MOBILE, Ala. — The Saints arrived here last year in one form and began transforming into something else by the time the buses pushed off the curb.
New Orleans showed up at the Senior Bowl weeks after losing Ryan Pace to the Chicago Bears, leaving a vacancy in the front office, which created expectations that one of the other top executives within the organization, Rick Reiprish or Terry Fontenot, would be tapped to fill the role.
Reiprish harbored the same expectations and stood in a hotel lobby the night before practices began and expressed his interest in the job during an interview with The Advocate. He was fired the next morning and replaced by Jeff Ireland.
It would be over-blowing things to say the Saints were in a state of disarray when they arrived at the Senior Bowl last year, but things certainly were not stable. New Orleans is hoping that has changed.
“I would say there’s a little more continuity with regards to the scouting staff, some of the changes that were made after the draft,” Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked if he believes the Saints are more stable this year.
Ireland, who officially serves as the assistant general manager and is charged with helping New Orleans find more stability in the draft, now has a full year in with the organization. When he took over last year, to a certain degree, he was forced to work off the scouting reports compiled while Reiprish was at the helm. He also had to try to catch up on prospects after being out of football for a year.
This will be his first real draft with the organization. These will all be his evaluations and his scouting reports. He wasn’t afforded that opportunity last year. Things won’t be entirely different. The Saints’ way of doing things now will blend with Ireland’s, but the opportunity to fully create that marriage didn’t exist a year ago.
“Look, we just got a good group of scouts,” General Manager Mickey Loomis said. “They got a way of doing things than what we’ve been doing in the past, so we’ve been able to blend some of the best things he does in terms of the process with what we’ve done before.”
There’s optimism that last year’s draft, the first one Ireland oversaw, will continue to bear fruit and help provide the Saints with a foundation to build upon in the future. If so, it would end a string of several poor drafts by the organization. The inefficiency in this area has helped contribute to consecutive 7-9 finishes and has been cited by both Payton and Loomis as one of the chief reasons for the organization’s recent futility.
After not coming to the event last year, Payton has been in attendance and met with Ireland and his scouting staff Monday night to go over their notes for the event and gather a better feel for what the team is looking to see throughout the week.
But the Saints coach also noted that he would not be able to speak on specific areas of improvement regarding the draft until actually going through the full process with Ireland and his new scouts.
“When we met, it’s what we’re seeing with the two rosters (at the Senior Bowl), what the early reports would indicate, what we want to see from a player this week to maybe answer some questions,” Payton said. “After we go through this draft, I probably would be better able to answer the question (about how things have improved since last year).”
Because Payton and Loomis spend the rest of the year focusing on the current players on the Saints roster, the Senior Bowl serves as something of an introduction to that year’s crop of draft hopefuls.
For Payton, specifically, the event is valuable to him because he can key in on a few players who have his interest and watch how they conduct themselves.
“You can sit and watch a certain couple of guys and literally just watch the practice,” Payton said. “You kind of get an idea of what that first practice is going to be like when he’s on your team. That’s something you can’t do the rest of this evaluation process.”
Supporters of the Saints will be watching Ireland and his staff and how they operate over the next few months leading up to the draft. They’ll be hoping the view turns out to be better than it has been in previous seasons.
It has to be improved for this organization to move to end up on the right side of the ledger.