Top two draft picks out as the Saints open training camp

Published 10:02 pm Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sedrick Ellis and Tracy Porter, the New Orleans Saints’ top two draft picks, remained unsigned and absent while the rest of the team reported to training camp on Wednesday.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis showed little optimism while trying to estimate how many practices the two rookies would miss, calling their absence a result of “outrageous” demands on the part of sports agents representing highly drafted rookies across the NFL.

“There’s been very little progress in the first round — period,” Loomis said. “It’s frustrating because I feel like it’s about the agents of these guys not wanting to look bad as opposed to any concern for getting the player in here and getting him acclimated and getting him going in the right way in his first year in the league.

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“They’re all just waiting … not wanting to be embarrassed by a deal that gets done after they do their deal, and frankly, they’re looking for some huge increases,” Loomis added.

“They’ll do a deal if you want to give them some outrageous increase. I just don’t know any business that you hand out 20 percent, 30 percent increases every year. You’re not going to be in business very long if you do that.”

Ellis, a 6-foot-1, 307-pound defensive tackle out of Southern California, is expected to compete for a starting role on the defensive line right away following strong showings in rookie and mini camps.

Porter, a cornerback who was the defensive captain at Indiana, will be part of a defensive backfield where coach Sean Payton said there will be plenty of competition for playing time.

The longer they miss training camp, however, the lower their chances of playing early in the season, Payton said.

“It’s hard for rookies to miss time — period,” Payton said. “It happens. It’s part of the business and you move forward, but it’s difficult. … They’re already behind the 8-ball.”

Also a no-show was cornerback Jerametrius Butler, an eight-year veteran who was picked up as a free agent in the offseason but apparently decided to retire, the coach said.

Several other players will sit out practice early in camp while recovering from injuries, Payton said, including cornerback Mike McKenzie and safety Josh Bullocks, who have been placed on the physically unable to perform list in case they have a setback before the end of camp.

But Payton expected them back in practice, at least on a limited basis, well before then.

McKenzie is rehabilitating a torn right anterior cruciate ligament from late last season and Bullocks is recovering from offseason arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Meanwhile, tight end Eric Johnson will be sidelined because of a left ankle injury, which took place while he was training on his own during the offseason.

Still, Payton was upbeat and expressed particular satisfaction with the conditioning of the majority of players who are fit to practice. Payton said all but one player made their targeted weight.

Payton would not divulge which player came in heavier than coaches wanted, but added that it was not a lineman. That meant nose tackle Hollis Thomas, who has struggled with his weight and played at more than 330 pounds through much of his career, met his goal.

“He looked good,” Payton said, smiling, though he did not specify what Thomas’ weight was.

Payton said running back Deuce McAllister weighed in at 227 pounds, nearly 9 pounds lighter than usual, in spite of having reconstructive knee surgery on his left knee last season and microfracture surgery on his right knee, which is a painful procedure meant to regenerate padding in the knee joint when cartilage has worn down.

“He’s had to battle his weight and it hasn’t been easy,” Payton said, adding that he will be careful with the amount of practice time he gives McAllister early in camp, perhaps limiting him to one practice on days when the team holds two.

McAllister also was told to sit out a conditioning test that Payton runs on the day players report to camp, as was linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had surgery on his right knee last season, and newly acquired tight end Jeremy Shockey, who broke his left leg last season. Defensive tackle Brian Young (left knee soreness) and running back Aaron Stecker (sprained toe) also did not run.

Payton said Shockey, like McAllister, likely would be held out of some practices as a precaution, but that Vilma was closer to full strength.

“We’ve just got to be careful what we’re doing the first week,” Payton said.

The Saints were 7-9 in 2007, missing the playoffs only one season after going to the NFC championship game. Payton said he hopes the fact that so many players arrived at camp in great shape is an indication they took last season’s disappointment to heart and are determined to improve.

“There is a sense of each individual not wanting to let the group down,” Payton said. “It inspires you as coaches and teachers knowing they’re ready. They’ve spent a lot of time, even though they’ve been away from us, preparing for this day.”