With the first snap of the ball at organized team activities, the New Orleans Saints were finally able to exhale: Football again.
It's been a dark offseason for an organization that, just months ago, was a formidable playoff entry, a team hailed for its artistry on offense under coach Sean Payton. He's now a man in exile, serving a season-long suspension for his role in the team's "bounty" fiasco. Joe Vitt will take over as interim coach (after serving his own six-game suspension), and spoke Wednesday about the team's progress on the field during voluntary practices.
"Listen, I couldn't be more proud of the guys," Vitt told The Times-Picayune. "We've had a great tempo, we've been in and out of the huddle, we're up and down. We're running hard defensively. We're introducing a new system, but our guys have really responded.
"So, so far, great," Vitt said.
The questions linger: Will this team sail off the tracks, or not skip a beat? Drew Brees and the front office are struggling over his contract; key players will miss games; and the sheen is off a team once seen as the NFL's good guys.
Vitt and the Saints want nothing more than to replace the chatter and long essays about this troubling offseason with the task at hand: Filling in the gaps and going to war with a newfound us-against-the-universe persona. Whether you see the Saints as sympathetic or villainous, they're as interesting as ever heading in to the season.