A full-color impression of Sean Payton watched over the Saints last season from high above the indoor practice facility.
Tagged with a motto of “DO YOUR JOB,” the facsimile marked the franchise’s attempt to remind everyone at Saints headquarters of Payton’s importance and presence, even if he was far away, serving a yearlong suspension for his alleged role in the pay-to-injure controversy.
The portrait, though, proved to be less than the man. The Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
So it will come as no surprise Tuesday through Thursday when fans attend one of three Saints minicamp morning sessions open to the public that they will see Payton pacing the sidelines, evaluating the new-look defense and the linemen competing to protect Drew Brees’ blind side.
They will not see last season’s visual motivations.
“I understood the message behind it,” Payton said of the gigantic poster, which has since been taken down. “But for obvious reasons, we took it down as we are starting the upcoming season.”
Morning practices, 10:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., are free and open to the public.
One year ago, the person in charge of the franchise, the team’s primary voice to the public, seemed to change as much as new releases at movie theaters. Joe Vitt for training camp, then Aaron Kromer to start the regular season. Then back to Vitt after his six-game suspension. General Manager Mickey Loomis returned after eight games.
Now, Payton, who has led the Saints to four playoff berths, three NFC South division titles and a Super Bowl XLIV victory, is back.
Perhaps right tackle Zach Strief said it best last month when explaining Payton’s importance.
“You can sail a boat without a captain, but sometimes you don’t exactly know where you’re going,” Strief said. “Having him back is kind of redirecting us and getting us back on the right path. I think everything we’ve seen so far has proven that.”
No more imagining what Payton would think about a miscue on the field. Just look over your shoulder and find the tightened face.
“That look that was given in that poster, that piercing look, we’ve all had that look come our way a few times,” Brees said.
“It’s good to see the man in person, to have him out there. I know he is excited to be back. You can feel it, you can feel the energy. We are just getting started here.”
Nearly half of the roster has changed since Payton coached his last game for the Saints. Young players like Joseph Morgan, Akiem Hicks and Travaris Cadet represent talented playmakers Payton is still getting to know up-close.
For now, Payton and his staff is more focused on teaching new schemes on offense, defense and special teams than evaluation. For now.
“We’re getting ready for the installations, and guys are getting the first run of it here, and we’ll repeat it when we get to training camp,” he said. “It’s the same type of format in regards to teaching.”
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said last week the unit will continue to add sub packages to stay ahead of the offenses for this fall.
“It’s a work in progress,” Ryan said. “It’s not perfect, but I know one thing: It’s that our guys are working really hard, and I’ve been really impressed, especially with our veterans.”
Free safety Malcolm Jenkins said Payton’s message has been to focus on conditioning more than competition battles.
“Right now is the time to kind of get in shape and really focus on developing our bodies, and so guys have responded to that. With everybody being here, it makes it that much better.”