Road-weary Saints ready for a boost at home

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

At their first training camp home, the New Orleans Saints rode scooters around the Millsaps College campus. At their second, they took buses around Indianapolis.

It's only fitting because the Saints are doing something different this year. They're focusing on offense, defense, special teams and travel. After being the only team to hold two training camps, the Saints, with help from Mother Nature and the powers that make the NFL schedule, drew 10 road trips.

When the Saints send their captains to midfield before Sunday's game with Tampa Bay, they should send James Nagaoka along. He's the director of football operations, which puts him in charge of planning out what's shaping up to be one of the most logistically strange seasons in history.

Nagaoka is the one who has planned the Oct. 26 game against San Diego in London. He's also the guy who planned this week's previously unplanned trip to Indianapolis on very short notice.

With Hurricane Gustav headed toward Louisiana, the Saints made a quick decision to pack up their players, coaches and equipment and evacuate to Indianapolis. That's where they've spent the week, practicing at Lucas Oil Field and staying in a hotel.

"It almost feels like training camp,'' quarterback Drew Brees said.

The hurricane didn't hit New Orleans as hard as first feared. The Superdome didn't suffer any major damage and local officials declared it safe to host the game. Residents are flocking back to the city and the Saints will join them tonight.

After one last practice in Indianapolis, the Saints will fly back to New Orleans tonight and they're scheduled to have a walk-through practice at their suburban facility Saturday. It's less than ideal, but it beats the alternative.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, New Orleans was devastated and the Saints were forced to bounce between Baton Rouge and San Antonio. Coach Sean Payton wasn't with the Saints then, but he's grateful the Saints still have a home.

The last week has been unorthodox, but Payton's message to his team was to make the most of the trip.

"Even on a road game, you're still practicing at home," Payton said. "The closest thing would be to liken it to training camp a little bit, where you're literally staying in the same facility. We've done pretty well on the road. We've got to find a way to play better at home. Hopefully this is something that's helped us."

But the extra time to bond might not be the only thing helping the Saints as they return to the Superdome. New Orleans, a city that knows how to party, appears ready to let off steam after a very stressful week.

"I hope that everybody's back and we have all our fans there, yelling and screaming and acting crazy like they normally do," Brees said.

That's a pretty safe bet because the Saints are the biggest thing in the Big Easy and on the Gulf Coast. They were a rallying point for the region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the re-opening of the Superdome for a game against Atlanta was bigger and louder than Mardi Gras.

"It was probably one of the greatest atmospheres to be involved in and play in," said Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn, who was with the Falcons at that time.

The Saints gladly would take a boost like that from their fans, but they can't afford to get too caught up in the party. They're striving to avoid the 0-4 start that ruined last season and they know they've got a long road ahead of them.

"It's a business trip," Brees said of the week in Indianapolis. "We're trying to get ready to play a game."

There are a lot of other business trips ahead. There are the eight regular-season road games. There's the trip to London where the Saints will spend almost a week. During a midseason stretch that includes the London trip and the bye week, they'll go from Oct. 12 to Nov. 24 without a game in the Superdome.

That makes every game in the Superdome precious. But, after the craziness of the last week, this one could be truly special.