Brian Allee-Walsh

Sweet '16 for New Orleans Saints? Too early to tell

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to reporters after an NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to reporters after an NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

METAIRIE, La. -- Watching the New Orleans Saints run around in shorts, jerseys and helmets for 90 minutes as they did on a sun-baked Thursday does not qualify as a true peek into the window of their soul.

In fact, I know little more now about the Black and Gold than I did before the NFL Players Association-approved Organized Team Activity, or OTA for short. Yes, it marked the third of nine such non-contact, voluntary practice sessions for the Saints leading up to their mandatory minicamp June 14-16. Yes, these on-field workouts are essential to the growth process for both players and coaches, especially the newbie draft picks and veteran free agents who stand to make the final roster.

And yes, for those eternal optimists in Who Dat Nation, the 2016 New Orleans Saints are three OTAs (270 minutes for those keeping score at home) closer to their intended goal -- winning Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

But, it's way too early to say how they are going to get there.

General Manager Mickey Loomis isn't sure. Coach Sean Payton isn't sure. Quarterback Drew Brees isn't sure. But where there's a will, there's a way.

And right now, the '16 Saints are in the process of developing a will to win.

It begins in the offseason ... in the weight room, meeting rooms and locker room; in nine OTAs and three-day minicamp, at team functions like this week's charity softball game and home run derby at Zephyrs Field (won by long snapper Justin Drescher).

And last but not least at training camp which commences in late July at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and the four-game exhibition schedule starting in August.

For now, all we have to go on are snapshots and snippets, teases and titillations, beginning with Thursday's 90-minute OTA. Witness:

-- Veteran free agent linebacker James Laurinaitis should provide valuable leadership at the Mike (middle) linebacker, enabling second-year LB Stephone Anthony to shift to Sam (strongside).

-- Second-year OL Andrus Peat is working at both right guard and right tackle, indicating a game of musical chairs is forthcoming in camp among guards Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito and right tackle Zach Strief. Who will be left standing once the music stops?

-- Defensive starters Cam Jordan (back), Keenan Lewis (sports hernia -- says he'll be fine for start of camp) and Jairus Byrd (knee) are rehabbing from injuries/surgeries.

-- It appears second-year LB Hau'oli Kikaha will be used primarily as a DE/edge rusher.

-- Brees says he remains focused on the task at hand, despite the potential for a distraction with his unsettled contract situation, and hopes talks resume with the team.

-- Payton says RB C.J. Spiller seems to be healthier than at this time a year ago, Peat is in better shape and free agent tight end Coby Fleener gives them a viable red zone target.

All that said, we are approximately 60 days from the start of training camp and 100 days from the season/home opener against the vastly improved Oakland Raiders on Sept. 11, so don't angst out. Not yet, anyway.

But there are many unanswered questions. And with each passing day, the clock winds down.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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