Fans attending the New Orleans Saints’ open minicamp practices in the next three days may notice a difference in the intensity level of the workouts from previous years.
Because of changes in the new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in August, NFL teams and players are limited in what they can and can’t do during veteran minicamps.
So when the Saints take the field for five practices between Tuesday and Thursday at their Metairie training facility, there will be no contact work (defined in Article 22, Section 5 of the CBA as “live” blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run) or use of pads. Helmets are permitted.
Each of the Saints’ five workouts will be open free of charge to the public, although practices that have to be moved to the team’s indoor facility because of inclement weather will be closed to fans.
The Saints have practices scheduled for 10:15 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and wrap things up with a single workout at 10:15 a.m. Thursday. Gates open 45 minutes before the start of each workout.
“We want as little contact as possible, and I’m all for that,” Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said of the rules limitations. “The season is grueling, it’s long.
“I think for our offensive and defensive linemen, what we’ve tried to teach is, ‘Bring your hands first, your feet second, shut it down, and try to have as little helmet-to-helmet contact as we can.’”
Vitt admitted it will be a change for the Saints, who in the past had some spirited minicamp work with the competitive juices flowing in the heat and humidity of early June.
“It’s nonpadded contact,” he said of the minicamp. “That being said, that is the antithesis of what these guys are used to doing. So we have to work on tempo and the noncontact part. The guys are really trying to adhere to what we’re trying to teach, but I’m all for that.”
When asked if he and the Saints coaching staff will be able to accomplish what they used to under the old CBA, Vitt said it didn’t matter as long as all NFL clubs are doing the same thing.
“I don’t think you can have a defensive lineman coming off full-speed and an offensive lineman mirroring him without there being contact,” Vitt noted. “You could probably work on your footwork and hand placement, but at the end of the day, you might create more bad habits than good habits.”
Vitt said it could be tougher on defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and defensive end Will Smith, who are used to coming off the ball and going full-speed on every play.
“You have to slow them down, and they’re not used to that,” he said. “Our offensive line has really done a good job (getting used to the new rules). But defensive lineman are used to playing downhill, so there has been a little bit of a learning curve.
“As long as the playing field is equal and all the teams are doing the same thing, I’ve got no problem with that.”
Most of the 84 players on the roster are expected to participate in the minicamp, although injured players like middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and running back Mark Ingram, who are coming off arthroscopic procedures on their knees, likely won’t practice.
Also, quarterback Drew Brees, who has missed all of the team’s offseason work to date, won’t be at the minicamp as he continues to try to get a long-term contract from the team.
The minicamp will wrap up the second-to-last week of the Saints’ nine-week offseason program, which began April 16. Next week, the team will hold the last four of its allotted 10 organized team activities.