Saints camp kicks off in full today

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — So far, it’s been so good for the New Orleans Saints, who open their preseason training camp today on the grounds of The Greenbrier resort.

The players reported Thursday under cloudy, drizzly skies with temperatures in the lows 70s, important because a cooler climate was one of the reasons the team moved its three-week camp from Metairie, La.

The first practice is scheduled for 8:50 a.m. today at the brand-new facility, which includes three practice fields (two natural turf, one synthetic grass) and a 55,000-square foot multi-purpose building. All practices are open to the public.

A second walk-through workout is set for 4:30-5:30 p.m. today (see chart).

Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis met with reporters Thursday and were lavish in their praise of the facilities.

“I’m not surprised,’’ Payton said, “but very excited and pleased by everything that’s happened. And it’s happened in a real short period of time. It’s amazing.’’

Loomis said the hospitality provided by owner Jim Justice, The Greenbrier staff and neighboring community “has exceeded our expectations.’’

Asked about the decision to move his team’s training camp nearly 1,000 miles to the hills of West Virginia, Loomis said “a couple things’’ went into it.

“First of all, we wanted to do something different,’’ Loomis said. “It energizes the players and staff when you do something different every three or four years. The second thing is we wanted to get to a place with a little cooler climate and see how it impacts the team and the soft-tissue injuries.

“Those two factors are why we wanted to change venues and obviously once you get a look at this region and this area, it made a lot of sense for us. We’re always looking to limit distractions in any given camp, and certainly this looks like a good place for that.’’

Payton spoke about “the process’’ of making the call to move camp to The Greenbrier.

“A few years back, someone mentioned something about this facility,’’ he said, “and I know at one point the Redskins looked at it. Last year, we met a few people here and you see it yourself. It starts with the people and eventually, you meet with Mr. Justice.

“It’s one of those things that gained a little momentum and continued to gain momentum and lo and behold, all of a sudden there’s an agreement. Now a lot of pressure goes into that, and a lot of things have to take place to have it happen this nice ... In 90-some days for a building to go up and be functional is amazing.’’

For the Saints, more than many NFL teams, expectations for a great season are blooming, especially since they recently reached a contract agreement with All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham’s presence with former Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees at quarterback figures to make New Orleans a tough out in the postseason.

“Honestly,’’ Payton said, “one of the challenges for a coach every year is managing the outside — and I don’t want to use the word ‘noise.’ Managing the outside when things are going well, and being guarded. And when things aren’t going well, managing that and staying focused and not letting that derail you.’’

For those wishing to attend workouts, admission is available on a first-come, first-served basis with limited bleacher seating (there is no reserved seating). There is no charge for admission or parking.

Following each practice, Saints players will sign autographs for fans. Available players will sign autographs if weather, time and other circumstances permit. Autographs, however, are not guaranteed.

Parking for spectators will be located at the state fairgrounds. Spectators will then pass a security check and board on-site charter buses for the short ride to the practice facility. This is the only form of transportation allowed to enter the training camp facility. Personal vehicles, walk-ins and private buses or motor coaches are not permitted.

There is a transportation fee of $5 per adult and $2 per child ages 12 and under payable by cash or credit card. Transportation tickets must be purchased before boarding the buses. The ticket will also enable access to all Greenbrier property activities and include a voucher for a discounted retail item. Transportation will run continuously throughout the day taking spectators between the parking lots, football facility and The Greenbrier resort.

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