June 3, 2006

Day Two of Minicamp Report: Stallworth sits out of morning practice but returns; Fincher starting at MLB

Minicamp day two saw head coach Sean Payton continue to exert himself as a no-nonsense, business-first head coach.

Foremost made an example of was wide receiver Donte Stallworth.

"He didn't practice today. I told him I didn't want him to practice," Payton said after Saturday's first practice. "There's certain expectations I have for this team. He's no different than any of them and I leave it at that.

"We'll see him out here tomorrow. There's certain things that we're going to do the right way. There's certain ways we're going to be on time, meetings and all that other stuff, so we're not getting sloppy.

"I don't want anybody to get sloppy. I wasn't happy with a few things and we'll leave it at that."

Stallworth, accused in the media of "loafing" and not getting with the new staff's program, reappeared at the 3pm afternoon practice and wasn't "sent home" for the day. So perhaps the message that Payton sent went through. It is a bold and impressive show of force for a young rookie head coach who is not afraid of flexing some disciplinary muscle.

Quad and hamstring pulls are common but nothing major, Payton insists. S Dwight Smith was back on the field after a minor back strain on Friday. Annually out of shape DT Johnathan Sullivan is "not a big topic" for Payton, as this coaching staff doesn't feel the same kind of loyalty to the former sixth overall pick.

Runningback is a position that Payton was to "stack them up at," a lesson he says he's learned from Bill Parcells. Which is why the Saints haven't yet traded RB Michael Bennett, who signed a primary backup-caliber contract before Reggie Bush arrived. Third on the depth, Bennett still remains a valuable assett, considering McAllister is coming off a knee injury and Bush is with some degree of certainly going to hold out of training camp. Depending on the availability of those two runningbacks, the Saints may hold Bennett through training camp. RB Aaron Stecker is a servicable spot contributor on offense but undersized to carry a full load, and he and Bennett can both contribute in the return game. RB Fred McAfee is also a major special teamer, which means if the Saints decide to keep all five runningbacks they could get use out of them. RB Keith Joseph is a second-year back out of Texas A&M and is a big, powerful and hard working, but he is not likely to make the final roster.

New backup quarterback Jamie Martin, who is fighting with (and likely winning) Todd Bouman and Adrian McPherson for the #2 job behind Drew Brees, was a topic of conversation for Payton on Saturday.

"He's a good decision maker," Payton said. "He's been in the league a long time. He's seen a lot of film. He beat us when we were with Dallas last year. He was with St. Louis. There's some reliability with the guy who knows not to turn it over. I think he's accurate. He's got good anticipation. He's a pretty sharp guy. Those are some of the traits. He's been in this league for a number of years and has had a lot of experience. I think that's important as well."

LB Alfred Fincher, a third round pick from the last draft of the previous administration, has been getting a lot of work with the first string at middle linebacker. Fincher certainly well-equipped for the middle but faces stiff competition from a Saints linebacking corp that features 10 capable men on the roster, six with starting experience.

But Fincher - nor any Saint - has won a starting job. Fincher could still be moved to strongside linebacker, or back to second string inside, since versatile Colby Bockwoldt practiced at MLB heavily earlier in the offseason. Bockwoldt, a starter for the past two seasons, is fighting for a starting job at middle and strongside. Only weakside linebacker Scott Fujita - a groomed and chosen player by Gary Gibbs and Joe Vitt - looks closest to having his starting job and position wrapped up.

Payton on Friday insisted that he wasn't going to lay down a depth chart any time soon.

"I'm not listing a starting lineup today," Payton told the media after the team's first practice on Friday. "Eventually you guys will be able to see who goes with the first group and second group. But I really think it's a mistake if I tried to lay out a starting offensive line or defensive line or for that matter, the starting anything. In fairness to those guys, until we get the pads on, we have a lot of time. We have 11 days with minicamp and the OTAs, we have a whole preseason and training camp in pads. Obviously you begin to coach to think about where your lineups are, but it's a little early right now."

WR Chase Lyman has looked great in what is essentially his first real practice time as a Saint. Lyman has size that few others on the team have at this point. Street free agent pickup Jamal Jones has also looked good in the type of limited practice sessions that give receivers a chance to shine more than any other position. Also, Saints draft pick Mike Hass - who looked great in the rookie camp after the draft - isn't in attendance since his college semester hasn't ended yet.

Installation of some defensive packages is on tap for Sunday's closed practices, including some key pass rushing and third down schemes.

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