The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Jeff Darlington visits the New Orleans Saints.
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Two years ago, after a chance meeting between Saints coach Sean Payton and The Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice at a golf event in West Virginia, a relationship formed that quickly helped create one of the NFL's most unique training camp setups. Justice built the Saints a $20 million training facility on a newly flattened mountain, and after two successful camps at this West Virginia resort, it seems safe to say the Saints will be making the journey northeast beyond the end of next year, when the original contract to train here ends.
1) A forgettable 7-9 season in 2014 might've left Saints fans wondering, in a deep pocket of their minds, about the future of Drew Brees in New Orleans. That's not to say he's overstayed his welcome or that his ability has waned, but with a monster salary-cap number on the books for the next two years, it's hard to fathom how good the Saints can be with such a massive financial commitment at quarterback. Here's the good news: Brees still looks like an elite QB in practice, and the Saints' commitment to getting him better protection should provide him with more time to make the most out of his offensive weapons. So for now, it's safe to keep those wonders about Brees buried, knowing at least he is still special enough to get the job done in what will continue to be, even without Jimmy Graham, a high-output offense.
2)Speaking of that offensive line, the Saints should be pleased with the progress of this unit. As the team wrapped up its time in West Virginia on Thursday with a final joint practice against the Patriots, the group looked especially cohesive. Brees took a sack at the end of team drills, but he otherwise stayed clean. Max Unger and Terron Armstead look especially beastly, but Jahri Evans and Zach Strief also look plenty capable of making this a much better year for the Saints' consistently high-powered offense.
3) On Tuesday night, before the Patriots arrived for joint practices, Payton told his players that if they fight at all over the next two days, they should pack their bags to go home. He didn't have to test the threat. New England and New Orleans lived up to their peaceful proclamations, never engaging in anything close to what we've seen at other camps. Willie Snead and Danny Amendola got a little hot at one point during special teams drills, but they quickly walked away. The successful practices were proof of a greater point: Threatening repercussions for fighting is the best way to curb the issue.
Andrus Peat, OL: The last month must feel like a year to the Saints' top draft pick. Not only did he miss most of the offseason program because of academic rules, but he also has played every position except center during training camp. Peat's head, no doubt, is swimming in new information. It doesn't appear he'll emerge as a Week 1 starter at any spot, but this preseason is invaluable. No Saints player took more snaps in the most recent preseason game against the Ravens, and it's likely that will only continue. Reviews have been both good and bad at times, so patience will be a virtue here.
Max Unger, C: If Peat is an example of a long-term work in progress, Unger is the opposite. The center, who was acquired in the Jimmy Graham trade with the Seahawks, has been a perfect plug-and-play addition to Brees' line. Teammates love how quickly he has grown comfortable with the group. And his ability to read a defense, something Payton coveted about him, seems as advertised, as well. Count on Unger being a big help to an offense that always finds a way to put up big numbers.