a minor distraction that figures to be a footnote long before the season begins Sept. 9.
Payton said he’s “optimistic that it’ll be done fairly soon.” Executive vice president Mickey Loomis was more cautious but certainly not pessimistic.
“I believe we’re close when the player is in the office with a document in front of him,” Loomis said. “I wish there was the sense of urgency in February, March, April and May that there is no so it doesn’t drag out, but that’s the nature of the business.”
Thomas’ absence from practice, which begins Friday morning, provides more opportunities for others at what is one of the most competitive positions on the team.
Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. is the incumbent No. 2 receiver and he figures to be in the mix, but he’s 34 years old and missed much of last season because of arthroscopic knee surgery.
Payton said this will be an important camp for another veteran receiver – Cameron Meredith, who suffered a serious knee injury while playing with Chicago two seasons ago and has been limited since signing with New Orleans as a free agent last offseason.
Second-year receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood have shown encouraging progress, Payton said.
The most competitive starting position on the team is at center, where New Orleans must find a replacement for Max Unger, who retired after last season. Payton said veteran free-agent signee Nick Easton (Vikings) and rookie No. 2 draft choice Erik McCoy are “two guys who have played the position pretty well.” Third-year veteran Cameron Tom, a native of Baton Rouge, is also competing.
Payton said “punt return is one area we continue to work on.” The Saints signed former Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels to try and improve that area.
Starting defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing surgery in January to repair a ruptured Achilles suffered in a divisional playoff victory against Philadelphia. Payton wouldn’t estimate when Rankins will return, but he did say he is “on schedule.”
Payton announced that the Saints signed three players and released two to reach the roster limit.
The team signed defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, cornerback T.J. Green and linebacker Josh Martin. New Orleans waived/injured defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow Jr. and waived wide receiver Chad Hansen.
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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…