A New Orleans Saints training camp experience in White Sulphur Springs, WV


Nestled against the beautiful backdrop of the southern Alleghenies, just off of I-64 at 1,857 feet above sea level sits the quaint little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. With a population that hovers around 2,500 people, the atmosphere surrounding training camp is one of quiet solitude, which bodes well for a team needing to get the many offensive and defensive issues from last year ironed out.  I thoroughly enjoyed that small town feel, because it allowed camp to feel more like a secret mission back towards NFL prominence for our New Orleans Saints.

My twin brother and I traveled over 1,100 miles round trip to spend three days paying very close attention to every position group and the various looks what the New Orleans Saints 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-team guys were bringing.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. New Orleans Saints training camp, West Virginia. Photo by James Benoit, Who Dat Dish

I would say that there were a few seminal moments in our experience there. Getting the opportunity to meet Sean Payton the first night was absolutely thrilling. I was very impressed with how he took the time to address any question fans had as much as he was able, all while signing every autograph that was asked of him – at one the end, even asking, “You all good? I want to make sure that’s everybody.”

On the field, his attention to detail was just as obvious.  He was often crouching, with a critical eye on so many elements of practice; namely pass protection, ball security, and special teams. Every moment he let the fans know that he is keenly aware of the problems that plagued the New Orleans Saints in their quest for the NFC South crown last season.

Punter Thomas Morstead was also very genuine and personable with fans. He shared several family stories, and his joy was evident when speaking of his wife, Lauren, and the soon to be addition to his family within the next few weeks.  Let’s not forget that leg, though, too. His presence on special teams is a largely underrated asset to the Saints. His punts routinely stopped inside the 20 and rolled out of bounds.

Drew Brees was absolutely outstanding, both on the field and off.  His fierce level of competition was most evident ahead of Sunday morning’s practice.  He was on the field a good twenty-five minutes ahead of everyone else, stretching, dry throwing, and doing lunges.

Who Dat Dish staff writer James Benoit with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Saints training camp, White Sulphur Springs, WV.

During practice, he seemed intent on absolute perfection. After dropping back to pass, he seemed to catch Brandin Cooks just before he changed direction on his route and sent the throw whistling over his head.  I’m not sure who was at fault on the play, but Brees slammed his helmet down with such anger and disgust that the entire contingent of onlooking fans gasped. He threw out a few choice words in the process as well, and appeared to break something in his helmet, because he was fiddling with it for the remainder of morning practice.  Some may take that as a bad thing, but I saw it as a sign of just how much of a perfectionist Drew Brees is.

You want your quarterback in the NFL to have a short memory, and to forget the wrongs and move quickly past them.  Drew Brees is just such a competitor, though, and I think he senses that his window for another championship run is ever nearer to its end.  However, I’d be shocked if the offense doesn’t pick up right where it left off, being in the top 5 or better, even with the losses of Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills.  A healthy Brandin Cooks and C.J. Spiller should easily erase any worries and doubts from the minds of New Orleans Saints fans. Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill are both looking fresh and determined, as well.

Other players worth noting were Hau’oli Kikaha and Brandon Coleman.  Each really stood out in position drills, 7 on 7, and 11 on 11.  They both flew around the field with purpose and determination. Brandon Coleman’s stride is a thing of beauty. It may just be another year of seasoning under his belt, but he looked faster and crisper coming out of his breaks, and ate up yardage like crazy.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman. New Orleans Saints training camp, West Virginia. Photo by James Benoit, Who Dat Dish

Hau’oli Kikaha was equally impressive.  He looked like he could easily be a starting linebacker before the middle of the season if he can pick up on run blocking schemes and pass coverage, he will be a force to be reckoned with a lot sooner than I thought possible.  Labeled as a one-trick pony coming out of college, that was evident on a few stretch run plays and a few passing situations that forced him into coverage.  He’s certainly a work in progress, but I think he can be coached into an absolute force. Not to mention, he’s absolutely always smiling.

The last player who really stuck out to me was Stephone Anthony.  I knew he was a first round pick, but couldn’t understand why some guy out of Clemson that I’d never heard of was getting so much praise from scouts and analysts at the Senior Bowl. Then, I saw him live.  He looks like a thumper in the mold of a Paul Posluszny or young Patrick Willis. One thing is certain, the coaching staff trusts him enough to make him the leader of the defensive unit in practice, and give him a chance to own the ‘Mike.’

All told, my experience couldn’t have been better at camp. I got to feel like I was back home in Louisiana for a while, and that was perhaps the best feeling of all. You can take a boy out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of the boy.  I know it was West Virginia, but being surrounded by a contingent of true New Orleans Saints fans made the weekend feel like a piece of New Orleans met one of the most picturesque small towns I’ve seen in some time.

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