How Saints' Drew Brees got creative to make his 41-year-old arm feel 'live'

METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees and Tom House had to get creative this offseason because of coronavirus restrictions.

Luckily, that’s what the New Orleans Saints quarterback and his longtime throwing coach have always done best.

“The fun thing about the relationship with Drew is that he trusts both of us to be just crazy enough to try something new,” House told the Saints’ podcast.

House suggested tennis as a way to work on Brees’ “functional strength” since Brees was a standout tennis player when he was younger. Brees suggested lacrosse and stand-up paddle boarding, both of which have become favorites of Brees and his family in recent years.

And as they’ve always done, Brees and House spent weeks snapping towels with a throwing motion and throwing one- and two-pound balls before they even touched a football -- with the 41-year-old Brees targeting a specific goal of being able to throw a ball 60 yards.

“Most of it happened in my backyard,” Brees said with a laugh. “But we discovered a few things in the process.

“So it was interesting that the circumstances of COVID caused that. But there were some beneficial things that came from it that I’m hoping will pay dividends.”

House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who has become a renowned throwing coach for elite pitchers and quarterbacks like Brees and Tom Brady, explained throwing a one-pound ball is the equivalent of throwing a football. And throwing that ball one mile per hour is equal to throwing a football one yard.

About three weeks into that process, House said Brees was throwing the one-pound ball 60 miles per hour into a net.

“Then we started throwing a football about three weeks ago. And his first day out he popped a couple of 45-, 50-yarders like he was 25 years old again,” House said. “And his last workout (less than two weeks ago) he threw a couple balls 57, 58 yards without even trying.”

Brees’ longtime trainer Todd Durkin also shared how good Brees looked on social media heading into his 20th season.

And Brees had some pep in his voice during his first conference call with the media Saturday when he said, “I feel good. My body feels good. My arm feels live. I look forward to getting back on the field with the guys and get rolling.”

Brees didn’t elaborate too much when asked why he was focused on throwing a 60-yard pass. But it doesn’t take a statistical genius to figure out what has been missing from the future Hall of Famer’s game over the past two years.

Brees has completed only one pass that traveled more than 35 air yards beyond the line of scrimmage since 2017, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There are reasons for that, of course. For one thing, there's his age. For another, he missed five games with a torn ligament in his throwing thumb last year.

And Brees has more than made up for any physical shortcomings with his savvy, accuracy and decision-making. His completion percentages of 74.4 in 2018 and 74.3 in 2019 are the two best in NFL history. And his passer ratings of 116.3 in 2019 and 115.7 in 2018 are the two best of his career.

The Saints went 13-3 in both of those seasons -- though their offense sputtered in both playoff losses, with Brees throwing a deep interception in both postseasons.

“Listen, if the opportunities are there, I let it fly. And if it's not, then you check it down and live to play another day,” Brees said. “I feel like perhaps in years past we had more opportunities down the field than maybe have presented themselves over the last two years. I don't think it's our lack of being able to do it or lack of calling the plays for it. It's just hit or miss at times, and then there's a risk-reward to it as well.

“So at the end of the day, what's the ultimate goal? Well, it's to drive down the field and score touchdowns. So if we can do that in three plays with a couple of big plays, long pass plays down the field, then great. But if we've got to put together 14-play drives, then we'll do that, too.

“I do like those plays down the field, though.”

Brees has not yet decided whether this will be his final season. But this will be the fourth straight year he says he is treating the season like it might be his last while he takes it "one day at a time."

When asked if he agrees with the “Super Bowl or bust” approach that Saints left tackle Terron Armstead described, Brees said, “That’s why I came back.”

Brees’ 2020 outlook also improved greatly this offseason when the Saints added veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to give them a much-needed sidekick for Michael Thomas.

Sanders is known as a stellar route runner who could excel at catching the short and intermediate passes on which Brees feasts.

Unfortunately, Brees and Sanders missed out on much of their opportunity to find a rhythm together this offseason. But Brees did fly to Denver in June specifically to work out with his new target.

“We had a good couple of days together, so that was really valuable,” Brees said. “I feel great about him, and obviously he's a savvy veteran player. I think he brings a great element with his skill set, as being a great guy with Michael Thomas, and I think he's a great veteran presence for that room.

"I feel good. My body feels good. My arm feels live. I look forward to getting back on the field with the guys and get rolling." Drew Brees

“That receiver room is still relatively young. Tre'Quan Smith, I think, has a great opportunity this year. And I think we’ve got some young receivers that I'm really excited to see how they’ve progressed from last year to this year.”

One thing that will be missing from Brees’ game, however, is his longtime habit of licking his fingers before every throw.

As Brees told ESPN this summer, the pandemic has forced him to rid himself of the “unconscious” habit, which was intended to add tackiness to his grip.

“Listen, it's one thing to lick your fingers before you get the ball and throw it, that's perfectly normal. But to lick my fingers after I throw the ball, it makes no sense,” said Brees, who said he also noticed himself doing it off the field every time he picked up a stack of papers or something. "[But] believe it or not, I am telling you, I have not licked my fingers in four months. … Probably partly because my wife was there to get on me about it.

"So I don't know. I might have broken myself of the habit. We'll see. Listen, I'll tell you this, if I can break myself of the licking-the-fingers habit, then I think that means anybody can break themselves of any habit. Because that was out of control how much I was licking my fingers.”