Saints report to camp

Published 4:34 pm Friday, July 27, 2007

So much has changed for the New Orleans Saints as they returned to Mississippi’s capital city for training camp Wednesday.

The expectations are higher after the Saints — long a running joke — made a remarkable run to the NFC championship game last season. The roster is better, the defense stronger and the offense brimming with more toys.

Even the beds are bigger at Millsaps College, where several changes made to accommodate the Saints include larger furniture.

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“Last year we had to double up (the twin beds) to make them big enough,” running back Deuce McAllister said. “This year, at least, we get queen-size beds. That’s a plus for us. The big guys won’t be hanging off or hanging in the middle of the beds because they’re not big enough.”

The Saints and officials at the private college in downtown Jackson also have put in new fields and made more space for fans. About 10,000 showed up last year when the Saints were coming off a 3-13 season.

Many more are expected this year.

“The crowds this year will probably be doubled,” Millsaps spokesman Kevin Maloney said.

So, too, will be the expectations, general manager Mickey Loomis said.

There is a buzz around coach Sean Payton and the Saints following last season’s 10-6 regular season finish and playoff run that ended one victory short of the Super Bowl.

“The expectations on our team are a lot different than a year ago,” Loomis said. “A year ago we were trying to get to know each other.

“Each year you start from scratch, but this is Year 2 of the Sean Payton program. We don’t have many changes on our roster. We do have 21 of 22 starters returning.”

Another change at training camp this year will be the appearance of every New Orleans draft pick as camp opens, the first time that’s happened since 2000. Last season Reggie Bush was the last rookie signed after a brief holdout.

This year the Saints signed their top pick, former Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem, to a five-year contract worth more than $11 million the day before camp opened. Meachem was expected to join 85 others in Jackson for the team’s first meeting Wednesday night and Loomis said everyone is expected to be on time. After another meeting and conditioning tests Thursday, the Saints will begin practice Friday. They open their five-game preseason schedule against the Steelers in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio. Other new players in camp include several NFL veterans expected to boost the team. Among them are cornerback Jason David, a 43-game starter for the Colts the last three years; experienced linebackers Brian Simmons (Bengals) and Dhani Jones (Giants); kicker Olindo Mare (Dolphins); and two more options for Payton’s passing game, tight end Eric Johnson (49ers) and receiver David Patten (Redskins).

Despite the upgrades, Payton will be warning his players against becoming too confident.

“I mentioned this a number of times in our meetings,” Payton said. “There’s nothing promised to us in the 2007 season as a result of ’06.”

McAllister, a Lena, Miss., native who has a strong business presence in Jackson, said the players understand Payton’s philosophy and are ready to live up to this season’s expectations.

“More than anything, coach Payton holds everyone accountable,” McAllister said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a six-year veteran. He’s not going to accept mistakes. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to do it.”