Saints know returning to former glory won’t be easy

The media buzz Tuesday afternoon at Saints headquarters in Metairie centered around the franchise’s chance of returning to its former greatness.

After all, the problems that plagued the Saints last season — from the field to the courtroom — appear to be resolved.

Coach Sean Payton, who nearly four seasons ago guided the Saints to a Super Bowl XLIV victory, is back. First-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has installed a 3-4 scheme and his defensive veterans have embraced his fiery attitude. And in general, players seem motivated to overshadow last season’s 7-9 finish, evident by their full participation at voluntary offseason workouts.

Will that be enough? Too early to tell, Payton said.

“Every year is different,” he said. “I never talk with this team about us being like the 2009, 2010, or the 2011 teams, so there is nothing promised.

“There is a process of working hard, and obviously there are a lot of things that we have to improve on, and that is what we are working on.”

Payton then reminded reporters that the Saints have yet to put pads on in 2013.

The 2012 season was marked by horrid defensive play, a lack of a running game, more Drew Brees interceptions and less Brees heroics than normal and suspensions tied to the pay-to-injure controversy that stripped the franchise of its leaders in the front office, coaching staff and on the defense.

This year, just two more OTAs remain. After Thursday, players and staff will depart until training camp in late July. From there, this spring’s period of learning during minicamp and OTAs will transform into evaluations and position competitions. Positions expected to be highly competitive include safety and cornerback, as well as left offensive tackle and No. 3 receiver.

Players echoed Payton’s remarks. While they’re rejoiced Bountygate is settled and hope the the defensive changes account for better play, veterans like free safety Malcolm Jenkins don’t feel fall marks any guaranteed return to their winning ways.

To them, potential means they haven’t accomplished anything yet. They know they will have to earn any success, just like before.

“Nothing is going to guarantee us that we’re going to go back to being a great team and winning 13 games just because we had a normal offseason, just because Sean’s back or we have a new defensive coordinator,” Jenkins said. “None of that stuff guarantees anything. We still have to go out and play complementary football, win the turnover battle and make some plays.”

Jenkins said he utilizes the period between mid-June and late July to be a husband, take a trip with his wife and visit family before gearing up physically for position competition.

Rookies like receiver Kenny Stills are preparing for an offseason before their first NFL season.

“I’m excited for that next challenge,” said, who played college football at Oklahoma. “I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from Lance (Moore) and Marques (Colston) and Joe (Morgan). I feel like we have high expectations as a team.”