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Saints praise Brees' fitness in opening practice

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)

A semblance of normalcy has returned to the New Orleans Saints, who started practicing Thursday with recently re-signed star quarterback Drew Brees back on the field.

Brees even decided his first practice following a months-long contract holdout was as good a time as any to throw deep.

''I said, `Hey, we're going throw some balls down the field that maybe we shouldn't today, but let's just go make some plays,''' Brees said.

If only the fans who'd lined up to get into Thursday evening's opening training camp session could have seen it.

Lightning in the area led the Saints to move the practice indoors, where space is limited and only so many guests can watch.

For Brees, who recently inked a five-year, $100 million contract, the practice also marked his first chance to work against a scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

It started off well for the offense, with Lance Moore diving to snag a long passed that was tipped by Malcolm Jenkins.

''The receivers caught some long balls on us today,'' said assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who is also the linebackers coach.

Vitt said the defensive backs were in pretty good position but followed coaches' orders not to challenge receivers too aggressively because players were not in full pads.

''The secondary guys were there, the receivers made some outstanding catches, but now as we get into our padded practices, the DBs have to make the plays on those balls,'' Vitt said. ''And like I said before, Drew (Brees) is going to put those balls in places where he is going to give the receivers a chance to catch the ball, which is great work for our corners.''

Brees, meanwhile, expects Spagnuolo's scheme to give him a solid test before training camp is done.

''The fact that we have new defensive system with Steve Spagnuolo and the respect I have for him ... and knowing the mindset he brings, this is going to be a great camp, competitive camp,'' Brees said. ''We will have thrown a lot at each other.''

Jenkins meanwhile, said the new defense is a work in progress that will be refined over the course of five preseason games, starting with the Hall of Fame game against Arizona on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.

Asked if defensive players were comfortable with the scheme, Jenkins said, ''I wouldn't say comfortable. We're still learning it.''

''The good thing is we're putting in a lot of the hard stuff early,'' Jenkins added. ''There will be a little confusion. But it will get easier. I think everyone's trying to learn and settle into what their roles are.''

Vitt and several of Brees teammates said Brees seemed as sharp as if he never skipped all of the club's voluntary practices and mandatory minicamp.

''He's made the best of a tough situation ... by coming here in great shape,'' Vitt said. ''He came in today and showed his great leadership qualities that he has, great accuracy on the ball, good zip. He's got a lot of pent up frustration; he hasn't played since (last season's playoff loss at) San Francisco. He was happy to be out there.''

Tight end Jimmy Graham said he could tell Brees has had ''a lot of time to think and definitely a lot of time to work out,'' noting that Brees was trying to race him in condition sprints on Wednesday.

''He is definitely in shape. He is definitely ready,'' Graham said. ''He's also come up with some new material for inspiration so I'm excited to hear him. I'm excited to hear all of his little sayings.''

NOTES: Before practice, Vitt spent part of the day in federal court testifying on behalf of linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was asking a judge to temporarily block his suspension in connection the NFL's bounty investigation while his lawsuit against the league plays out. Four current Saints defensive players also were excused from part of the day's activities to testify. They were Roman Harper, Scott Shanle, Sedrick Ellis and Jonathan Casillas. ... Rookie DT Akiem Hicks, who broke his right hand during offseason practices, was the only player who did not practice. Vitt said he could return by Sunday.

Tagged: Saints, Drew Brees, Malcolm Jenkins

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