METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints are about to enter the peak of their preseason.
Since they reported for training camp nearly four weeks ago they have practiced among themselves and played two preseason games.
On Wednesday they will start a nine-day stretch in which they practice twice against the San Diego Chargers (Wednesday and Thursday), visit the Chargers in a preseason game (Saturday), then host the Los Angeles Rams in the preseason finale (Aug. 30). After the game against the Rams they will have fewer than 48 hours to trim their roster to 53 players to start the regular season.
This is the second consecutive year that the Saints and Chargers have practiced against each other in preparation for a head-to-head preseason game. New Orleans coach Sean Payton and San Diego coach Anthony Lynn were assistants together in Dallas.
“I know Anthony and those guys have high expectations in their division, rightfully so,” Payton said before departing for Costa Mesa, Calif. “They've got a quarterback (Philip Rivers) that's been successful throughout the course of his career.
“Their defense played extremely well last year and offensively, I think they were the top passing team in the league. So yes, I think there are two similar teams with the same aspirations and we have a chance to work with each other for a few days and then play again.”
The Saints beat Jacksonville and lost to Arizona in their first two preseason games. Facing the Chargers gives them an opportunity to look at different schemes as well as different personnel.
“When you get a chance to practice with another team you get different formations offensively, different type of schemes defensively, different system and our experience last year with them was really good,” Payton said. “It was competitive, and those guys do a good job, our guys practiced hard on both teams. I think it's a good workweek.
“Both teams have the same interest. We're trying to improve, we're also trying to make the right decisions relative to our rosters and be healthy coming away from the practices and the games. It's just being smart and understanding what the common goal is. I think we can compete, play hard and I felt like a year ago that happened.”
The players like the joint practices because they break up the monotony of camp and allow them to hit someone other than their teammates.
“I think the greatest thing is it kind of ramps up the competition,” Saints safety Kurt Coleman said. “It increases your focus a little bit. You want to be able to grow. We want to come out of this trip from out west and we want to be able to say that we got better.
“I think sometimes the practices are very, very intense, almost game like at times. I have even talked to some people say if you just had a couple of these joint practices, you really do not need a game because they are very intense. You have teams that are fighting because it is mano a mano. You don't know this guy and you want to win. You want to show off for your coaches. You want to perform for your team. So it is like a game-like atmosphere going against those guys.”
Saints tight end Benjamin is entering his 15th NFL season, but he has practiced against another team just once, during a previous stint with New Orleans when it practiced against New England in 2015.
“It is an opportunity for us to go on the road and be the visitors,” Watson said. “You build that sort of camaraderie as a team. You're trying to win everything like we are here, but now it’s Saints versus. We’re cheering for each other in that manner.”
Defensive end Cameron Jordan sees each of the next nine days as merely an individual step in an ongoing process.
“I want to win,” Jordan said. “Whatever it takes to win the regular season, this is the next step. We have the same mentality that we’re trying to progress every day. It’s another chance for us to go against another team who has a talented roster and get after them.”