New Orleans Saints: News, Notes and Quotes

The Saints held their final mini-camp of the spring over the weekend, a sure sign that their off-season program is beginning to wind down. New coach Sean Payton put his team through five practice sessions, concluding the three-day camp with a Sunday workout. Now, all that's left before the start of training camp in late July is two weeks of organized team activities.

Because of the presence of Payton and a whole new coaching staff, the minicamps took on added significance. The coaches had to learn as much as they could about their new team before turning the players loose for about five weeks before the start of camp. Payton said on several occasions that he and his staff "aren't married" to any players, so the mini-camp gave them another more opportunity to make some all-important evaluations.

Most of the attention at the mini-camp went to new quarterback Drew Brees, who began throwing with his surgically repaired right shoulder after the first veterans' mini-camp in early April. Running back Reggie Bush was also on the watch list after straining a hamstring during the rookie mini-camp in mid-May.

The coaches were scheduled to use the mini-camp to take a close look at positions such as safety, linebacker, defensive tackle and offensive line, where the depth chart is extremely jumbled following a massive roster makeover. The safety position is the most confusing of the bunch. The team has its top three safeties back from last season -- Dwight Smith, Jay Bellamy and Josh Bullocks -- and special teams ace Steve Gleason.

They also signed one veteran in free agent Omar Stoutmire, traded for veteran Bryan Scott and still took Roman Harper in the second round of the April draft.

"We've got a lot of guys at that position," Payton said. "We've got guys that have played here and have a lot of experience. We've got some guys that we brought in and drafted. We want to see what we have."


--Saints director of player personnel Rick Mueller became the third person to be interviewed by Houston Texans owner Robert McNair concerning that team's vacant general manager position.

Mueller, who's been with the Saints since 2000, talked to the Texans about the job left open when Charley Casserly resigned to pursue a job with the NFL. Also interviewed were Denver Broncos assistant general manager Rick Smith and Green Bay Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie.

Mueller, the younger brother of Miami Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller, has overseen the last five drafts for the Saints. He took over the role when Randy Mueller was fired by Saints owner Tom Benson in 2002.

Prior to moving to New Orleans to join his brother, Rick Mueller worked six years for the Jacksonville Jaguars and served as its college scouting director in 1998-99. He also was in charge of their 1999 draft.

"I had several coaches call me and say he's a young man they've known a long time, and they thought he'd be a good candidate," McNair said. "So I thought it was worth taking the time to visit with him. I think he's a good candidate."

--Strong-side linebacker James Allen, who played in only three games a year ago because of a knee injury, will miss the entire 2006 season after injuring himself during off-season workouts on May 23. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Allen was participating in non-contact drills when he ruptured his right patella tendon. Loomis said Allen underwent surgery one day later.

Allen, a third-round draft pick out of Oregon State in 2002, was scheduled to be the starter in 2005 after opening nine games in 2004. But he injured his knee early in training camp, struggled to get back on the field and then played in only three games before being put on injured reserve.

The 6-2, 245-pounder had a career-high 51 tackles in 2004 and recovered two fumbles in addition to forcing two.

--After a month of speculation, it's finally official. Saints rookie running back Reggie Bush will wear jersey No. 25 this season after veteran Fred McAfee gave up the number he's worn for eight of his nine seasons with the club.

The NFL Competition Committee rejected Bush's request to change league rules and wear No. 5, the number he's donned since his high school days in San Diego. Because the Saints had few numbers left for running backs, which must be between 20 and 49, McAfee gave his number up.

Bush will stick to his promise of donating 25 percent of his royalties from jersey sales to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. But he'll allow McAfee to distribute half of the funds to a charity of his choice. McAfee, who's entering his 15th NFL season, is one of the team's locker room leaders and a top special-teams performer. He will wear No. 32 this season.

--Funeral services for former Saints fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who died on May 27 after a seven-year fight with a recurring brain tumor, were held last weekend in Georgia.

Heyward was picked by the Saints in the first round (24th overall) of the 1988 draft after leaving the University of Pittsburgh following his junior season. He played with the Saints from 1988-92 and spent a total of 11 seasons in the NFL with five teams.

Heyward ranks 12th in Saints history in rushing yards with 1,813 yards and 13 touchdowns on 432 carries. He had a career-long 73-yard TD run against the Los Angeles Raiders. He also caught 67 passes with one TD during his career with the Saints.

His best rushing season with New Orleans came in 1990, when he had 599 yards and four TDs. His top receiving season with the Saints was his final year with the club in 1992.

--Even though the June 2 deadline for releasing veterans so they could spread the salary cap hit over two seasons has passed, the Saints aren't expected to terminate any contracts in the coming days.

The team has already gotten rid of several high-priced veteran players since Sean Payton took over as head coach in late January and are believed to be in good shape with the salary cap.

The Saints, however, are top-heavy at safety and running back and may try to make a deal or two before training camp begins in late July.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were 3-13 a year ago, so it's hard to be set on anything until you see these guys in preseason. We're not set on anything. I want to go by what we see." -- Saints first-year coach Sean Payton on having an abundance of running backs and safeties on his roster.

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