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Sean Payton reacts to spirited Saints practice

Seth Dunlap
May 30, 2019 - 7:21 pm

NFL practices this time of year can often be bland, relatively boring affairs that even the most diehard of football fans can have trouble enjoying.  Once in a while those mundane practices become a little more, well, intriguing.  Today's Saints OTA practice was one of those days.

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Highlighting a more spirited than usual practice was the confrontation between wide receiver Michael Thomas and cornerback Eli Apple, with the former throwing a football in Apple's face after hauling in a pass.  Apple was noticeably perturbed, but didn't reciprocate, leading to secondary coach Aaron Glen chastising Apple for his lack of passion.  

Head coach Sean Payton often encourages players showing emotions, as long as those players know to not cross the invisible line into decremental conduct.

“There’s that fine line of you want the competition and yet it's back to the initial question without pads there's that point where you've got to acquiesce a little bit relative to being safe and smart,"  Payton said after practice.  "We have enough guys that have been through this and understand it. But the competition is critical.”

It's going to be a big year for Thomas, who is entering his contract season.  His current deal with the team is expiring and it's unknown whether he and the team can come to an agreement for a long-term extension.  It's no surprise, then, that Thomas has been emotional and animated even at these early offseason practices.

"The one thing about Mike is that you kind of know what you're going to see," Payton said, while remarking that Thomas looks good on the field. "So weight is in good shape here, he’s moving around well. It was no surprise. He's here, he's working, he trains very hard in the offseason and he's extremely competitive."

While the Thomas/Apple confrontation grabbed headlines today, the focus of the coaching staff is still heavily on evaluating offensive line play.  Even during these early pad-less practices there are things that coaches can learn about the players in the trenches.  Payton said he is focused on technique and fundamentals right now.

“It starts with assignment. It’s hard to evaluate a player who doesn't know what to do. It’s understanding who we have, where our steps are going. There's still landmarks they're trying to reach. There's technique they’re still working on. It impacts not just the offensive and defensive line -- certainly those groups are more noticeable -- but there are a lot of other positions the same way. The framework in where we know how to practice is one thing. Really getting the younger players up to speed with how to practice with just helmets is something we're working on and it's pretty typical this time every year.”

Payton ended his press conference with a lighthearted comment on what the team might do to change their beginning-of-season fortune, where they've typically struggled in recent seasons.  The Saints have lost four of their past five openers, including last season's unexpected 48-40 home defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  What could the team do differently this year?

“We're going to change the Gatorade up and the sweatsuits," Payton said to laugher.  "Probably look at a different color Gatorade”

Watch Payton's post-practice press conference in the video below.

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