Not all of the Saints’ 2014 training camp this summer will be in the oppressive heat of Metairie, where their practice facilities are located. Some of it will be amid the relatively milder temperatures at a luxury golf resort in West Virginia, the team announced Thursday.
According to the Saints, as they’ve done since 2009, they’ll still host training camp sessions open to fans in Metairie. But for part of the camp that helps the Saints determine the 53-man roster for the 2014 season, that action will unfold at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
The team hasn’t released camp dates, although Greenbrier owner Jim Justice estimated the Saints would be at the resort in White Sulphur Springs from July 18 to Aug. 16, an Associated Press story said. Admission for fans will be free.
Justice told the Charleston Gazette the deal would last through at least 2016.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis in a written statement said they value engaging local fans, but he added that going out of town can be beneficial for teams. He alluded to the week the Saints spent in Oxnard, Calif., in 2011, after which they set an NFL record for yards on offense.
From 2006 to 2008, they held training camp in Jackson, Miss.
They reached the first NFC Championship Game in franchise history at the end of the 2006 season.
“We feel like this decision will allow our team to best prepare for our 2014 season by practicing at our facility and also taking advantage of a more moderate climate and setting in West Virginia,” Loomis said. “With this plan, we get the best of both, and that is important. We get quality practices in both locations, and we get the benefits of having our fans support us during our time at home in Metairie and we get the opportunity for our team to unite at a location away from home.”
Coach Sean Payton may have gotten the idea when he caddied for golfer Ryan Palmer at last June’s Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tour event hosted at the resort that is considered a National Historic landmark.
“By splitting training camp between New Orleans and The Greenbrier, we will have a great opportunity to further enhance our training camp in 2014,” Payton said in the team’s statement, which noted The Greenbrier had received 26 U.S. presidents as guests since about two years after the United States declared their independence. “It offers a tremendous opportunity to our team in a more moderate summer climate.”
Justice said Payton was a key to the Saints’ commitment.
“Sean just fell in love with The Greenbrier and fell in love with the people from West Virginia,” Justice said. “That led to a dialogue. The whole dialogue started with Sean. And then one thing led to another.”
Justice said two natural grass practice fields and one synthetic field are being built at the resort, in addition to a 55,000-square-foot building with kitchen and dining facilities, meeting rooms, weight and locker rooms, training and physical therapy accommodations. He estimated the price tag at $20 million to $25 million.
“It’s unbelievable,” Justice said. “I’m so happy from the standpoint of just what it does for our state. It’s jobs. It’s great tourism. It’s stuff we deserve. It will do great things for our state all over the place.”
The Saints said they’ll finalize the dates of all their training camp practices at a later time.
Herring to Big D
Will Herring, a backup linebacker and special-teams captain for the Saints in 2013, is leaving New Orleans in free agency and headed to the Dallas Cowboys, he announced on his verified Twitter account on Thursday.
“I wish my former teammates and the Saints best of luck!” wrote Herring, who expressed his gratitude to the team he had been on since 2011. “Blessed to be playing in the Big D this year and to be a part of (the) Cowboys organization!”
Media reports said Herring agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Dallas, whose defense was ranked last in 2013 and in a Nov. 10 road loss to the Saints allowed New Orleans to amass an NFL-record 40 first downs and a franchise-best 625 total yards of offense. The deal was reportedly pending a physical.
Herring led the Saints’ special teams unit with seven tackles, and he forced a fumble. Rotating in at inside linebacker on defense, he intercepted a pass in a Week 4 win vs. Miami and had six solo tackles.
This is the fourth time in five seasons that New Orleans parts ways with its special-teams captain from the previous year.
Humber re-sign talks go on
Re-signing talks between Ramon Humber — like Herring, one of the unit’s best coverage players — and New Orleans were ongoing Thursday, according to an NFL source.
Two other teams were interested in Humber, a backup linebacker and free agent at the moment, said the source, declining to reveal who the clubs were.
Humber tied for third in solo special-teams tackles (six) last year. He also recovered an onside kick each in a Week 15 loss to St. Louis and in a Week 16 loss to Carolina. He lined up in some of the Saints’ specialty packages on defense, recording 0.5 sacks and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
He earned almost 63,000 Pro Bowl fan votes, which was ninth among special teamers. He did not make the team.
“I’ve been hearing it from a lot of guys who’ve been in the league before me, they said it’s rough to try to stay with one team. ... A two-year extension ... truly is a blessing.”
Running back Pierre Thomas on the contract extension he received Wednesday
“(He) played an important role for us on both offense and special teams for the last three seasons. He did everything that was asked of him ... well.”
Loomis on running back Darren Sproles, traded to the Eagles on Thursday
“Darren is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around. ... We are going to miss him but we will also fondly remember his time as a member of the Saints, and we thank him for his professionalism.”
Payton on Sproles
The Associated Press contributed to this report.