Saints camp report: Sean Payton continues to emphasize cutting down on penalties

After the Saints were flagged a whopping 22 times for 184 yards against Tennessee on Friday night, angry coach Sean Payton said the mistakes were unacceptable and added that the corrections would start at the next practice.

He did not back down following a two-hour workout at the Saints facility Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a point of emphasis, and it started with this morning’s meeting, and how could it not be?” he said. “(Penalties) are up throughout the league in the preseason, but I know we are at the top.”

New Orleans has 32 penalties through two exhibition games. The Saints did not reach that total in the regular season last year until their seventh game.

“It’s a big deal, man,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “It can make or break a team. Today we did up-downs every time a guy got a penalty.”

Eleven of the penalties were for illegal use of hands, illegal contact, holding or defensive pass interference, a point of emphasis in the NFL this preseason as it tries to crack down on physical coverage.

Still, Payton said only two of the penalties were close calls. Regardless of what Payton does, quarterback Drew Brees said it was up to the players to police themselves.

“At the end of the day, at some point the team takes control of itself,” he said. “If things are going to change, it has to change from within. It’s not going to change because the coach tells you that something needs to change.”

Guard Jahri Evans (back), who returned to practice for the first time in nearly two weeks, appeared less concerned about the rash of penalties.

“It’s preseason,” he said. “Guys’ legs might not be what they’re used to, so you kind of get overextended upper body-wise and will reach in and grab a guy. We’ll clean it up by the season.”

Graham on the dunks

Tight end Jimmy Graham spoke after practice for the first time since drawing two unsportsmanlike penalties — and Payton’s wrath — for dunking the ball over the crossbar following touchdown catches against Tennessee. He offered no apology but added a disclaimer.

“I would never do anything to hurt this team in the regular season,” he said. “Obviously the game is bigger than any individual.”

In a new interpretation of an existing rule, the NFL banned dunking over the crossbar at its offseason meetings. At that time, Graham tweeted, “I guess I’ll have to lead the @nfl in penalties next year! #funpolice”

Payton and Graham argued on the sideline after Graham’s second penalty, but Payton played down his anger Sunday.

“He and I met, and listen, I’m his biggest fan,” Payton said. “I’m sure as we get going here, that type of thing isn’t going to be a problem. Rules are changing constantly whether we like them or voted for them or any of those things.”

Byrd back

Payton said safety Jairus Byrd, the Saints’ top free agent pickup, likely would go through a full practice Monday for the first time since having back surgery in late May.

“He’ll be out here tomorrow,” Payton said. “He’s been cleared, obviously he’s been practicing (doing individual work) and I think he’s going to be able to start all the team activities now. We should have him at practice tomorrow.”

Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million contract in March after spending the previous five years with Buffalo. He started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The Saints activated him July 29.

With Byrd out, Rafael Bush started at free safety in the first two preseason games.

Lagniappe

Wide receiver Marques Colston and cornerback Keenan Lewis joined Evans as notable practice participants. Lewis left the Tennessee game early, and Colston did not dress. Cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Champ Bailey remained out. … The Saints moved the practice times for their Monday, Tuesday and Thursday workouts this week to 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Quick read: Three observations of note from Sunday’s practice

1.Drew Brees drew cheers from the standing-room-only crowd at the Saints facility when he ran during conditioning drills as the beginning of practice, then again every time he completed a pass in the first hour. Suffice it to say Saints fans were happy to see him back in his first practice since Aug. 1 due to a strained left oblique.

2.After connecting with Joe Morgan for two deep completions against Tennessee, Ryan Griffin threw a long pass to rookie Brandin Cooks for a touchdown in 7-on-7 work. Cooks beat cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and the ball hit him in stride. A play earlier, Griffin hit Charles Hawkins for a sizable gain on a crossing route.

3.The Saints caught a break with nice cloud cover in their first New Orleans workout of camp after spending three weeks in West Virginia. Defensive end Cam Jordan had predicted temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index of 100. Instead, they got temperatures in the 80s and little sun. That figures to change for the rest of the week with three practices having been moved to the middle of the day.