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Saints focused on mastering Spagnuolo's scheme

The SportsXchange

With most of the roster set, Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt decided to move practices to the mornings, in part to make sure the team is getting in full sessions.

It's back to more of the normal training camp routine after it made more sense to have afternoon practices last year with so much turnover following the end of the lockout and quick start to camp.

"This year, everybody's been here, so we all feel good about the install," said Vitt. "Once (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) felt good about the install, we'd switch it up with the heavy in the morning and the walk-through in the afternoon."

That doesn't mean there won't still be some roster tweaking. Depth at cornerback is a concern, especially with Jabari Greer suffering a "little groin pull" according to Vitt, and Patrick Robinson likely out a few days with a shoulder injury.

One thing it will do is create opportunities for younger players to step up in Sunday's preseason opener against Arizona in the Hall of Fame game.

"This is a great evaluation coming up this weekend against pretty good receivers that we're going to go against," said Vitt. "We were in pajamas in the spring time. We've been in pads now for the third day. I think this weekend is going to be a big challenge for him. We're excited for that challenge."

The first live game action will be an important step for important newcomers including linebackers Curtis Lofton and Michael Hawthorne.

"I think every day it gets a little bit easier for us," Hawthorne said of picking up the scheme. "On the defense, we are starting to sync up and really understand what Spags is asking out of each defense that he is calling.

"It's a defense for linebackers to come down here and make plays. He asks a lot of us. I think as a linebacker core, we are really advanced right now."

Another new linebacker, Chris Chamberlain, has a step up in that he played for Spagnuolo in St. Louis.

"I've kind of been an assistant linebackers coach here for the first couple weeks of camp, and rightfully so," said Chamberlain. "I want to be that guy that guys can come to and ask questions, be able to help them out, and give them some inside knowledge. I've been pretty popular here lately with my teammates."

The Hall of Fame induction weekend will be especially memorable for Vitt. Former Saints offensive lineman Willie Roaf will be inducted along with defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who Vitt coached when he game out of the University of Miami.

"We (Seattle) drafted Cortez Kennedy I believe in 1991 in the first round. When he came out of Miami, all he wanted to be was a state trooper, an Arkansas state trooper. Now he's going into the Hall of Fame," said Vitt. "Willie Roaf, I had in Kansas City for four years. I think he was the most dominant tackle along with Jackie Slater of our era. He was a great player. Both are great people. Both are great contributors to our sport and great ambassadors. Hey, it's going to be happy and it's going to be emotional too. It's going to be great."
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