Minicamp observations: Saints first-team offense has rough start _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees lines up behind tackle Zach Strief and guard Jahri Evans at minicamp Wednesday at the team's training facility in Metairie.

During Wednesday’s mini-camp session, New Orleans Saints head Coach Sean Payton decided to use artificial crowd noise during one of the team’s 11-on-11 drills to begin addressing the team’s problems with executing offensively in road environments.

Payton said this was his first time using this tactic this early in the offseason.

Payton, who has a history of trying unorthodox means to get his message across to his team, slightly surprised the players when he started pumping the crowd noise in later during the second half of practice.

“He didn’t really talk about it. Usually, he just comes up with these things,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “It’s just something you have to adapt to.”

It appeared the noise may have caught the first team offense a little bit off guard, because the first few plays they ran after the loud noise began to kick in weren’t quite what we are used to seeing from this potent offensive attack.

The first play, quarterback Drew Brees dropped back and was almost immediately surrounded by defenders, than he eventually threw a pass across his body to a streaking Marques Colston. The next play, Brees fumbled the snap from center Tim Lelito and the following play Brees threw a strike to undrafted free agent Brandon Coleman on the sidelines, but the rookie dropped the pass.

The next two plays, Brees threw quick passes to second-year receiver Kenny Stills that were completed, but the previous three plays showed why Payton thinks his team needs to begin preparing for crowd noise this early in the offseason

“I think it’s something we need,” Thomas said. “No matter how early it is, we need it so we can get used to it. I think it’s good for us to start getting used to it this early so it won’t be something we have to worry about once the season starts.”

+ Some quick observations from practice +

--Lelito has continued to get the bulk of snaps at center with the first-team despite the Saints bringing in veteran Jonathan Goodwin recently. Goodwin started at center for the Saints from 2008-10, including the Saints Super-Bowl season in 2009.

-- It appeared as if Payton had decided to give quarterback Ryan Griffin the bulk of the second-team snaps in Wednesday’s practice. On Tuesday, veteran backup Luke McCown got the bulk of the second-team snaps and Payton has expressed a desire to have the two battle it out in training camp over the backup spot behind Brees.

--The Saints worked a large bulk of Wednesday’s practice running special teams drills, including punt and kick coverage.

--During their kick return drills, Saints running back Travaris Cadet and receivers Robert Meachem and Charles Hawkins were among some of the players designated as kick returners.

--One player that had a surprisingly strong effort on Wednesday was backup fullback Austin Johnson. The former practice squad member caught three passes during 11-on-11 drills and even lined up with the first-team kick coverage units a few times.

--For the second day in a row, the Saints first-team defense gave Brees and the first-team offense quite a bit of trouble in head-to-head drills. Brees had at least four or five of his passes batted down throughout the day and cornerback Keenan Lewis came very close to intercepting a Brees pass on the sidelines during 7-on-7 redzone drills.

--After dazzling the crowd Tuesday with a one-handed grab, second-year receiver Kenny Stills had another Wednesday in passing drills. It was one of several plays he made as a strong offseason continued after he vowed to stave off a sophomore slump — he had five long touchdown grabs as a rookie in 2013 and led the NFL with 20 yards per catch.