Jul 28, 2014 20:28 Saints offensive line wants to keep Brees clean, upright Saints offensive line wants to keep Brees clean, upright Associated Press photo by CHRIS TILLEY -- Saints tackle Zach Strief participates in a blocking drill during training camp Friday, July 25, 2014, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Advocate story July 28, 2014 Comments WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Vir - The Saints offensive line has several goals this season. Keep Drew Brees off the turf. Win. Keep Brees' jersey neat and stain-free. Work together to improve the running game. Did we mention keep Drew upright? For a group of guys that are mostly noticed when things go wrong, the fivesome that starts the 2014 regular season Sept. 7 at Atlanta is aiming to enjoy a quiet campaign, out of the public spotlight. For this to occur, guard Ben Grubbs knows he and his teammates must start the fall faster than they did one year earlier, when the running game was so inept that coach Sean Payton dumped it in favor of screen passes, which served as makeshift running plays. They must figure out the starter at center, make sure left tackle Terron Armstead continues to improve during his second NFL season And of course, keep No. 9 smiling. "When you have a quarterback like that behind you, you want to give him all the time he needs to make his (throws)," Grubbs said of Brees, the only four-time 5,000-yard passer in NFL history. "This is where it all starts." Last season, Brees was sacked 37 times - not all the fault of the offensive line. By NFL standards, it ranked as 10th-best in the league. Not bad. But Brees also took more hits than usual. Meanwhile, the running attack, led by Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khari Robinson, ranked No. 25 in the league, averaging 92.1 yards per game. The effort made the Saints the worst running game to reach the playoffs. Then something happened. Ingram ran for 97 yards and a touchdown, Robinson added 45 yards and the Saints moved past Philadelphia in the NFC Wildcard game. "Last year, there were a lot of questions around our running game, but I feel at the end of last season, we were kind of able to hit on all cylinders, and that was a plus for us. "And also, just protecting Drew." Assistant coach Bret Ingalls said the performance bar is set high for his offensive line, based on past performances. "Coming off last year, we feel like we need to be more consistent running the ball," Ingalls said. "So far, things have been fine, technique-wise. But tomorrow (morning), we're going to find out when we put the pads on, if we've made some progress." Sunday marks the first day of full pads for the Saints. Where the frontrunner for the competition between second-year pro Tim Lelito and second-time Saints center Jonathan Goodwin will be decided. Looking forward to Sunday's practice Some guys are looking forward to Sunday's first practice in pads more than others. "Especially for the offensive and defensive linemen, that's something we look forward to all year," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "We get to run around and play in our pajamas for most of the year, but when the pads come on, you get to hit that guy that was talking a little bit of trash." Cornerback Keenan Lewis: Not so much. "I don't tackle like that," Kewis said, smiling, igniting a moment of laughter during his press conference. Hicks is listed at six feet, five inches and 324 lbs. Lewis, a New Orleans native, is Performances in pads, coupled with the first two Saints preseason games, will decide starters, especially at outside linebacker, center, two spots with position battles. Thomas says he still has gas in his tank Pierre Thomas doesn't sounds like a NFL running back entering his eighth season. Asked if he felt like he still had a lot of gas in his tank - sports jargon for a youthful, healthy body - Thomas' answered as if he was a newbie searching for his first carry. "Definitely," Thomas said. "I'm just waiting for my first opportunity to show it. We have a lot of good running backs here. We split the time." Thomas was the Saints' leading rusher in 2013 with 549 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. His 77 catches (513 yards and three scores) led all NFL running backs. Thomas also ranks third all-time in franchise history in rushing. Ingram enters this season, which is his contract season, aiming to secure the starting job. Not that Thomas plans to give it to him. "I want these guys to shine also, but I told them it's going to be tough," Thomas said. "I'm going to go out here and make sure it's tough. I'm going to make sure you have to beat me out. You've got to put me on the bench. I'm not going to sit on the bench easy. I told these guys." Payton wants to coach until 80 So Brees (age 35 ) feels 25 years old, and wants to play until he's 45.One day after his comments, coach Sean Payton joked, "I feel 30, and I want to coach until I'm 80.""If you just want to get his attention, just tell him they have gluten-free pancakes today," Payton said of Brees. "And he'd be like, 'Where?' "