WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton is ending evening meetings with players an hour earlier at training camp this summer and starting practice an hour later in the mornings.
Doing so gives players more time to enjoy the amenities at the luxury Greenbrier Resort in the mountains of West Virginia, should they choose — but that was hardly the point.
Coming off consecutive 7-9, non-playoff seasons, Payton figured there had to be ways to tweak the schedule to get better results. Decades ago, conventional wisdom might have dictated longer, more grueling practices to promote toughness, a stronger work ethic and better conditioning. But Payton, who's gained a reputation for embracing technology and progressive philosophies about managing the modern pro athlete, didn't see the wisdom of such old-school approaches in 2016.
"One of the things we are paying attention to, obviously, is the recovery and all the elements that go into that," Payton said as camp practices began this past week. "A lot of it is the evening recovery — trying to get the guys in the cold tubs, trying to get the guys really to sleep earlier. Then the (morning) schedule is even backed up ... with the idea of making sure that everyone is getting north of eight hours rest."
Payton said there wasn't any specific study or new data that led him to emphasize rest and recovery so much as "a sum total of what we've seen, read, and heard." Part of it was simply ensuring trainers had time to employ new technology that helps players maintain their bodies, such as air compression sleeves helping circulation and thus reducing swelling for even relatively healthy players. Saints players also can climb into a super-cooled chamber for a few minutes with the goal of supplying muscles with more oxygen-infused blood.
"We've got a lot more gear now: the inflatable legs, the cryotherapy machine," Payton said. "There's a lot of other things that we have access to that we've got to take advantage of."
More rest and recovery gives players a reason to take the Greenbrier's pillow menu more seriously. But that emphasis won't turn Saints players into high-maintenance prima donnas, in Payton's view. Concepts of toughness, competitiveness and intensity are stressed during much of the day, particularly when players are on the field and in meetings.
"I credit coach Payton and his staff, man. He lets you know that what we did in the '60s and '70s and even in 2006 — it may not work," said running back Tim Hightower, who resurrected his career last year after spending three years out of football because of complications related to reconstructive knee surgery. "When you step on that field, you've got to go to work; it's a physical game.
"But it's another thing to have the awareness that your players need some down time. They need the tools, they need the resources to recover so we can be at our best day in and day out, and I think there's a huge emphasis on that.
"But then, when we step on that field, he wants a physical approach, a physical mindset, a tough, smart football team, and I like it, and I think guys are starting to understand," Hightower said.
The Saints' third practice of camp on Saturday was their first in full pads, and there were some heavy hits, highlighted by safety Kenny Vaccaro bursting through the offensive line and flattening fullback Sione Houma, who was blocking on a running play.
The NFL's collective bargaining agreement now limits teams to one traditional practice per day. Teams also can stage additional "walk-through" practices without pads in place of what used to be the second practice of two-a-days. Those generally emphasize formations and positional soundness and aren't run at full speed. The Saints have cut back on walk-throughs, but at times will lengthen their lone full-speed practice to nearly three hours.
"For us to get it the way it's supposed to look, there might be some practices where we're out here longer than normal," Payton said.
Right tackle Zach Strief, an 11th -year veteran who has spent his whole career with New Orleans, said he could sense after one day that camp would be tougher, despite the added rest time.
"They're going to push us," Strief said. "You really drive home the competition aspect of it, where it's not OK to have a bad play or miss a block or miss an assignment."
NOTES: CB Keenan Lewis and LT Terron Armstead remained on the club's physically unable to perform list, but Lewis could be seen working out on his own at close to full speed. ... DT Nick Fairley and S Erik Harris both left practice on Saturday. Payton did not provide details on their conditions.
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Posted on Mon, August 1, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer