METAIRIE, La. -- Chippy is hardly the right word to describe the grueling Saints practice I witnessed Sunday afternoon. If there is another day like this, it means a real football game has broken out.
It's what head coach Sean Payton wants and what his hand-picked new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, always has demanded. If anything, Williams has already changed the culture on defense, emphasizing intensity, speed, passion, accountability and good old-fashioned technique.
It's not like Drew Brees can do anything more after becoming only the second quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards. He willed the Saints to an 8-8 record record in 2008. Without Brees, last season could have been a disaster.
Here's what I saw and learned on the second stop of my training camp bus tour:
Running back Reggie Bush said he's about 90 to 95 percent recovered from offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee. Actually, it was stunning to see how explosive he looked when he had his hands on the ball. Remember, he looked strong after six games last season, before he was injured.
Yes, Payton is smartly working Bush by pacing some of his practice reps. Trust me, though, Bush is not being coddled. He had to take his turns in full-speed, one-on-one pass protection drills against linebackers. Once, he stoned linebacker Jonathan Vilma. On his last turn, he got drilled and flipped by 250-pound linebacker Marvin Mitchell. Embarrassed, Bush popped up, ripped off his helmet and slammed it to the turf. Pride is alive.
The Saints' secondary may transform from a weakness to strength. Brees was intercepted twice Sunday, by Jabari Greer and Randall Gay. Those were Brees' first picks of camp. The Saints love right corner Tracy Porter, who started as a second-round pick last season before a Week 4 wrist injury grounded him. Greer, an unsung free-agent signing from the Bills, is at left corner and still shows strong ball skills. That doesn't even count this year's first-rounder, Malcolm Jenkins, who has yet to sign. Corner Jason David led the team in interceptions but was considered somewhat of a liability last season. If he is again, he won't play.
The Saints fully expect defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant to serve four-game suspensions stemming from the StarCaps case. Bobby McCray and Paul Spicer have joined the mix at defensive end, but the cross-your-fingers impact player is Anthony Hargrove, who has confronted his demons head on by attending AA meetings. Hargrove can be disruptive and may line up inside next to Sedrick Ellis at times. Payton and Williams also hired one of the league's top defensive line coaches in Bill Johnson.
At wide receiver, Marques Colston (knee) and Lance Moore (shoulder) are practicing and almost fully recovered from offseason surgeries. Devery Henderson still is a deep threat, and it looks like former first-rounder Robert Meachem finally gets it.
The quarterback's pretty good.
And did you know that as we near the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints now have a 50,000-person waiting list for season tickets?
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.