NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees launched a high throw down the middle of the field and into the end zone, where second-year tight end Jimmy Graham leapt to grab it over his back shoulder, out of reach of the nearest defender.
That’s the kind of timing play the Saints were able to hone during six weeks of player-organized workouts at Tulane. Those sessions are coming to an end this week. The plan now is to treat what would normally be vacation time as exactly that, and hope that their next gathering is back at team headquarters for training camp in late July with an NFL labor agreement in place.
Brees said Wednesday that a sense of optimism that NFL lockout’s end was nearing has spread among the players working out at Tulane this week, in light of reports that representatives of owners and players were meeting and making progress. Yet he also warned his teammates not to take anything for granted.
“I tell them there’s a lot of hypotheticals. I just try to prepare the guys - hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” Brees said. “And that’s been what we’ve had to do this whole time.”
Brees and veteran teammates including defensive captain Jonathan Vilma designed the workouts to mimic what the Saints would have normally done at team headquarters during spring. After Thursday’s session, they’ll start nearly six weeks of vacation, hoping that a new collective bargain agreement is complete by the time Saints players are scheduled to report for training camp on July 27.
If the lockout endures into the fall, Brees said he is not yet sure what he might do to bring teammates together to train again. However, if training camp starts on time, Brees suspects his decision to organize workouts at Tulane will prove particularly fruitful.
“We always wanted to stay ready and feel like we were gaining an edge,” Brees said. “I feel like we have been very organized.
“It has been great work for the past six weeks,” Brees continued. “Thirty-plus guys just about every day coming out, a combination of everything we would be doing at our own facility, but we’re locked out. And yet we’ve found a way to work.”
Players attending the workouts included free agents who played with the Saints last season and hope to be back, as well as rookies recently selected by the Saints in the NFL draft who have yet to sign their first pro contracts.
Veterans on offense and defense took responsibility for helping the rookies on their sides of the ball adapt to the pro game and the Saints’ schemes.
“You’ve got to throw them into the fire a little bit,” Brees said. “Obviously we’ve had some classroom time with them and some opportunity just to talk through fundamentals and position-specific stuff. Then you just throw them out there and let the natural athlete and the natural competitor come out in them and see what their strengths are.”
Saints players pushed each other on the field, in the weight room and even banded together to organize some of their own charity events, including two raffles in which the winners were invited to spend a day with players and even practice with them.
Together, both raffles raised about $105,000, Brees said. Although the charities have not been selected, some of the money is expected to benefit Tulane’s scholarship fund and victims of recent Mississippi River flooding in Louisiana. Other local charities may benefit as well.
“Everything we do, we have a purpose for,” Brees said. “With the raffle it was, No. 1, to give fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When would they ever have the chance to practice with an NFL team and be in the mix? That wouldn’t happen unless we were in a lockout and we make the rules. Secondly, the charitable aspect to it. We had the chance to raise six figures in charitable dollars for the community. That’s a great thing.”