Millsaps is home of Saints

Published 6:33 pm Friday, July 28, 2006

Reggie Bush missed a reporting deadline for the New Orleans Saints’ training camp Thursday evening.

It appeared he’d be the only unsigned player when the team gathered for its first meeting at 9 a.m. CDT on Friday, at which point his holdout would officially begin.

The Saints and second-round draft choice Roman Harper agreed to a four-year contract Thursday night, while Jahri Evans, an offensive lineman taken in the fourth round, and Mike Hass, a sure-handed receiver picked in the sixth round, both agreed to three-year deals.

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Harper, a three-year starter at Alabama, was rated as one of the top college defensive backs in the country in 2005, when he was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

“It’s a priority to get young players who will be solid contributors signed and in training camp,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “We expect a lot from Roman, and an important part of his progress is being here, with his teammates, from the start.”

Hass shattered school records at Oregon State with 220 receptions for 3,934 yards. He also tied the school’s all-time mark with 20 touchdown catches and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver.

Evans, out of Division II Bloomsburg (Pa.), played left tackle in an offense that produced 284.3 yards rushing per game last year.

Neither Loomis nor Bush’s agent, Joel Segal, would comment specifically on negotiations concerning the Heisman Trophy winner. Loomis has said recently that negotiations with Bush are running a “normal” course.

“These negotiations take time, an attention to detail and a lot of work,” Loomis said.

Top overall pick Mario Williams signed a six-year, $54 million contract with Houston, with $26.5 million guaranteed. And on Thursday, third pick Vince Young agreed to a five-year deal, with an option for a sixth, with $25.7 million guaranteed and an overall value that could reach $58 million with option and roster bonuses and salary.

Bush was chosen between Williams and Young.

Because Bush likely would have been the No. 1 choice for a number of teams other than Houston, he could be looking for a contract at least as valuable as Williams’ deal.

Meanwhile, the era of new coach Sean Payton began quietly, with team officials denying access to any players or coaches as they arrived on campus — a departure from years past, when arriving players spoke freely.

Saints officials informed media that no video or photos could be shot of any players and that no interviews would be granted until after practice Friday afternoon.

The one exception was tight end Ernie Conwell, who briefly stopped to talk with a reporter from WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss., until being informed of the new policy.

Conwell said he hoped the Saints would benefit from training on a college campus after spending the past couple seasons at their suburban New Orleans headquarters.

“There’s going to be a handful of guys that need this type of environment,” Conwell said. “You’re in a dorm room and everybody’s spending time together. This can create a good environment for team chemistry and working hard.”

That was Payton’s aim when he worked with Loomis on moving training camp to Millsaps College.

Coming to Jackson also reduces the likelihood of disruptions if another strong storm were to hit New Orleans in August. Last season, Hurricane Katrina’s approach forced the Saints to leave New Orleans a few days early for their final preseason game in Oakland. The team could not return to the city in 2005, moving temporarily to San Antonio and playing four home games in Baton Rouge.

The Saints returned to New Orleans in January, and have been trying to expand their fan base regionally, with their hometown still struggling to recover from last year’s disaster.

Jackson, a three-hour drive north of New Orleans, has long provided the Saints with a casual fan base that has grown larger and more passionate since Mississippi native and Ole Miss star Deuce McAllister has become the face of the franchise. The Saints see moving camp here as a way to thank Mississippi fans for the support and drum up more interest in the team.