<
>

Sean Payton: Attendance nearly full for Saints' offseason program

AVONDALE, La. -- Though Sean Payton didn’t offer a full attendance report, he indicated that he doesn’t have any concerns with the New Orleans Saints’ player participation as they kicked off their offseason conditioning program this week.

Payton said safeties Pierre Warren and Vinnie Sunseri are finishing up their college degrees this week. And, “everyone else is pretty much accounted for.”

“There might be a player or two, but they reached out to me,” Payton said Wednesday before he and quarterback Drew Brees teed off together in the Zurich Classic pro-am. “One of the advantages of being here is that the weather is conducive to guys wanting to train. You know, it's a little bit more of a challenge when you're further up north.”

There has been no indication of any possible contract holdouts this offseason in New Orleans. The Saints' most high-profile player heading into the final year of his contract is defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has been participating according to a league source and Jordan’s own Twitter feed. The New Orleans Advocate’s Nick Underhill also reported that defensive end Akiem Hicks is participating.

As for the attitude and mindset of players as they kick off a new season (and try to leave last year’s 7-9 disappointment in the dust), Brees said it’s “way too early” to tell what kind of an identity this year’s team will establish. But he said, “At this point, I just know we’ve got a bunch of young, hungry guys that see a great opportunity.”

Brees, Payton and others have been vocal about the Saints’ need to re-establish their winning culture after things like leadership, professionalism and maturity came into question last season.

And they’ll be re-establishing that culture with a lot of new faces after an offseason overhaul that saw the departures of some core players (Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Ben Grubbs and Curtis Lofton among them) and the arrival of some new veteran leaders (including center Max Unger, running back C.J. Spiller, cornerback Brandon Browner, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and defensive end Anthony Spencer).

I wrote earlier about Brees saying he trusts the roster decisions being made by Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, even though he was admittedly shocked by the Graham trade. And he's excited to establish a new rapport with younger players like receiver Brandin Cooks, whom he spent extra time with this offseason in San Diego.

“I don’t know [if there is] a different vibe, but there’s certainly some new faces and guys that are gonna play some pretty key roles on our team this year,” Brees said. “So I think this period of time is important, not only to get back to training again and the strength and conditioning program and the kind of foundation that builds moving forward, but also just building that camaraderie and that chemistry with these guys. A lot of these guys are gonna have big leadership roles as well, so you want to make sure that we’re kind of doing things the right way so that we can pave the way to success later on.”