METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Dennis Allen cites his own evolution as one of the biggest differences between the last training camp he oversaw in 2014 with the Raiders and his first in charge with New Orleans this summer.
“I’m much further along. I’m much more comfortable sitting in this seat," Allen said Tuesday evening, sitting at the same podium that now-retired Sean Payton did on the eve of training camp last year. "I’ve seen a lot more happen.”
While general manager Mickey Loomis emphasized the relative continuity maintained by elevating Allen from defensive coordinator to head coach, he also acknowledged that in pro sports, a change in leadership is always significant, with effects that ripple across the roster.
For the past 16 years, Loomis said, "the whole team has taken on personality of Sean Payton and that’s been a good thing."
“Teams do take on the personality of your head coach. And so, we’ll see how that evolves. And Dennis' personality is different,” Loomis continued. “He's a grinder. He's set-jaw, a little bit of an old-school soul, tough minded, maybe a little more conservative. ... I'm anxious to see how that goes.”
The hope in New Orleans is that the roster Allen has this season will be deeper, stronger and, perhaps most importantly, healthier than the one Payton had to manage last season. There was upheaval at positions ranging from placekicker to quarterback in 2021, and the club went 9-8 — one victory short of making the playoffs.
Loomis said the team is confident in its ability to win now and went on to assert that “this isn’t a rebuild.”
Quarterback Jameis Winston is ready to practice — albeit cautiously, at first — after missing more than half of last season with torn knee ligaments.
Top receiver Michael Thomas, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, will start training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. However, Loomis noted, “I don’t expect him to be on (the PUP list) very long. Just not quite full-go yet." When asked if Thomas had any setbacks, Loomis responded, "Not at all.”
Wil Lutz, who kicked every field goal for the Saints from 2016 through 2020, is back after missing all of last season.
The defense, for which Allen will continue to call plays, has numerous key veterans back, including defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, nickelback CJ Gardner-Johnson and defensive tackle David Onyemata. And the Saints hope they have upgraded their secondary with the additions of free-agent safeties Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu.
The offense added free agent Jarvis Landry and first-round draft choice Chris Olave at receiver while using a second first-round pick on left tackle Trevor Penning.
The Saints expect dynamic running back Alvin Kamara to continue to play a major role for most of the season, although they remain uncertain whether he'll be suspended in connection with his arrest on felony battery charges in Las Vegas last February. The NFL routinely waits for the legal process to play out before disciplining players, and Kamara's case remains in the preliminary stages with an unclear timeline.
“I don’t control that situation," Allen said. "So, we’ll see how things play out and we’ll adjust accordingly.”
The Saints did add depth at running back the day before Wednesday's opening practice of camp, signing Malcolm Brown, a veteran free agent out of Texas who has played six seasons with the Rams (in both St. Louis and Los Angeles) and spent last season with Miami.
Allen also has retained a number of longtime staff, including Pete Carmichael Jr., who was Payton's offensive coordinator since the 2009 championship season and now will call plays full-time after sometimes doing it during the Payton era.
“I don’t think you’re going to look out at practice and go, ‘Oh my God, everything is different,’" Allen said, noting he has kept much of what he felt worked well during the Payton years. "There’s going to be a lot of similarities.”
Loomis noted that Allen had been on the Saints' staff for 12 of the past 16 years. His absence spanned from 2011, when he was hired as Denver's defensive coordinator, through 2014, his last of three seasons in his first head coaching job with the Raiders. Allen went 8-28 with the Raiders before his firing after an 0-4 start to his third campaign.
“A lot of what he does is taken from Sean Payton,” Loomis said of Allen. "So, there’s a lot of similarities -- more similarities than differences at this point.”
NOTES: The Saints said Mathieu will miss the opening of camp while attending to a personal matter and they did not specify how many practices he would miss. ... Loomis said defensive end Marcus Davenport would join Thomas on the PUP list to start camp. ... The Saints also added veteran center Nick Martin and undrafted rookie defensive end Scott Patchan while waiving punter Daniel Whelan, offensive lineman Derek Schweiger and cornerback Jordan Miller.
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