Minicamp observations: Saints first-team offense has rough start _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees lines up behind tackle Zach Strief and guard Jahri Evans at minicamp Wednesday at the team's training facility in Metairie.

The Saints have a problem. They know it.

Winning on the road.

While the Saints have excelled over the longer stretch — 35-29 mark since 2006 — their road trips during the past two seasons were marked with disappointment.

The 2013 regular season ended with a 3-5 road record, mimicking the previous season’s mark. In the postseason, it doesn’t help that the Saints have won just one road playoff game in franchise history — a series of games which include last season’s NFC Divisional playoff loss at Seattle, the eventual Super Bowl XLVIII champion.

That’s not good enough, Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday.

So the Saints offense spent part of minicamp working against the defense with pre-recorded crowd noise in the background. During one of the first plays, the noise was likely to blame for a bad snap by center Tim Lelito.

“It’s really the reality of the game, whether it’s our defense at home or offense on the road,” Payton said. “It changes a lot of the dynamics with communication on both sides of the ball. I felt like we wanted to implement it here, and we’ll do it a few times next week as we play with cadence and things that help us get used to it.”

Usually, the Saints wait until training camp to address such a topic. Not this offseason, which quarterback Drew Brees said “drives the point home.”

“So the more than you can practice it, rep it, the more it just becomes second nature with those nonverbal cues that are helping to get in and out of the huddle, helping to get the ball snapped. ... It just becomes natural,” Brees said.

The Saints open the season with three of their first four games on the road (Week 1 at Atlanta, Week 2 at Cleveland, Week 4 at Dallas).

Bailey on the Redskins

Newly acquired cornerback Champ Bailey backed off comments he made a day earlier, when he called Washington’s nickname, the Redskins, “degrading — it’s almost like the N-word for a black person.”

Bailey on Wednesday said the nickname is not personally offensive to him, but warrants discussion from both sides of the debate.

“That organization isn’t hurting anybody purposely,” Bailey said. “There are people that have feelings towards it, obviously, because it’s and issue. A lot of members of our government are speaking out about it. It’s one of those things that people need to hear both sides — the people that don’t like it and the people that don’t mind it that are Native American. So, we’d like to hear everybody speak about it.”

Bailey, likely a future Hall of Famer, played for Washington from 1999-2003.

Ingram and his role

Running back Mark Ingram said rhythm and carries will make him effective.

How much of both will Ingram receive this fall?

“I don’t know what (my role) is going to be,” he said. “Hopefully I’m taking on more of a role, but I’m just out here worrying about getting better every day, improving every day.”

Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet won’t make it easy for Ingram to headline the running-back-by-committee Saints backfield.

Ingram rushed for 386 yards and one score last season. His best game was a 145-yard performance against Dallas.

No word on Graham

Brees said the Saints locker room is not following the developments of Jimmy Graham’s upcoming grievance hearing stemming from a franchise tag dispute.

“I don’t know if anybody knows that the hearing date is when, next week?” Brees said. “I just heard that yesterday, just kind of in passing.

“We all know and love Jimmy. We know it’s going to get worked out, at some point, however it gets worked out. It doesn’t matter the result of this hearing. When he’s here, I know he’ll be ready.”

Starting June 17, an arbitrator will decide if Graham should be paid as a tight end or receiver. While Graham has been labeled as a tight end, he’s performed in setting akin to a receiver.

Bringing the heat

The Saints defense spent a portion of Wednesday’s workout blitzing on nearly every play. While the plays could be defensive coordinator Rob Ryan testing out his pass rushers, it could also be a look into next season, with better blitzers and a secondary that’s able to play receivers in more man coverage.