Brees shines as Saints camp begins
METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints version of Superman was back Thursday afternoon.
Well, he was officially back Wednesday when quarterback Drew Brees challenged tight end Jimmy Graham, who is nearly eight years younger, to a race during the pre-training camp conditioning test — a 300-yard shuttle run — and won.
Graham claimed he let Brees, who missed the team’s offseason program while negotiating a five-year, $100 million contract that he received on July 13, win.
“I was told to never tug on Superman’s cape,” said Graham, “so I let him win.”
With that little bit of business out of the way, Brees picked up where he left off last season when he shattered Dan Marino’s 28-year-old NFL single-season passing record with 5,476 yards.
After a bit of a slow start in the team’s first full-speed practice of training camp, Brees showed that he wasn’t just sitting around this spring and summer while his teammates were preparing in the heat and humidity for the season.
“Outstanding,” Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said when asked about Brees’ first performance out of the box. “I don’t think anybody’s eyes lied to him. You guys were here and saw the practice.”
Vitt lauded Brees for his tempo and ball location even though his first three passes in team drills were broken up by safety Malcolm Jenkins, cornerback Johnny Patrick and defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had dropped into coverage on a zone blitz.
His first official completion came on a route over the middle to Graham, who raced to the sideline and turned it into a big gain before being pushed out of bounds.
It was just one of many plays that Brees and his receivers had against new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit.
“That’s what we have told you all, (about) his work habits during the offseason,” Vitt said when asked if Brees was exceptionally sharp. “He’s made the best of a tough situation in not being with his teammates and by coming here in great shape.
“He came in today and showed his great leadership qualities that he has, great accuracy on the ball, good zip,” he added. “He’s got a lot of pent-up frustration. He hasn’t played since San Francisco. He was happy to be out there.”
Brees showed he was ready to go one day earlier when he took on Graham.
“I think we all know that if Jimmy and I were to flat out race, he would beat me,” a smiling Brees said. “In a 300-yard shuttle, it takes a little bit more than speed. It takes a little endurance and a little want-to.”
As far as Thursday’s initial practice was concerned, Brees was pleased after he and backup Chase Daniel hooked up with their receivers for several big plays over the top of the defense.
“We have had a couple of meetings of install and time to watch film and talk through what would be this first day of install and take a look at some of the things our defense is going to be throwing at us,” Brees said. “Camp, I think, is a lot of fun.”
Brees connected with wide receiver Lance Moore on a long pass over the middle when Jenkins, who had good coverage, let an interception slip through his fingers and Moore made the grab as he fell to the turf.
“Every day, it is going to continue to get more precise as we gain that tempo and that rhythm back,” Brees said. “For me, you are in and out of the huddle, you are seeing things, you are getting things declared correctly in the run game and the pass game, and you are throwing the ball on time.
“Maybe there are some miscommunications early on, especially if you are installing new stuff, maybe there are some new concepts. We always tinker with stuff every offseason.”
Daniel threw long touchdown passes to wide receivers Joe Morgan and Chris Givens after they got behind cornerbacks Corey White and Patrick, respectively. Patrick fell down when he got his feet tangled up with Givens, allowing him to run free to the end zone.
Graham said it was easy to tell that Brees was ready to go.
“I can tell that he’s had a lot of time to think,” he said of his protracted contract negotiations, “and definitely a lot of time to work out.”