Sean Payton: “It’s the antithesis of training camp”
The New Orleans Saints are beginning training camp.
But that’s merely a technicality.
The coaches, players and staff have begun to arrive at the team’s Metairie training facility to begin training for the 2020 season. But that’s where the similarity to traditional training camps ends.
“It’s the antithesis of training camp,” Saints coach Sean Payton said during a conference call Wednesday.
The Saints and the rest of the 32 teams in the NFL are implementing protocols to prepare to play football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither the preparation for the season nor the season itself will be what anyone is accustomed to.
“You can put up all the shields you want in the lockers,” Payton said. “You can move the chairs six feet apart. We can walk around and when we go to eat, stay in our six-feet lines. But for two hours, two and a half hours every day, we’re playing tackle football. That’s the challenge we have this year.”
Football coaches, more so than their counterparts in any other team sport, have a slavish devotion to routine and consistency. Nothing about this season will be routine or consistent with any other season.
The training camp schedule that all teams are following was negotiated by the NFL’s management council and the players union. What they came up with obviously is not what Payton would have designed, but he said the Saints will “follow it to a T.”
This week is devoted to COVID-19 testing to clear members of the team and organization to report to the facility. The testing is being done daily and results take 24 hours. So far no positive tests have come back since the testing began Monday.
Payton said the Saints will conduct physicals over the weekend. On Monday the players will begin a routine comprised of one hour of weight-lifting, one hour of conditioning, meetings and walk-throughs.
Later next week they will begin practices to ramp up for the start of practices in pads on Monday, August 17.
“We will take full advantage of pads every day that it’s allowed,” Payton said. “The amount of running and lifting they’re going to do is going to be significant.”
Payton said there will be fewer practices in pads and the team will not be allowed to have meetings in its hotel.
“We’re not going to be in a training-camp environment,” Payton said.
He added that a better description would be “preseason,” but even that is inexact because there will be no preseason games.
Normally the Saints would hold a handful of practices against another team during training camp to accelerate their preparation for the four preseason games. But this team will not take the field to compete against an opponent until the season opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 13 in the Superdome.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed during this pandemic. This season may or may not start as scheduled. Payton said it won’t play out exactly as scheduled.
“There will be some suspended games,” Payton said. “I think the league understands that.”
He said it’s inevitable that there will be instances in which teams have so many players test positive at one or more positions that they will be unable to be competitive, leading to the suspended games.
Payton said the Saints only “a couple of” players are limited by off-season procedures, including linebacker Kiko Alonso (knee surgery), but everyone is expected to be full go at some point during the preseason.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s 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. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…