Drew Brees: 'I always feel like there's something to prove'

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees is well aware of the "doubters."

The New Orleans Saints quarterback rattled off a few of the terms he knows are out there in the ether now that he's 36 and coming off a down year.

"As you get later in your career, people are always looking for the excuse if you have a down game or a down year: 'Oh, the aging process is setting in,' or, 'He's declining,' or whatever it might be," said Brees, who later threw in the term "washed up."

But Brees said he pays little attention to that stuff, saying, "I'm motivated by many other things besides doubters."

"Maybe there's a slight bit of motivation," Brees allowed. But he explained: "My mentality doesn't change from year to year. I always feel like there's something to prove. I approach every day, practice, rep, game as if I have something to prove. Never that I've arrived."

Brees said he's even less motivated by the fact that the Saints drafted a potential successor in Garrett Grayson in the third round this year -- the first time they've drafted a QB before Round 7 since Brees arrived in 2006.

When asked if it reminded him of the San Diego Chargers drafting Philip Rivers to replace him back in 2004, Brees said, "Absolutely not."

And when asked if it's the first time he feels like he may be looking over his shoulder, he repeated, "Absolutely not."

Brees then smiled and said, "I summed that up with two words."

Brees said he hasn't scaled back his workload, although he's constantly fine-tuning how he trains and practices. When asked if there is anything that's become harder for him with age, he said, "Recovery."

"As you get older, that's what the aging process is," Brees said. "It's not necessarily that you can't do it that day, it's how you feel the next day and then the day after and 72 hours later. So the ability to come back and consistently do it over and over again, that's what this game is about.

"And I certainly want to be one of those guys that every time I step on the field, guys know exactly what they're gonna get out of me."

Brees, who spoke after the Saints' first training camp practice Thursday, said he approached his 15th NFL offseason with the same mindset he's always had -- to evaluate the year before and pinpoint the areas where he needs to get better.

By far, the No. 1 area he identified was turnovers.

Brees still tied for the NFL lead with 4,952 passing yards last season and ranked second with a completion percentage of 69.2. But he had 20 turnovers -- 17 interceptions and three lost fumbles -- many in critical moments.

Part of that was because Brees tried to force things when the defense wasn't playing well or the offensive line faltered in front of him, a tendency he's had throughout his career.

Brees said earlier this summer that he always wants to stay aggressive and confident, but he needs to make smarter decisions when it comes to protecting the football.

"I think he's probably his biggest critic, [with] his expectation level and what he wants to accomplish," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I think he obviously has a great grasp of what we're doing. I think the ball's coming out of his hands real well, it did in the spring and it did this morning. I think just the details and the small things [can improve]. I'm sure overall you want to reduce the turnovers, we talked about that as a team goal."

The Saints tried to assist in that area by beefing up the defense and the offensive line so Brees doesn't feel pressured to do it all by himself. However, they traded away Brees' top two pass-catchers in the process, Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills.

Brees said earlier this summer that he was "heartbroken" by the Graham trade because Graham is like a little brother. But Brees, who has described himself as "annoyingly optimistic," has also talked about his excitement for the opportunities it will present for new young receivers such as Brandin Cooks, Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones.

The other big issue for the Saints this offseason has been trying to re-establish a culture and winning atmosphere after being plagued by personality clashes inside the locker room last season. The decision to release embattled linebacker Junior Galette was the latest part of that effort.

Veteran leaders like Brees and Zach Strief talked Thursday about the importance of addressing such issues as soon as they start to creep up instead of letting them fester. And the entire team has focused on turning back the clock to 2006, when the Saints had to build a culture from the ground up after Payton and Brees first arrived.

"I'm excited," Brees said. "I'm excited because knowing what we went through last year, knowing what our mindset's been this offseason, I feel like we've made a lot of progress.

"And now it's time to really work, really fine-tune, really sharpen. And start to have fun again."