The brash and bold and cocky and arrogant aren’t welcome on North Compete Street. Walk a block to South Compete Street with that same attitude and someone will tell you to get your mind right.
After all the talk and hype of last season, it might come as a surprise that it’s the New Orleans Saints policing these streets. It’s a new day.
There was a time when they embraced the ideals that will get you booted off these blocks. It didn’t go down smooth. It led to mediocrity and disappointment. From that bottom emerged a more humble and hungry group of players who are ready to compete for their accolades, not just accept the ones bestowed upon them by outside voices.
As a reminder of these ideals, two street signs were recently put up next to the outdoor practice field and indoor facility at the team’s Metairie headquarters. One doesn’t need to dig deep to understand the message. This year the Saints are about competing for jobs, respect, wins, and anything else that can be earned on a football field.
“You really want to set the tone as to what’s expected of you. How we are going to conduct ourselves, and what that will result in,” quarterback Drew Brees said.
The tone was often off key during last season’s 7-9 campaign. That hasn’t been the case so far this offseason and efforts are being made to make sure this group achieves harmony.
Whenever someone has started to feel a little too confident or good about their work this offseason, cornerback Brandon Browner, who signed with New Orleans after helping the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl, has been quick to remind that players on sub-.500 teams don’t have the right to feel good about anything.
“(Last year) Jairus (Byrd) was coming in and everybody was excited about us, and we were this and we were that,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “Not really any comments on that anymore. You got to prove it.”
Those are the ideals the Saints are trying to instill this offseason, and it appears to be taking hold. There isn’t any early talk about how the team could be a top defense if this happens or that happens. The only numbers that are mentioned are the disappointing ranking of last year’s defense (New Orleans finished 31st) and 7-9.
That’s a drastic step away from how things were last season when the Saints became offseason champions and talked about potentially fielding one of the best offenses and defenses in the NFL. That’s not to say that team wasn’t hungry or lacked talent. The issue is that they became entitled and never figured out how to achieve their goals.
As edge rusher Junior Galette put it last year, they “drank the Kool-Aid.” After struggling early in the year, the sugar blocked their arteries and the team lacked the leadership to refocus, stop pointing fingers and fix things.
It remains to be seen if those issues have been cured, but the early signs are positive. Attendance has been strong during the offseason program, and it seems the players desire a better atmosphere from the one that manifested last season.
And part of fixing those issues is getting better leadership and having players that are accountable for themselves. It also means making sure no one ever feels too comfortable.
Established veteran players say they feel like they’re currently fighting to keep their jobs. It’s something every player in every locker room in every city says every offseason, but members of the Saints claim they aren’t providing lip service. That message has been delivered by the coaching staff and they believe it to be true.
Perhaps it was proven during Thursday’s organized team activity when free-agent signee Anthony Spencer started over Junior Galette, who recorded 10 sacks last season, in the base defense. Who knows if Spencer will continue to hold the job, but he could and it sends a message that no one is safe. Everything has to be earned.
And that’s exactly the culture Payton is trying to create within his locker room.
“Think about how you played (basketball on the playground) when it was 10-10 going to 11 and winner stays,” Payton said. “It was going to be your guy that scored because you knew if you lost you weren’t going to play the rest of the day. There were five other teams waiting.
“That would be an example of just the level of competition, creating that sense of urgency and that desire not to let your teammates down.”
That’s the thing about Compete Street. Only one team is left standing when the lights go out.