Sean Payton brought back high-intensity attitude and high-intensity workouts to New Orleans Saints
For those who figured Sean Payton would make the most of his season-long suspension by coming up with several new innovative wrinkles to bring back to the New Orleans Saints, it’s already begun. In the weight room.
The high-intensity CrossFit workouts that helped Payton get into the best physical shape of his life have inspired a new approach to the Saints’ offseason workout program.
The Saints’ new workouts now include both the rapid series of various high-intensity workouts, but also the spirit of competition that CrossFit promotes.
Players will sometimes “draft” teams that might be made up of an offensive lineman, a defensive back, a receiver and a quarterback, etc. Then they will compete against each other to finish the circuit in the fastest time.
“It’s different for all of us. So it was a challenge. But it’s brought us together, too,” Saints linebacker Martez Wilson said. “There were times where we competed with teams of like nine and 10 people, and you had to depend on your teammate. … Then it’s all about putting them in the correct order and seeing who’s good at what.
“So that was a team-building thing off the field. And you know we’re all competitive.”
A “circuit” might include a series of 300 rows on the row machine, then getting up and doing 10 squats, then 10 cleans, then a set of box jumps, then exercises with a heavy rope, then a 300-yard sprint.
“It’s crazy,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “And it was tough at first.”
But if the players needed any extra motivation to fight through it, all they had to do was feed off Payton’s energy – and his own physical transformation.
“Obviously if you see him, he’s cut. He’s ripped up now, man,” Greer said. “I mean, it’s changed his life.”
The Saints’ players were already going to be plenty fired up about returning to work this offseason, regardless of Payton’s attitude. They’re so eager to move past the bounty drama and their on-field struggles that led to the team’s first losing season since 2007.
But there is no doubt that Payton’s return has done wonders for both the comfort level – and the energy level – around the Saints’ practice facility.
Wilson said when he asked Payton how it felt being back, he said it was like “being out of prison.”
Punter Thomas Morstead said Payton gave a long speech on his first day back that included “some negative energy” that had obviously been pent up. But it’s been all positive energy since then.
“He got it out. Then it was, ‘Let’s roll,'” Morstead said.
Payton and several players have said that Payton’s message has been that the team needs to be motivated by its desire to win championships, not by anything that transpired last year.
“A lot of positive energy. Too much energy. Holy cow,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “Yeah, he’s revved up. And it’ll be good for us. I think those practices (organized team activities starting Monday) will kind of feed off having him there.
“You know, it feels normal again. And that’s something that hasn’t happened a lot the last couple years. Certainly not the last 12 months. … I remember going into last offseason saying, ‘Man it’ll be nice to have a regular offseason.’ And then obviously it wasn’t.
“So we’re happy to have him back.”
Indeed it’s been a long time since the Saints have had a “normal” offseason.
Last year, the bounty scandal and a contract standoff between the team and quarterback Drew Brees both marred the offseason. The year before that, the NFL lockout forced players to work out on their own at Tulane while they were barred from team facilities.
And before that was the “Super Bowl hangover” year, when they had played into mid-February then enjoyed the aftermath through various celebrations and marketing opportunities, etc.
This year is the exact opposite of the Super Bowl hangover. This year, the Saints have been bouncing off the walls to get back in the weight room and onto the practice field.
“Sometimes the offseason can be one of those things where you don’t necessarily want to be there. You can be working out on your own and spending more time with your families,” receiver Lance Moore said. “But this year was different. And I really think guys are excited about the possibility of us doing great things this year.
“The urgency the guys have is kind of crazy because we’re so far away from playing games. But we’re not trying to take anything for granted. We’re trying to take each and every day and get a little bit better.”
Guard Jahri Evans talked about that same “anxious” feeling, as well as the great camaraderie among players.
That attitude is evident to newcomers as well.
Newly-signed linebacker Victor Butler said he only remembers seeing this level of attendance and participation one other time during his first four years with the Dallas Cowboys.
But for those who have been around the Saints, this is an awfully-familiar vibe.
It’s very reminiscent of the players’ attitude in 2011, when they were so fired up to bounce back from their first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks that they organized those workouts at Tulane.
They were the most extensive and organized workouts of any team in the NFL. And though they didn’t directly lead to the Saints’ 13-3 record that year, those workouts were a good sign of the level of motivation.
It’s also reminiscent of 2009, when the Saints brought in new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and had one of the most spirited and competitive training camps that anyone in the local or national media could recall being around. That year the Saints started 13-0 on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
Now, I’m not necessarily ready to predict another 13-3 season. And neither are the players.
But that familiar sense of urgency is hard to ignore.
“We understand there’s a sense of urgency now and the window of opportunity in this league is so short,” Greer said. “We understand that we have the opportunity to do something special, especially with the talent that we have on our roster. But we have to do it the right way.”
“I mean, certainly you can’t sit here and say, ‘Guys are excited to practice, so we’re gonna win 13 games,'” Strief said. “But it certainly helps give you a chance to have guys as excited as they are.”