Three Saints minicamp sessions open to public

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTONSaints coach Sean Payton, left, talks to defensive back Malcolm Jenkins as he stretches last week.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTONSaints coach Sean Payton, left, talks to defensive back Malcolm Jenkins as he stretches last week.

New Orleans Saints fans will get their first up-close look at the team since the 2012 season finale this week when coach Sean Payton opens three of his team’s five minicamp practices to the public starting Tuesday.

The Saints will practice twice Tuesday and Wednesday and once Thursday at the team’s Metairie training facility, located at 5800 Airline Drive, to wrap up the eighth week of their nine-week offseason program.

Only the morning practices will be open to the public on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each workout will start at 10:15 a.m. and run until 12:45 p.m., although it’s not uncommon for minicamp practices to end a little early.

In the event of inclement weather, the team may move indoors with little or no advance warning. Fans attending open practices will not be allowed inside the indoor facility because of space limitations.

There is no admission charge, and gates will open to the public at 9:30 a.m. each day. Parking will be available in the Zephyr Field parking lot just west of the Saints practice facility.

The Saints will also practice Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

Defense improving

New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who has been busy installing his 3-4 defense in stages during the team’s first two weeks of organized team activities, will take another big step in the minicamp.

“We are looking at some new things. I think that the game is changing a little bit with these athletic quarterbacks, so we worked with a lot of the zone read stuff and our coverage,” Ryan said Thursday. “We are trying to stay ahead of that curve, and I thought it went really well.

“(This) week will have a different emphasis, and again it’s a work in progress. It’s not perfect, but I know one thing: Our guys are working really hard, and I’ve been really impressed, especially with our veterans.”

Smith, Vilma shine

Two of the players Ryan has been impressed with are the more-tenured players on that side of the ball — Will Smith, who is settling in at outside linebacker after playing his first nine seasons at defensive end, and Jonathan Vilma, an inside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme.

Both players took pay cuts to remain with the Saints.

“Obviously, (General Manager) Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton wanted these guys around,” said Ryan, who also mentioned strong safety Roman Harper. “I’ve been so impressed with their work ethic, their attention to detail, and being students of the game.

“And (the fact that) they love football, so it’s going really well.”

‘Do Your Job’

With Payton back from his bounty suspension, the coach’s larger-than-life poster that owner Tom Benson had put up in the indoor practice facility has been removed.

The photo of an intense Payton patrolling the sideline in Super Bowl XLIV was affixed to a wall above the field just before training camp last season.

“That look in that poster, that piercing look, we’ve all had that look come our way a few times,” quarterback Drew Brees said Thursday. “It’s good to see the man in person, to have him out there. I know he’s excited to be back. You can feel it, you can feel the energy. We are just getting started here.”

“That was a year ago, and I understood the message behind it,” Payton said, “but for obvious reasons, we took it down as we are starting the upcoming season.”

Same old Sean

Brees said Payton may be slimmed down, but that’s the only difference in the soon-to-be 50-year-old coach.

“The guy looks like he is in pretty good shape. … I don’t know if I’d want to take him on in one of his CrossFit competitions right now, he might have the upper hand,” Brees said.

But that’s not the best part, he said.

“You can just tell he’s gained a lot of perspective by being away,” Brees said. “He had a lot of great ideas coming back. The man loves football, the man loves to coach, loves to teach. He is a great communicator. Everyone respects him. That goes beyond the game of football.”