Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton on Thursday called this offseason’s Saints the “best team on paper I’ve ever been around,” a statement which speaks to expectations for 2014.

It’s a big statement, with the Saints defense (fourth overall) and offense (fourth overall) coming off statistically sound seasons and rebounding from a Bountygate-marred 2012 season. Still, Lofton added, having the best players doesn’t mean you’re going to have the best team in the NFL, ending the season with a Super Bowl Trophy.

It makes more.

It takes a continued commitment, as well as a bond between players, a process Lofton said started during Organized Team Activities and will continue through next month’s training camp.

Guess you could say the team that likes each other wins for each other.

“There really hasn’t been any drop-off from the first team to the second team, to the third team,” said Lofton, whose 125 tackles in 2013 led the Saints. “The young guys push the older guys to be better and by doing that, they make themselves better.”

Guys like second-round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska. He’s earned some playing time with the first-team defense. Since OTAs are not full contact, he hasn’t had an opportunity to showcase his press coverage skills; talent that made him a highly-coveted prospect.

“I really can’t say where I fit in right now,” Jean-Baptiste said of his role this fall. “Right now, I’m just trying to play a part on the defense where they need me. Anywhere they want me, I’ll be happy to play.”

Leave it to the Beavers

When the Saints drafted Brandin Cooks with the 20th pick of the NFL draft, it gave the team three Oregon State alums.

Cooks, outside linebacker Victor Butler and cornerback Keenan Lewis all starred with the Beavers.

Butler and Lewis were teammates in college, but that hasn’t stopped them from helping their newest Saint player from their alma mater.

“Anytime you have a guy from your school, whether you played with him or not, you want to take him in and show him the way,” Butler said. “The NFL is a brand new experience. It’s like growing up in a pond and being introduced to the ocean.”

Butler joked when asked the first thing he said to Cooks.

“I asked him to borrow a dollar,” Butler said, referring to Cooks’ four-year $8.3 million deal. “You just give him the same advice that you would give a freshman in college. You tell him to come in and find a guy like (Marques) Colston or (Robert) Meachem or (Kenny) Stills and you get under their wings because they are proven. Do what they do. See how they practice and how they work.”

Sticking with gold pants

Can we get rookie free agent Matthew Armstrong some new football pants?

Armstrong’s practice attire — or lack of it — has interrupted the Saints’ normal color-coordinated look.

Armstrong is the lone Saints player that practices in the gold pants he received during last month’s rookie minicamp.

The rest of the team, including his fellow rookies? Black.

“They gave them to me during rookie minicamp, and I’ve been riding with them,” said Armstrong, who played center during the 2013 college football season at Division II Grand Valley State. Nobody has told me to change, and they didn’t give me any black ones, so I’m going to roll with what they give me.”

Armstrong said he doesn’t plan to ask for matching pants.

Payton makes donation

Saints coach Sean Payton, through his Play It Forward Foundation, on Thursday donated two truckloads of food for families in Washington and Iberia parishes.

The donations — 16,000 meals — were awarded to Second Harvest Food Bank and will be distributed later this month.

“This was an easy decision for us,” Payton said. “We see how it directly affects families in Louisiana.”

Advocate sportswriter Rod Walker also contributed to this report