OXNARD, Calif. - It didn’t matter whether you called the kind of defense the New Orleans Saints played last Saturday night against the Houston Texans vanilla or simply nonexistent.

It wasn’t pretty, and the Saints players knew it.

That point was made loud and clear as they began a week of training camp practices in California on Monday afternoon, hitting the practice field for the first time since the defense was gashed for 436 yards in a 27-14 loss to the Texans in Reliant Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams promptly punished the defense after the stretching portion of practice by making the entire unit perform a series of up-downs to reiterate his sentiment toward the defense’s performance.

The Saints were coming off a stellar outing in the preseason opener against the 49ers and the regression undoubtedly stunned Saints fans and opened defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis’ eyes.

“The message was just about that - it’s really not about what other people do. It’s about what we do,” Ellis said. “It’s about fundamentals. If we do the right things on defense, it’s going to be hard for anyone to beat us.

“I think we kind of let up as a defense in ideology. I think he’s trying to instill and pound that into us. With the guys on this team, I don’t think it will be hard.”

The Saints face the Texans in Week 3 of the regular season so it wouldn’t be a major surprise if Williams kept his playcalling close to the vest to not give anything away.

Ellis said it’s no excuse no matter what you call it. He even went as far as to call Monday’s practice a sense of urgency to improve.

“We made a lot of mistakes and they took advantage of them,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to get better as a defense. There’s no excuse. Your vanilla scheme is supposed to be your bread and butter. It’s supposed to be what you do best. We have to go back to the drawing boards and get better at our techniques.”

Nicks hurt in practice

The Saints may hold their collective breath as guard Carl Nicks left Monday’s practice to have his left knee examined.

The Pro Bowl fourth-year guard exited about midway through practice, but coach Sean Payton didn’t provide any other details.

Those who didn’t practice at all were RB Chris Ivory (knee/sports hernia), DE Greg Romeus (knee), LB Ezra Butler (hamstring/sports hernia), DT Tom Johnson (calf), CB Johnny Patrick (knee), DE Jeff Charleston (ankle), CB Fabian Washington (hamstring), LB Will Herring (calf), RB Chris Taylor (ankle) and DT Aubrayo Franklin (knee). WR Jarred Fayson, LB Clint Ingram and G Roger Allen also left Monday’s practice early. Payton only addressed Fayson’s injury, saying it was a knee ailment.

Payton said he’s guarded with Franklin’s left MCL sprain, but is optimistic he may only miss two or three weeks. Payton said Herring sustained the injury during the Texans game and should only miss a couple of days.

Far cry from La. heat

There’s certainly a drastic difference in the climate of Oxnard compared to the brutal heat of Metairie and the players welcomed the move from the team’s practice facility to the 70-degree temperatures of Monday’s practice.

But linebacker Scott Shanle said the distraction of the beautiful scenery won’t occur.

“I think it’s easy (to stay focused) because it’s a training camp schedule,” Shanle said. “All day, all night we’re at practice and lifting weights. It’s not a vacation by any means for guys. You can’t get away and do anything.”