Rod Walker: At Saints minicamp, fans were ‘not here for 7-9 seasons’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Melvin Cavalier, right, and his nephew, Collins Whitney, watch the Saints practice at their training facility during minicamp Thursday in Metairie.

Collins Whitney only cares about two things.

Church services Sunday.

And the Saints.

“Those are the two biggest things in his life,” said Melvin Cavalier, Whitney’s uncle.

And that’s why Cavalier brought his 47-year-old nephew, who has autism, to the Saints minicamp the past three days.

Cavalier and Whitney made the short trip from the Westbank to the Saints training facility in Metairie, just like they’ve done for the past decade.

But there were also first-timers and old-timers from the Who Dat nation, from all over, who watched through a brief downpour Tuesday and in scorching heat Wednesday and Thursday to get a glimpse of the 2016 edition of the black and gold.

Some, like Kim Bercegeay and her three kids, Emily, Mallory and Beau, came from Baton Rouge — not only to watch the team, but to get autographs.

Others came — as their sign said — because “All our dad wants for Father’s Day is to meet Drew Brees.”

But most, if not all of them, came with just one other wish: hoping to see if this year’s Saints can improve on the back-to-back losing records from the past two seasons.

“I’m not here for 7-9 seasons,” Cavalier said. “That’s not what I want to see. When you have a top-five quarterback in the league, you have to be better than 7-9. So the defense has to step up. I’m out here looking for defense. I’m not worried about our offense so much.”

Unfortunately for Cavalier, it’s hard to get an accurate gauge of new coordinator Denis Allen’s defense during minicamp. The team isn’t in pads, so there’s no way of knowing if the tackling woes from the past two seasons are still lingering.

But for what it’s worth, considering no pads, the secondary seems to be improved. That alone should give Saints’ fans something to smile about.

Brent Uhlig drove three hours from Summerdale, Alabama, on Thursday, the final day of minicamp, to see the Saints. It’s his only chance to see them in person. He’s still on the waiting list for season tickets.

His concern is on the offensive side of the ball.

“For me, it’s the offensive line,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to protect your asset.”

Much like the defense, the line play (offense and defense) can’t be judged without pads.

The one thing that’s on full display is the chemistry between Brees and his young receiving corps. They seemed to click quite well over the past three years. Adding second-round draft pick Michael Thomas to the mix with Brandin Cooks and Wille Snead could make this a dangerous squad.

Ricardo Sequira, an 11-year-old from Metairie who came with his dad Tuesday, predicts the Saints will finish “No. 1 in the (NFC) South and make it to the playoffs.” Then added one word. “Hopefully.”

Sam Maniscalco, a 91-year-old from Harahan, is thinking postseason too.

“I want them to get in the playoffs, and then just fight to win,” Maniscalso said. “I know they can make the playoffs. It gets tough after that.”

The odds, at least the Vegas ones, suggest it will be tough just making the playoffs.

Most of the oddsmakers are predicting a third straight seven-win season.

But that’s not stopping fans like Kenneth Lalonde of Houma from thinking big.

“I want to see them in the Super Bowl again,” Lalonde said.

Cavalier agrees.

“It’s time for another one of these,” he said, pointing to his chest at the Super Bowl T-shirt he was sporting. Is this a Super Bowl team? Is it a playoff team? Heck, is it a .500 team?

It’s still June, so it’s way too early to tell.

The pads aren’t even on yet.

“When the pads come on, it gets different,” Snead said. “You definitely find out who’s ready for this game and who’s not.”

But one thing we already know.

The fans are ready.