METAIRIE — Back on the field with his veteran players for the first time since the end of the 2011 postseason, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton wrapped up the first week of organized team activities Thursday.
This week was an important one for the Saints, who are trying to move forward after a 7-9 season in which they gave up the most yards in NFL history which led Payton to install a 3-4 defense being run by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
The Saints conducted the first of 10 allowed OTAs on Tuesday and Wednesday under wraps at their practice facility before Payton opened it up to media on Thursday.
“This was our first go at it here this week, so there is a lot of learning going on,” said Payton, who’s using this week and the next two weeks to install the offense, defense and special teams. “There are a lot of new faces, so there is a lot of learning. The guys are getting a first run through it, and we’ll repeat it when we go through training camp.”
With the switch to a 3-4 defense, some players are getting used to a new position.
One of them is Will Smith, who played nine NFL seasons at right end in the team’s old 4-3 front but is now lining up as a rush outside linebacker.
“That’s the natural spot a 4-3 end would go to if you moved to a 3-4 front,” Payton said. “Most of the time, he’ll be rushing and at times you drop into coverage when you’re not rushing. We still view him as someone that will rush, not only in the base but when we get into our sub situations and we’re out of our 3-4 front. That adjustment for him will be pretty smooth, maybe, compared to other positions.”
Brown works on side
Third-year pro Charles Brown, who’s been plagued by injuries in his first two NFL seasons, didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice because of a weight room-related injury.
Payton wouldn’t elaborate on Brown’s injury, but it’s not a good sign for a player who’s trying to win the left tackle job that came open when Jermon Bushrod left in free agency.
“It’s nothing significant, and we’ll just keep monitoring it,” Payton said.
Jason Smith worked with the first-team offense at left tackle and third-round draft pick Terron Armstead got the second-team reps.
In addition to Brown, free safety Malcolm Jenkins was held out of the heavy work Thursday as a precaution over the hamstring injury that put him on injured reserve late last season. Jenkins, who worked in individual drills, said he participated in the first two OTAs Tuesday and Wednesday.
Not on the field Thursday were inside linebackers Jonathan Vilma and David Hawthorne, who Payton said were resting.
Lewis steps in
Cornerback Keenan Lewis, the team’s top acquisition in free agency this offseason, started on the left side ahead of four-year starter Jabari Greer on Thursday with Patrick Robinson on the right side.
Payton said that didn’t necessarily mean anything in the first week of OTAs.
“We’re going to rotate guys all around this week, so you really can’t read into who’s out there with the first, second and third group,” Payton noted. “We’ll rotate by practice, by drill. You’re going to see a ton of different players taking the first five, second five and the third five (plays).”
Payton said quarterback Ryan Griffin, an undrafted free agent from Tulane, already has a good grasp of the offense after playing last season for former Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson.
“It’s noticeably different than maybe most first-year quarterbacks coming in and trying to pick things up right away,” Payton said. “There are a lot of things that are familiar. That’s a big plus for him.”
Behind starter Drew Brees are veterans Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace.
The Saints waived defensive end Greg Romeus after Thursday’s practice.
A seventh-round draft pick in 2011, Romeus missed that season while rehabbing a right knee injury he suffered late in his senior year at Pittsburgh. Then, he tore his left ACL in June and had to sit out a second straight season.
Running back Mark Ingram has a new number as he turned in the No. 28 he wore the past two seasons and went with No. 22, the number he wore at Alabama.
Lewis is now wearing No. 28.