WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — The Saints have done this kind of thing before, acquire a veteran defensive back in hopes of making their secondary more opportunistic and cash in more big plays.
In 2009, it worked rather well, as 13-year vet Darren Sharper came in and spearheaded a defense that forced a bundle of turnovers and helped New Orleans capture its first Super Bowl title.
This time around, it’s 36-year-old Champ Bailey, a former shutdown corner who enters his 16th NFL season as part of the Saints secondary.
Bailey, however, is still trying to shake off the effects of a Lisfranc foot injury that limited him to five games last year with the Denver Broncos. A lot of players with the same injury might have spent the entire season on injured reserve, but Bailey soldiered on in an attempt to win a Super Bowl with Denver.
It’s left him obviously less than 100 percent of his peak skills, but Bailey intends to see what he can do in training camp.
“I’m aware of what my body’s like and what my play is compared to,’’ Bailey said. “I’m not stupid. But I’m not concerned about it, I’m not worried. I feel good about what I’ve done, but I want to feel even better about what I’m going to do.
“I just don’t look back. I can’t do anything about the past. I’m just trying to look forward and continue to get better. The only time I really look back is when you [reporters] bring it up. I’ve only got one thing and that’s get better and help this team win a championship. That’s all I’m focused on.’’
Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff want to make sure they’re “being smart’’ with Bailey’s preseason work.
“Bill used to say this every once in a while,’’ Payton said, “so I’ll reference Parcells. With a player like Champ, we don’t need to see it every day. We just need to see it once in a while. He used to say that, and it made sense.
“So that’s being smart, with the conditioning test, for instance, or it’s being smart with how we practice him. But I have a pretty good vision for what I think he can do for us, and I think that’s been communicated. And I think he’s really anxious to do that.”
Bailey realizes there are no guarantees for him with the Saints or with any team in the NFL, for that matter.
“I don’t have a lifetime contract in this league,’’ Bailey said. “Everybody’s got a cap on their contract, so there’s nobody gonna play until they’re 50.
“I know there’s going to be a time where my game’s not where it used to be, and I’m OK with it. I’ve seen it. I’ve played with guys who played until they’re 40, played with guys who were in and out. So it varies between everybody. All I can control is what I can control and take care of my game the best way I can, and don’t look back and don’t let criticism get me down.
“Everybody’s going to have their own opinion … I’m not looking for anybody to tell me I’m great. I just go out there [and] all I’ve got to do is please the guys I’m playing with, and that’s it.’’
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Saints fans unleashed a huge sigh of relief two weeks ago when All-Pro Jimmy Graham reached a four-year, $40 million contract agreement with the team, making him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
Graham missed all the team’s offseason work, since the contract took a while to finish. Graham, who lines up in a variety of positions, was seeking wide receiver-type money. He’s caught 36 touchdown passes over the last three years.
“It’s a tough process,’’ Graham said. “It really is. You don’t really get into football to do things like that. You never see the business side of it, and you never experience litigation, things like that.
“For me, it was an eye-opener. But in the same respect, I’m just happy that all that mess is over and that I can just focus on this team and this season.’’
One of Graham’s laments about the entire process was the debate by fans, analysts and others over the title of tight end or wide receiver.
“What was unfortunate during the offseason was all the false information that was out there,’’ Graham said, “and all the stuff that was being reported that was just not true and [me] not saying anything about it, especially when you know what’s been going on. I’m an All-Pro tight end, so I’m going to stay that way.”
He acknowledged that it was tough to manage his emotions.
“Yeah, it’s tough,’’ he said. “I said like a week ago that I didn’t get into football to learn litigation. That’s just the truth. Just being in an uncomfortable position and really not wanting to deal with it.
“I just wanted to move on and play. That’s all I do, that’s all I want to do, and I’m just glad all of that is over with.’’
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One of the most amusing parts of the first week of Saints practice was seeing Masters champion and Greenbrier property owner Bubba Watson run out for a Drew Brees pass and drop it on Friday.
The banter went on for a while.
After practice, a reporter asked Brees what he thought of Watson’s ball skills.
“He is blaming me [for the drop],’’ Brees said. “He said I underthrew him. He was a stationary target. I didn’t want to overthrow him. I thought it was something he could come back and I say, ‘Hey, right now,’ and the receiver has to come back to the ball.
“He is saying QB error. I am saying receiver error. What I wanted was an over-the-top throw. I think we are going to have to just practice that. I am going to have to get him off the course, maybe over here for some extra reps when you guys leave so he doesn’t get nervous and see if we can work on that and maybe we will get a big touchdown reception before he has to leave here.’’
So Watson choked, Brees was asked.
“No, I just don’t think we best utilized his skill set,’’ Brees said. “We just need to come up with a better route for him.”
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