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ARLINGTON, Texas – Saints head coach Sean Payton knew some of the answers.
He knew his team would practice at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in North Texas for three consecutive days beginning Monday. He knew he must trim his roster to 53 players by the league’s 4 p.m. ET Tuesday deadline. And he knew the Saints still plan to open their season against the Green Bay Packers.
Then enter the unknowns facing New Orleans’ NFL team after a hasty but relatively smooth evacuation to Dallas ahead of Hurricane Ida hitting land.
Where will the team practice next week? Where will the Saints play that scheduled-for-Sept. 12 opener against the Packers? Payton, considering the damage inflicted with all of Orleans Parish without power, cannot yet know.
“We don’t know relative to the starting game Week 1 in the Superdome,” Payton told reporters Monday morning via conference call. “We’ll keep you posted when we hear. Obviously, we’ll have a Plan B. There are a lot of other things probably from a priority standpoint that are more important for our city. That all being said, we fully anticipate starting the season with Green Bay. The question would be where that game’s at.
“I don’t see it being in Green Bay.”
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The Saints canceled their Saturday preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, instead evacuating to a Dallas hotel by Saturday evening. Players, coaches, football operations staff and roughly 120 family members safely evacuated before Ida landed. Payton moved the players’ scheduled day off from Monday to Sunday, then reconvened the team for a meeting Monday morning in hotel ballrooms. Logistics were broached, as was the necessity of trimming the workforce shortly. Payton acknowledged the ugly reality that he must cut dozens of players mere days after meeting their family members during a natural disaster.
"I don't like it," Payton said. "With all the families here, I think that's challenging. I brought it up this morning. And we talked about it as a team and I just said, 'Hey, we just have to understand that there's a lot of good about us being here. But there are challenges when it comes to your jobs that are on the line and we're going to do our best to take care of everyone.'”
Afternoon practices commenced at AT&T Stadium at 1:30 p.m. local time Monday. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill took snaps from the west end zone, linebackers practiced their keys against upside-down trashcans and special-teams players kicked into sideline nets during a roughly 15-minute window open to the media. Payton paced through lines of stretching during warmups, music blaring throughout the stadium the team is temporarily calling its home. The change of scenery amid looming uncertainty was evident. But the key, linebacker Demario Davis said, was to compartmentalize.
Saints practice underway here at Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.
Latest for @USATODAY on expectation team won’t return to own facility any time soon in wake of #HurricaneIda: https://t.co/nDuZui5Do8 pic.twitter.com/dH7yFSRQb7
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) August 30, 2021
“We still have a mission at hand,” Davis said. “We still have to work out, you still got to watch film, and you still have to attack practice with everything you got in you understanding that when we play Green Bay, in I guess a little less than two weeks, they're not going to be taking it easy.
“You have to be able to shift in and out to still keep that humanity part about you to be tapped into what's going on around you. But when you step inside the arena of this game, you kind of have to go to a different place.
“Culturally, we're built to be resilient in times like these.”
Saints QB Jameis Winston practicing today pic.twitter.com/ygyyCZB6cb
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) August 30, 2021
The Saints are scheduled to resume practices at the Cowboys’ stadium at 1:30 p.m. local time Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, the whereabouts of scheduling are murky. Payton expects it will be “unrealistic” to practice next week at the team facility in Metairie, Louisiana.
Afternoon practices will commence at AT&T Stadium on Monday at 1:30 p.m. local time. Tuesday and Wednesday practices will begin the same time. After that, the whereabouts of scheduling are murky. Payton expects it will be “unrealistic” to practice next week at the team facility in Metairie, Louisiana.
“I think what’s more realistic is once this roster gets reduced, I kind of see these guys Wednesday taking some time away, head back to where they’re from originally maybe,” Payton said. “Then me on Wednesday telling them, ‘Hey, I’ll see you guys Sunday night and here’s where we’re going to be.’
“We’re going to start practicing on Monday, we just got to fill in that last blank. But I don’t see that realistically being in New Orleans.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hurricane Ida: Saints coach Sean Payton unsure of schedule impact