New Orleans football fans turned out in droves this past Saturday morning at Saints training camp for the annual Black and Gold scrimmage.
The line stretched for blocks down Airline Drive and into the adjacent Zephyr Field parking lot as more than 5,100 Saints fans braved the early August heat to get a glimpse of their favorite team.
“This is the most people I’ve ever seen at Saints training camp,” one beer and water vendor said.
Despite the oppressive temperatures, fans and players remained upbeat. The tempo for practice was brisk, and fans who have waited all spring and summer to watch the Saints in action again cheered for just about everything — even during warm-up exercises.
The first-team offense looked sharp early on, conducting a methodical 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with a short plunge for a touchdown by running back Mark Ingram.
Defense was the story for the rest of the scrimmage however, as the first-team defensive unit pitched a shutout and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro wowed the crowd with aggressive play and vicious hits.
The consistent defensive play during training camp is encouraging to many, considering the fact that last year’s outfit gave up more yards than any other defense in NFL history.
Newcomer Rob Ryan is the team’s third defensive coordinator in as many years, and he has drastically overhauled the schemes for 2013 — switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense.
“It’s kind of like learning a new language because you start with the formations and different coaches call different formations, different things,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “You learn different terminologies, but ultimately it is just football.”
After a disappointing 2012 season that saw a year-long suspension for head coach Sean Payton and the first sub-.500 record since before the Saints’ Super Bowl run, the team and their fans enter 2013 poised to right the ship.
“There’s no doubt. It was as tough for our fans last year as it was for us,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We are all ready to turn over a new leaf and get this 2013 season started.”
Training camp resumes this week with three open practices on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:50 a.m. and Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Monday’s practice is closed to the public.
The Saints begin preseason play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.