Payton, Saints wrap first phase of OTAs

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

METARIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints wrapped up the first week of the final phase of their offseason program Thursday, conducting the third of 10 allowed organized team activities.
It was the first real week of work on the field with his veterans for coach Sean Payton since the end of the 2011 postseason after being suspended last season for his part in the pay-for-performance scheme.
Payton said less than half the team's 90-man roster wasn't around in 2011, which made it challenging for him to get used to many of the players that have been drafted and signed over the past two seasons.
"This was our first go at it here this week, so there is a lot of learning going on," he said. "There are a lot of new faces, so there is a lot of learning."
Because the Saints are going from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 alignment under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, several players are having to learn new positions.
Among them is outside linebacker Will Smith, who spent his first nine seasons in the league at right end in the Saints' old 4-3.
"That's the natural spot a 4-3 end would go to if you moved to a 3-4 front," Payton said. "Most of the time, he'll be rushing, and at times you drop into coverage when you're not rushing. We still view him as someone that will rush, not only in the base but when we get into our sub situations and we're out of our 3-4 front.
"More than close to half the snaps will be in a nickel or some type of substituted defense, so that adjustment for him will be pretty smooth, maybe, compared to other positions."
Offensive tackle Charles Brown, the likely candidate to get first crack at replacing two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, didn't practice Thursday because of a weight room-related injury.
Brown, who has finished his first two seasons on injured reserve, worked with a trainer while Jason Smith, a newcomer to the team, got the first-team reps in Thursday's workout while third-round draft pick Terron Armstead worked with the second team.
"It's nothing significant and we'll just keep monitoring it," Payton said. "He got some work in during the walkthroughs, so we'll just be patient with it."
Cornerback Keenan Lewis, the team's top acquisition in free agency this offseason, started on the left side ahead of Jabari Greer on Thursday with Patrick Robinson on the right side.
But Payton said that didn't indicate that Greer, a four-year starter, had lost his hold on the job.
"We're going to rotate guys all around this week, so you really can't read into who's out there with the first, second and third group," Payton said. "We'll rotate by practice, by drill. You're going to see a ton of different players taking the first five, second five and the third five (plays)."
The Saints waived defensive end Greg Romeus, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, after Thursday's practice.
Romeus was projected to be a high draft pick before tearing his right ACL late in his senior season at Pittsburgh in 2010 and missed the entire 2011 season rehabbing his knee after being chosen by the Saints.
But he also tore his left ACL during an OTA last June and was forced to sit out a second straight season.

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