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Saints find normal offseason refreshing

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm •  Published: June 11, 2013

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — No scandals. No holdouts. No suspensions.

With the Saints only days from starting their last vacation until training camp opens in late July, they're relishing the sense of normalcy that has defined this offseason in New Orleans.

They talk of spirited, productive workouts in the weight room and on the field, and about strong leadership from reinstated coach Sean Payton. They also appear confident that they have a real chance to quickly regain the status of contenders they held from 2009 through 2011 — before the NFL unleashed the findings of its bounty investigation and subsequent sanctions in 2012.

"This is why I came here," middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said Tuesday following one of the Saints' final practices of the offseason. Lofton arrived as a free agent a little more than a year ago, only to spend his first season in New Orleans on a 7-9 squad that was never coached by Payton for a single practice.

Payton was reinstated in January, and since voluntary workouts for 2013 season began in April, there have been no distractions from football.

Any contracts which were renegotiated were done so quietly and without player absences — another sharp departure from last year, when star quarterback Drew Brees held out for his current five-year, $100 million deal until July. During 2012 minicamp, as well as the non-padded practices known as OTAs (organized team activities), assistant head coach Joe Vitt was in charge and former backup quarterback Chase Daniel was working with the first team.

Brees has said this offseason seems like the first normal one he's experience since 2009, noting that in 2010, the team was coming off a Super Bowl victory and that the 2011 offseason was wiped out by a lockout.

"This has been great, just getting in this locker room back in mid-April and just focusing on getting better, (working in) the weight room and being around the guys, just getting back to football," Brees said recently. "We've been looking forward to this for a while."

Defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jon Vilma — among the players who renegotiated contracts to remain in New Orleans — have been able to work on learning new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme without being in regular contact with lawyers or the players' union about any looming suspensions. Although Smith and Vilma never wound up serving their bounty suspensions — which were overturned on appeal last December — the matter hung over them most of the season. Other Saints said that was a distraction as well, if only because of all the bad publicity it brought to players they respected.

"You'd say, 'That's my brother,' and at the same time you're defending him, too, in public," right tackle Zach Strief recalled. "It hurts you to hear people say things about the guy. So it's nice not having to do that and be able to have the camaraderie and just play, rather than worry about that stuff."

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