NEW ORLEANS â€“ Call me crazy, but I felt Team Brees, er, the New Orleans Saints truly moved two hours closer to achieving their 2011 goal Tuesday morning.
And that goal is to win Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, 2012, provided, of course, there is a season. Â
Granted, there are hills to climb and obstacles to overcome between now and the scheduled opening game of the NFL regular season Sept. 8 at Lambeau Field between the Black and Gold and the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Â
But there was a palpable wave of optimism and confidence in the air at the Westfeldt Practice Facility on the Tulane campus where 37 members of Team Brees (some under contract, some not, some coming off surgery) gathered Uptown to participate in a light two-hour workout. Â
Team Brees is among the first from the NFL to hold an â€œorganizedâ€™â€™ workout since the lockout commenced March 11. Â
â€œWe would all be working somewhere anyway so why not do it together, and why not do it in an organized fashion where itâ€™s very football related?â€™â€™ Saints quarterback Drew Brees told reporters. â€œThis is preparing us to have a championship type season, and I feel this is putting us way ahead of other teams around the league just by the fact that weâ€™re so organized. Â
â€œI feel like the more organized you can be as a team and the more that you can communicate during this time, in May and June and July, prior toÂ hopefully a normal training camp and then the season, then the better off youâ€™ll be once the season does come around. Â
â€œNone of us know how long this is going to last,â€™â€™ Brees said. â€œWe hope this ends up tomorrow. But it could go into the season. Obviously, that is what none of us want. All we want is to play football. But, at this point, this gives us the best position to be successful once the season does start.â€™â€™ Â
It was Team Breesâ€™ second workout in as many days, spawned from a discussion/plan collectively hatched several months ago by Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Brees. Â
Once the lockout was reinstated on Thursday, Brees, one of the marquee plaintiffs in the ongoing playersâ€™ antitrust suit against the NFL, put the practice plan in motion. Â
Any remaining workouts conducted by â€œTeam Breesâ€™â€™ at Tulane will be closed to the media and fans.
â€œThis is Drewâ€™s baby,â€™â€™ Saints player rep Jon Stinchcomb said. â€œWhen you have a leader like that on your team, it makes it easy for guys to rally around.â€™â€™ Â
â€œHeâ€™s our leader,â€™â€™ said Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who stands to become an unrestricted free agent under a more player-friendlyÂ Collective Bargaining Agreement. â€œHe talked to everyone, got everyone organized.â€™â€™ Â
Everyone as in Jonathan Vilma, Malcolm Jenkins, Jabari Greer, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Garrett Hartley, Jimmy Graham, Chase Daniel, Adrian Arrington, Randall Gay, Lynell Hamilton and the aforementioned Stinchcomb. Â
A number of players not under contract (both unrestricted and restricted under the old CBA) also were on hand, including Roman Harper, Darren Sharper, Zach Strief, Jonathan Goodwin, Heath Evans, David Thomas, Pierson Prioleau, Chris Reis, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Bushrod. Â
Others in attendance were Matt Tennant, Junior Galette, Justin Drescher and Sean Canfield, among others. Even third-round draft pick, Johnny Patrick, a cornerback out of Louisville, showed up. Â
But the spotlight fell on Brees, who brought in his personal trainer from San Diego, Todd Durkin, to run the contact-free workouts that are being conducted in non-football gear. Because of the lockout, players currently are operating without team-funded personal injury insurance. Â
â€œWe wanted a place to work out and we all wanted to be together,â€™â€™ said No. 9, who is entering the last year of a six-year, $60 million contract. â€œWe knew there would be a lot of uncertainty: the fact that weâ€™re locked out, what can we do, where can we work out, where can we come together and try to put together as much of an offseason as we can. If this goes the distance, weâ€™re ready to be here as long as it takes.â€™â€™ Â
And yes, there were several notable no-shows, beginning with running back Reggie Bush whose future in New Orleans is up for debate after the teamâ€™s selection of Alabama running back Mark Ingram with the 28th pick of the NFL draft. Â
The absence of wide receiver Lance Moore also piqued my curiosity. Like Bushrod and Harper, Moore stands to become an unrestricted free agent under a more player-friendly CBA. Moore was tendered a second-round restricted free agent tender prior to the CBA's expirationÂ March 11. Â
Running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory also were not there but each is recovering from offseason surgery. Oddly, Junior Galette was the only notable defensive lineman on hand.
Not there was newly-signedÂ free agent DTÂ Shaun Rogers, whose one-year, $4 million contract includes aÂ $630,000 weight bonus that calls for him to keep his playing weight at a maximum of 350 pounds throughout the season. He weighed around 375 at the time of his signing March 1, according to team sources.
Granted, one or two missed workouts do not an offseason program make for Rogers, especially under this unique set of circumstances. If the absences persist, then it raises a red flag.
â€œI donâ€™t blame them if theyâ€™re not here,â€™â€™ Brees said of the unsigned players. â€œThe risk with all this is we have no injury protection. If we were at the facility and we were playing under an agreement, then youâ€™re protected if you get hurt. If you have a season-ending injury, you go on IR and you still get compensated for that, whereas guys take a risk by being here, potentially. Â
â€œWeâ€™ve got a program structured that would be very similar if we were working out at the Saints facility. In a normal offseason it would take us into mid- to late-June. We will evolve as it goes along. This is the first week, so itâ€™s very much getting guys back in and back into the flow, getting good field work and getting good work in the weight room. Weâ€™ll probably escalate it as we go along, to (running pass routes) and more team activities, but yet still keeping in mind that nobody has injury protection here. Â
â€œSo weâ€™re being very careful. There will be absolutely no contact. Thatâ€™s not the point of this. The point of this is to get guys together as a team, to push one another to compete but yet to be very smart about it.â€™â€™ Â
When asked if he were optimistic of football being played this season, Brees replied: â€œIâ€™m very optimistic. Â
â€œBut,â€™â€™ he said, â€œit lies with the courts and judges. We as players are sitting here waiting to hear, â€˜OK, are we locked out or we not locked out?â€™ If weâ€™re not locked out, then weâ€™re ready to go in and start the offseason program at the Saints facility. But if we are locked out, weâ€™ve got a great plan to be here at Tulane. Â
â€œAt some point this will end. Hopefully, it ends sooner than later. But weâ€™ll be ready when it does.â€™â€™ Â
Saints beat writer Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at email@example.com
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