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Saints again dealing with adversity as season approaches

The SportsXchange

When the Saints reported for training camp in late July, they seemed to want nothing more than a fresh start after a rocky offseason that they were more than eager to put in their rearview mirror.

After a bounty scandal that rocked the league and an allegation that general manager Mickey Loomis eavesdropped on opposing coaches from his booth in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome a decade ago as well as quarterback Drew Brees' contentious contract negotiations with the team, it would have been easy for the Saints to hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves.

It would have been easy, almost expected, for them to take an "it's-us-against-the-world" attitude as they entered a season without suspended coach Sean Payton for the first time since 2006.

But that, interim coach Joe Vitt said before camp began, would have been counterproductive at best for a team and franchise that has enjoyed unprecedented success over the past three seasons.

In addition to Payton, Loomis and Vitt also face lesser suspensions, while middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith -- two of their leaders on that side of the ball -- were also suspended.

Yet, it doesn't necessarily mean the Saints need extra motivation to get the job done, Vitt said as his players began preparing for a most unusual season.

"I think this 'us-against-the-world-mentality' is out the door ... I really do," Vitt said. "I don't know how long those things last. We could certainly play that up, but when the ball is kicked off and the players walk inside the white lines, you're talking about technique, alignment and assignment."

Because the Saints have a veteran coaching staff and veteran players with some solid leaders, they figured that they didn't need any extra motivation to have another successful season.

It certainly would be that way, many of them said, if Payton were around for what will still be a difficult journey.

The Saints are content with trying to do what Payton simply asked them to do -- their job -- before his suspension began in April.

"(It's) our ability to prepare on a daily basis and a weekly basis," Vitt said in identifying what's most important. "Let's take it one game at a time, and add these things up at the end of the year and see where we are. It's what we have always done here."

Brees, who is armed with a new five-year, $100 million contract, said the Saints aren't going to waste time worrying about the situation they're in.

"That may be the way people like to frame it, but that's not the way we look at it," he said of the against-the-world mentality. "It seems to be the hot topic, but for us, it's just business as usual.

"You deal with it. Whatever comes your way, you deal with it."

The latest battle was a logistical one, but also a humanitarian tussle with which the Saints have wrestled before.

They were preparing on the fly this week when Hurricane Isaac struck south Louisiana on Tuesday night as a Category 1 storm and dumped dozens of inches of rain in the state just hours later.

With Isaac churning toward the Louisiana coast on Sunday, the Saints made the decision to evacuate in advance of the storm and headed to Cincinnati on Monday evening to prepare for Thursday night's preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

The Saints used the facilities of the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday before heading to Nashville on Wednesday to wrap up their preps for the matchup with the Titans.

It wasn't the first time the Saints were forced to leave New Orleans early because of an approaching storm since Sean Payton became their coach in 2006. In 2008, they practiced in Indianapolis the week before their regular-season opener at home against Tampa Bay because of a mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Gustav.

"That's the way this team is built," Vitt said of the adjustments the Saints made on short notice. "That's the way this organization's built.

"I think that it really just shadows the resiliency of our community. This community faces these types of things it seems every year," he added.
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