NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees was back in the heart of a huddle, albeit an unusual one in an uncertain time.
Gathered around New Orleans' star quarterback were not just offensive players, but defenders and specialists. There were players currently under contract with the Saints and some who are not.
Brees secured access to Tulane's facilities and called on teammates to join him for the workouts. Nearly 40 of them did on Tuesday, taking cues from one of the few leaders they have while the NFL lockout prevents them from training on team property or contacting coaches.
"We would all be working out somewhere anyway, so why not do it together and why not do it in an organized fashion where it's very football-related," Brees said. "It's preparing us to have a championship season, and I feel like it's putting us way ahead of other teams around the league, just by the fact that we're so organized."
Normally, May and June are months for organized offseason workouts and minicamps, all of which will be canceled if the lockout lingers into midsummer. So players on a number of teams around the league have begun to gather in some form.
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez invited teammates to join him in California for what he's calling the "Jets West" camp. Broncos safety Brian Dawkins has organized some workouts with about a dozen teammates in the Denver area. Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy hosted some Browns teammates for workouts in Austin, Texas.
After Saints players broke their huddle with Brees, they divided into groups and started conditioning and agility drills. Most wore shorts and T-shirts. None wore helmets.
Brees said work on formations and plays -- even film study -- might come later, depending on how long the lockout lasts, but there will be "absolutely no contact." He added that about three workouts per week are planned for May and parts of June, mimicking what the Saints would normally do in the months leading up to training camp.
Bushrod said he saw the workouts as an opportunity to "get back to where I need to be to be successful, and that's pretty much how everybody looks at it, whether your contract situation is a little hazy or not."
Still, some key players whose contracts are in limbo, such as receiver Lance Moore, did not show, but Brees didn't begrudge their absences.
"I don't blame them if they're not here just because the risk with all this is we have no injury protection," Brees said, noting that if players have a season-ending injury, teams would not have to put them on injured reserve and continue to pay them as they otherwise would.
Brees says he texted Bush words of encouragement soon after.
Brees says he sees a parallel between the drafting of Ingram and the Saints' decision to draft Bush in 2006, when running back Deuce McAllister was one of the club's featured players -- and remained so the following season.
Brees negotiated the use of the Green Wave's facilities with Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson, who said he was eager to reciprocate for help the Saints have given the university in the past.
While Brees is not representing the Saints in an official capacity, Dickson spoke with general manager Mickey Loomis about Brees' plan. Because of the lockout, Loomis was not in a position to advocate for or against the unofficial workouts. However, Dickson noted, "We also know each other well enough that I would have gotten the sense if this was something he didn't want to see happen."
The Saints have at times offered use of their indoor field to Tulane. Loomis also made a locker room available to the Green Wave baseball team after Hurricane Katrina, when the squad had to practice and play at a minor league stadium next door to Saints headquarters.
Dickson said Tulane is charging Saints players only "minimal" costs for having university personnel, such as strength and conditioning coaches, help with the workouts.
In addition, Brees' longtime personal trainer, Todd Durkin, volunteered to oversee much of the conditioning.
Players also worked out deals with the Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine to treat injuries, Dickson said.
Brees, who has earned about $50 million in his past five seasons, plus endorsements, said he is covering a number of the costs himself, but did not specify an amount.
"It's worth it," Brees said, adding that some younger, less established players would struggle to afford lodging and insurance costs of about $1,000 per month that are normally covered by teams, while at the same time going without workout payments they'd normally receive.
Meanwhile, players took care of a number of mundane tasks normally performed by team staff, such as retrieving their own water or sports drinks. Brees walked out of the Tulane locker room carrying bags of sports drinks and joked that his wife, Brittany, was the "team mom."
Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said players were grateful to be working together again and weren't about to lament any lack of amenities.
"It just shows that a lot of the extras are fluff," Stinchcomb said. "It's a little bit of a return to the foundation of what you need to get work done, but I think this is what this group's about."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.