New Orleans Saints  

 

Saints players see positives in much-publicized practice fight

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METAIRIE, La. -- Curtis Lofton, who started the whole mess, was laughing in the locker room afterward. The New Orleans Saints had finished Wednesday morning's minicamp workout and their new linebacker was explaining the consequences of an on-field fight.

Lofton has some experience with this, scrapping with many a teammate in the past. He's seen how they are handled. Some coaches get sick of the disruption and instruct their embattled players to watch practice while (gulp) holding hands with their sparring partner. Sounds like a Pop Warner coach, right?

"That actually happened last year," Lofton said with a smile, referring to his days as an Atlanta Falcons star. "When I was with Coach (Mike) Smith."

Oh.

"No one wants to hold a guy's hand that you're fighting with because you're mad at them," Lofton explained. "So, coach would be like, 'You guys gotta go hold hands.' And so you hold hands the rest of the practice. You couldn't even practice."

See how serious practice fights are taken? See how much they mean? What the punishments are?

Exactly.

To a man, the Saints players shook off the much-publicized brouhaha, claiming it only signaled a spirited practice and a dedication to learning, rather than something sinister about the NFL's most embattled team. Safety Malcolm Jenkins backed that up. Turns out, the Saints had a big practice fight before one of their playoff games last year. Go figure.

"During practice," said Jenkins, who didn't specify the game. "Nothing new. But it's not a big deal to us. It just goes to the intensity of practice and the guys competing. Fights don't happen when guys are lollygagging. When there's a fight, that just shows your practices mean something. We're actually trying to get better."

The drama of Wednesday's skirmish involving Lofton and pseudo starting QB Chase Daniel incited a crowd of players into a shoving match. It began when Lofton ran into Daniel. After two interceptions and a held ball thanks to a coverage sack, Daniel objected to being touched. So Daniel flung the ball at Lofton's feet, later saying, "The slightest of hits can cause a serious injury. I was just mad that he literally just ran into me." To which Lofton responded, "Quarterbacks are a little touchy when it comes to stuff like that. He threw the ball, it bounced and then it hit me. I had to have words after that."

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It awoke a sleepy, melting crowd and sparked all kinds of yelling from players on both sides. It also ended quickly, with Daniel -- taking the place of unsigned quarterback Drew Brees -- heading back into the huddle as soon as possible and running the next play.

"It was like 30 people, and I just said, 'Hey. I'm outta here. I'm going back to the huddle to get ready for the next play.' " Daniel said.

So, the Saints fought without throwing punches -- everyone yelled, everyone laughed and everyone moved on. Internally, at least. In the outside world, the reaction was different. The Saints are embroiled in the NFL's bounty investigation, one that cost them coach Sean Payton for a year and much more. Jokes were flying around them faster than punches were, and the scrutiny and ridicule won't end when the fights do. For the Saints, it will be this way all year.

"I don't think we care about what anybody says about us," Jenkins said.

That might be true. And it might be true that the fight is meaningless, just men being boys. These things might happen all over the place at all times at every level of football.

Still, it must mean something, right? Anything? According to the Saints players, there are a few things that can be gleaned from the episode:

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• Fight or not, they love the intensity. If guys are getting mad, it means their emotions are high. To them, that's good.

• Bounty investigation or not, the Saints aren't changing who they are just because the public has leaned closer. They are who they are. As linebacker Scott Shanle said, "I don't think anybody really thought that there'd be more scrutiny or more of a watchful eye on us doing (the fight)."

• Fights happen regularly. There are plenty more incidents unseen by the public eye. As Roman Harper said, "You guys miss the real stuff. We only let you guys around for the low-key stuff." Surely, he was joking. Or not.

• The team will come together in September, but it's not there yet. Right now, it's about units and competing. The offensive players protected the offensive players, the defensive players protected the defensive players, and everyone picked a side.

"Right now, we're competing against each other until the season comes and we got people to go against," Lofton said. "Right now, it's us vs. them."

And isn't that mentality the story of the 2012 Saints?

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet

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