Saints cancel offseason program amid coronavirus concerns

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints have canceled their offseason program because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and informed players they will not be required to report to club headquarters until training camp — whenever that may be.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said coach Sean Payton informed players of the decision on Wednesday, adding that the club will remain in regular communication with players between now and the opening of training camp.

“We’re going to have some things that we talk to them about,” Loomis said, adding that Payton’s message to players was essentially, “Pay attention to your family. Pay attention to keeping yourself and your family safe. Abide by the orders of each of the states that you’re in. We’ll handle the rest of it. Get yourself in shape and then when we’re able to get together we’ll move on and have a great training camp and a great season.”

The Saints decision comes as leaders in some states have begun to relax, or discuss relaxing, stay-at-home orders that have caused widespread economic hardship Louisiana, with a population of about 4.65 million, has seen the coronavirus take a relatively high toll in the state.

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Louisiana’s Department of Health reported Wednesday there were more than 25,000 coronavirus cases in the state, with 1,473 people having died from the virus. However, Louisiana also has begin seeing a gradual drop in hospitalizations..

Loomis said the team still would conduct various meetings with players online, but would not use “virtual” drills to conduct anything that would require physical exertion.

“We’ll have some stuff that guys will participate in,” Loomis said. “We’re not going to be doing virtual workouts and things like that. We want to make sure guys are focused on their families and safety. Look, we have a lot of guys we have great faith and trust in in terms of being in shape when we do get going in training camp.”

While the Saints’ decision means fewer opportunities to run or walk through plays being installed for the coming season, and fewer chances for teammates to work on communication and chemistry on the field, New Orleans could be as well-equipped to adjust as any team.

Payton has been the coach and his offensive system has been in place since 2006. Dennis Allen has served as defensive coordinator since he replace Rob Ryan during the 2015 season. The Saints’ past three playoff teams also have most regulars coming back, led by 41-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, entering his 15th season with the club.

“It is a bit of an advantage if you have the same coaching staff, you haven’t had a lot of changes on your coaching staff, you have a core group of players that are the same and a system that we’ve had here for 14 years,” Loomis said. “I probably would feel a little differently if we did have a lot of changes on our roster and our coaching staff, but we’re fortunate that we don’t.”

Loomis likened this offseason to that of 2011, when strife between the league and player’s union led to a lockout that wiped out all teams’ offseason programs before it was resolved in time for training camp.

“We able to hit the ground running at the end of that period,” Loomis said, alluding to numerous NFL offensive records set that season and a 13-3 regular season record that ties for the best in franchise history.

What remains in question is when training camp will start.

“We don’t know what the future holds. We’re going to plan as if we’re going to have our normal training camp but we don’t know.”

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