METAIRIE — Another “Brees-less’’ day in the Big Steamy left the New Orleans Saints in a fighting mood at minicamp Wednesday morning.
With an intense sun beating down on the practice field and the clock approaching high noon, stand-in starting quarterback Chase Daniel lost his cool, and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton suddenly found himself in the middle of a scrum involving nearly 30 teammates.
That 90-second version of NFL wrestlemania likely will end up being the most contact during the team’s three-day mandatory, full-squad minicamp.
The fifth and final no-pads, no-contact practice is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. till noon Thursday and is open to the public, weather permitting.
Training camp opens in 49 days, and Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees and team officials remain at an impasse in contract negotiations.
“We’ll probably back off and take them to a petting zoo tomorrow,’’ Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt quipped at the end of the morning practice.
Asked what triggered the fracas, Vitt replied: “I didn’t ask. We don’t fill out questionnaires before something like that happens. It happened. Everything is fine.
“Look, this is not new. This is not something that has never happened before. It’s hot. They’re working hard, tempers flare, you have a little scrum, we break it up and we go back to work.’’
Tempers erupted during 11-on-11 drills when Lofton made contact with Daniel, who along with quarterbacks Sean Canfield and Luke McCown practice in red jerseys to signify that they are off limits to the defense.
After aborting the play, Daniel angrily tossed the ball at Lofton’s feet and yelled “stay off the quarterback.’’ Lofton charged Daniel and right guard Jahri Evans and tight end Jimmy Graham quickly came to Daniel’s defense.
Within seconds, a swarm of players jumped in the fray much to the delight of the estimated 750 fans who attended practice.
“(Daniel) threw the ball toward my feet and it was kind of disrespectful,’’ said Lofton, who left the Atlanta Falcons in March to sign as a free agent with the Saints.
“We had words, and the offense had his back and the defense had my back, and that’s what it is.
“We’re out here and we don’t have anybody to compete against except ourselves. So we’re pushing each other to be good, to be great.’’
Daniel said Lofton has shown a frequent disregard for the team’s “no-hit’’ policy on quarterbacks the past few days, and emotions bubbled over.
“We don’t want to have brawls like that every single day, but it shows guys are enthused and into it,’’ Daniel said. “For us, we only have three quarterbacks right now, so we don’t like to get hit at all because the slightest of hits could cause a serious injury.’’
The incident came in the wake of several ill-advised passes by Daniel that resulted in interceptions.
“It really wasn’t out of frustration,’’ Daniel said. “I was mad that (Lofton) literally just ran into me.
“But we cleared it up, we’re good and everything is good to go.
“It was hot. We were in the middle of practice, emotions are flying everywhere, and that’s what happened.’’
It turns out that Daniel (who played at Missouri) and Lofton (who played at Oklahoma) have a history that dates back to their college days in the Big 12.
In the 2007 conference championship between the Sooners and Tigers, Lofton put a lick on Daniel that he remembers to this day.
“It literally was the hardest hit I ever had in college,’’ Daniel said. “We were running speed option right, and he came through unblocked and just leveled me. I will always remember that.
“The good out of all this scrum and scrap is that guys are sticking up for each other. Jimmy Graham was in there and Jahri Evans was in there and soon there were 30 people in there and I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m out of here. I’m going back into the huddle and get ready for the next play.’ But it was nice to see that.’’