This week, the busiest people out on 5800 Airline Drive aren’t wearing uniforms or blowing whistles.
Instead, they’re the folks in human resources and payroll whose task it is to keep track of the flurry of comings and goings of people on the New Orleans Saints roster, some of which happen so quickly there’s no time for formalities like filling out W-2s and orientation.
Like Cameron Brate.
Until Tuesday, the second-year tight end from Harvard was on the Tampa Bay practice squad.
But the Buccaneers released him, and by Wednesday morning Brate was wearing Black & Gold as a member of Saints practice squad, meaning he had a playbook before ever seeing an employee handbook.
Who knows? By Sunday, Brate might be playing against the team he started the week with.
“I was in shock (Tuesday),” Brate said after his first practice with his new team. “And now I’m here.
“It’s crazy how things can change so quickly in this league.”
Indeed it is, especially during the first couple of weeks following the final preseason roster cuts.
The Saints have been particularly active.
Since Sept. 5 when the roster was initially trimmed to 53 players, the Saints have added three players who went through training camp with other teams — linebacker Michael Mauti, defensive end Obum Gwaeham and safety Don Jones.
Four others, safety Kenny Phillips, wide receiver Joe Morgan, running back Tim Hightower and wide receiver Seantavius Jones were cut and then brought back, although Hightower has been released again and Jones is on the practice squad, which has five others who started August with other teams.
Contrast that to a year ago when it was Oct. 7 before a player with no previous connection to the team was signed to the active roster, tight end Tom Crabtree. He was released 11 days later without appearing in a game.
The 2014 practice squad was similarly relatively unchanged from its original makeup.
This time, guys are likely to run into each other while one empties his locker and the other is waiting to move in.
And the moves are far from over. Tight end Orson Charles was cut ostensibly to serve his one-game league suspension last week.
He could be back by Sunday. Or Brate could be activated.
Or something else unexpected might happen.
So what’s the deal?
Drew Brees, after first pointing out that he’s not a coach or general manager, sounded like one Wednesday when he explained, “You’re always trying to find the right 53.
“From week to week there are roster moves because a guy gets hurt, or maybe you find out you’re thin at a position. At the end of the day, it’s what’s gong to help us beat this team this week and what do we need.
“Do we need a receiver, do we need an extra DB or do we need an extra whatever it is? We find ways to make it happen.”
Injuries are certainly the major cause of roster moves. Rafael Bush, P.J. Williams and Vinnie Sunseri all were counted on to be in the secondary. They’re all out for the year. Injuries to starters have elevated the playing time for supposed backups, thus increasing the need for players with special teams skills.
But beyond that there also seems to be a deliberate plan to churn the bottom of the roster. That’s likely the influence of first-year assistant general manager Jeff Ireland, who was never shy about making frequent moves during his six years as the GM in Miami.
Ireland seems particularly fond with ties to the Dolphins.
Such as Don Jones.
A seventh-round pick of Miami in 2013, Jones played in all 16 games as a rookie and 15 more last year with both Miami and New England, almost exclusively on special teams.
But he was waived by the Dolphins and signed to the Saints practice squad Sept. 9. Then Saturday, the day before the opening game at Phoenix, Jones was elevated to the big team where played on all special teams, recording one tackle, in the 31-19 loss to the Cardinals.
“I was surprised it happened this quickly,” Jones said. “I thought I’d come in here and learn the playbook first.
“But I guess things got moved up. Whatever it was, I look on it as a blessing.”
Still, Jones knows his position is precarious.
“Sometimes it’s not much fun on this end of the stick,” he said. “I’ve got to do everything I can to make myself more valuable to this team and put some stuff on film so some other team will pick me up if it doesn’t work out here.”
No player wants to hear, “Report to HR.
“And bring your ID badge.”