METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Drew Brees is confident the Saints can replicate Sean Payton's record-breaking offense to a certain extent.
Yet the star quarterback also has come to terms with the fact that the mastermind of the schemes that have suited him so well won't be around, and that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. is going to have to make his own gut decisions, and his own mid-stream adjustments.
"Every play-caller has their own stamp. Over time, that evolves," Brees said after Wednesday afternoon's practice. "We've got a system. We've got a way we do things. And certainly there's going to be a lot of Sean Payton in what Pete does, but Pete's Pete."
The Saints often point out that Carmichael took a leading role in shaping and calling the offense for the last 10 games of last season, after Payton's leg had been broken in a sideline collision.
Payton had to miss parts of practices and meetings, first while in the hospital for surgery, and then while in rehab and on crutches for weeks.
Still, Brees would often seek out Payton in the training room after meetings and the two would chat about upcoming games. Payton reviewed film and provided feedback to the staff, and he was always there on game day, either in the booth or on the sideline, to offer advice throughout a game about what was working and what was not.
That won't happen this year because of Payton's suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, and Sunday's regular season opener against Washington will mark the first true test of how the Saints can get along without him.
"The coaches are going to try as much as possible to keep everything the same. It's definitely coach Payton's philosophy, his plays," 2011 All-Pro right guard Jahri Evans said. "It's true coach Payton is a great offensive coach and great play caller. He showed that. But the plays are still intact, the majority of the guys are still here, so I don't see it deviating too much from his game plan and his style."
The Payton era has been defined by an elite offense that has broken numerous club and league records. The NFL records set by the Saints in 2011 included yards passing by a team (5,505) and a quarterback (Brees' 5,476). The Saints also set a record for total offensive yards with 7,474.
The Saints have finished four of Payton's six seasons first in the NFL in total offense. The worst they have been during that span is sixth in 2010, when their running game was decimated by injuries.
Coaches tend to say they are only as good as their players, which, if true, bodes well for Carmichael's success as a game-planner and play-caller. Most of the key offensive skill players from last year's record shattering unit are back, including running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, tight end Jimmy Graham, and receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.
There was a big loss on the offensive line: 2011 All Pro left guard Carl Nicks. But the Saints moved quickly to replace him with 2011 Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs.