Preparing for their first outdoor game in nearly two months Sunday, the New Orleans Saints changed up their routine a little Thursday and practiced in chilly conditions at their Metairie training facility.
The Saints, who last played an outdoor game Oct. 16 at Tampa Bay, will go against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., where the high temperature is expected to be in the upper 40s.
Sean Payton usually begins the practice week on the outdoor grass fields when the Saints are facing an opponent that has a natural surface.
But they were forced indoors Wednesday when high winds kept videographers from manning their towers to tape the workout.
“It’s been a while; I don’t know how long,” said Payton, who may take his team outside again Friday. “I thought the work we got was good. I think the temperatures were similar to what we’re going to see on Sunday.”
Payton said he was trying to create the type of environment his team will play in Sunday afternoon. In conjunction with that, the Saints will skip their Saturday morning walkthrough at home and hold it instead at LP Field after they arrive in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday afternoon.
With their final three regular-season games scheduled for domed stadiums, working outside this week may actually help the Saints get ready for any kind of weather in the upcoming playoffs.
The Saints could play outdoor games in frosty Green Bay and windy San Francisco, the teams that currently hold the top two seeds in the NFC.
“You try to draw anything from a game that you think is maybe a little different or significant,” said quarterback Drew Brees. “This is the last outdoor game we’ll play (in the regular season).
“So obviously, you have to think that to go where we want to go, we’re going to go outside and play in tough conditions for our offense and defense and win against quality opponents in their neck of the woods.”
Rookie running back Mark Ingram, who has a turf toe injury, missed practice for a second straight day Thursday and appears likely to miss Sunday’s game.
The nature of the injury would likely prevent Ingram from playing against the Titans because of the cuts that a running back has to make.
In addition, Payton, who will issue his final injury report and playing status Friday, probably won’t want to risk further injury that might keep Ingram out of the stretch run later this month or the playoffs.
Also missing practice Thursday were linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and defensive end Turk McBride (ankle). Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (hamstring) and linebacker Scott Shanle (shoulder) were limited again.
For the Titans, cornerback Jason McCourty (concussion), middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (groin) and wide receiver Nate Washington (ankle) did not practice for the second straight day.
The drive for 10
A victory Sunday would give the Saints double-digit wins for the third consecutive regular season, which would set a club record, after they went 13-3 in 2009 and 11-5 in ‘10.
The only Saints teams to have double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons were in 1987 (12-3) and ‘88 (10-6), and 1991 (11-5) and ‘92 (12-4).
Payton would also record double-digit wins for the fourth time in his six seasons, just one behind the club’s all-time best of five by Jim Mora.
Even though his left foot was hurting, Ingram was obviously pleased that Alabama, the school he helped to the BCS title in 2009, will be playing for another one in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against No. 1 LSU on Jan. 9.
“I definitely think LSU and Alabama are the two best teams in the country,” he said. “They played at a different level than anybody else ... and the SEC is the best conference in the country. If (No. 3 Oklahoma State) hadn’t lost to Iowa State, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Back at you
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who missed three games after arthroscopic knee surgery last month, had a big return against the Detroit Lions on Sunday night with 10 tackles and a pass breakup.
Before he did, Vilma took some good-natured jabs from teammates who reminded him they went 3-0 without him. But Payton had little sympathy for his defensive captain and three-time Pro Bowl pick.
“He took the same teasing he gave me when he said we’ve been rolling right along offensively with Pete (Carmichael Jr.) calling the plays,” Payton said with a laugh.