Brees’ drive appears undiminished by accolades

Drew Brees stood alone on the goal line, reflecting on

everything that went wrong in practice. Then he took off, running

the length of the New Orleans Saints’ practice field several times

over.

It’s his way of punishing himself for bad throws and poor

execution during practice.

At 31, Brees is at the top of his game – and he wants to stay

there.

He routinely throws extra passes after practice to a handful

receivers, and when Brees is the last player remaining on the

field, helmet still on, he runs sprints that no one but himself has

required of him.

”I punish myself from time to time with conditioning or

whatever,” Brees said. ”When you feel like you don’t have

something down … you spend the extra time to get it done and make

sure you feel comfortable and confident with it.”

Brees said he usually determines his extra work load depending

on the number of mistakes he makes.

”If I throw a pick, I might say for every pick I throw, I will

run two extra gassers,” he said. ”Or, for every incompletion or

bad decision, I am going to do this. If I ran a 2-minute drill that

I am not happy with, I might go back through it again and visualize

the defense I saw and run the through the routes that I wish I

would have done or the throws I wish I would have made.”

Brees doesn’t have to wish for much off the field.

He is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, newly published best-selling

author and cover boy for the popular ”Madden” football video

game.

But defending Super Bowl titles has proven tough the past decade

or so, according to statistics which Brees can rattle off from

memory.

Five of the previous 11 Super Bowl winners didn’t make it back

to the playoffs one season later. Only the New England Patriots of

2003-04 have repeated as champions in the past decade.

Brees has spoken of being motivated by the fear of failure, and

he said soon after the Saints began offseason training that there

was no better time to instill such fear in the squad than right

after their championship. So when coach Sean Payton highlighted the

failures or recent NFL champs during a meeting last spring, Brees

was pleased.

”We haven’t been down this road before as defending champs, but

the fact of the matter is we all know this is a new season and

everybody has the same hopes and aspirations,” Brees said. ”There

are 32 teams that believe this can be their year. … We know that

we are going to get everybody’s best shot. We know we have to put

our best foot forward every time we step on the field.”

Regardless of how this season plays out, one thing that seems

clear to Brees’ coaches and teammates – the Pro Bowl quarterback’s

preparation has not been diminished by his busy offseason.

Brees bounced around the talk-show, book tour and video game

promotion circuit; his wife, Brittany, is pregnant with their

second child – a boy due in October; and his community service

endeavors were extensive, largely on behalf of children’s programs,

schools and the military.

”One thing you don’t have to worry about with Drew is his work

ethic and his leadership,” said running back Reggie Bush, who also

plays receiver in Payton’s high-octane offense. ”What you see on

the football field is what you get here at the facility every day,

Monday through Saturday. That’s why he’s the leader of this team

and that’s why he’s been so successful.”

Payton said there is no reason for his quarterback’s

self-imposed punishment, but he isn’t about to interfere with

Brees’ routine.

”It’s probably more of him working on aspects of getting

better. I think he’s trying to give himself an edge, whether that’s

the time he’s spending (throwing to receivers after practice) or

whether it’s conditioning,” Payton said. ”I just think it’s his

competitive nature to keep pressing himself.”

The two have a connection that works.

Since Brees and Payton, who calls offensive plays, both arrived

in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints have lead the NFL in offense in

three of four years and were fourth in 2007. During that time,

Brees has complete 66.8 percent of his passes for 18,298 yards –

the highest four-year yardage total in NFL history. In 2008, he

joined Dan Marino as the second player in NFL history to eclipse

5,000 yards passing in a season. Brees’ 5,069 yards fell 15 yards

short of Marino’s single-season record 5,084.

Brees, who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards each season with

New Orleans, now needs 3,437 yards break Archie Manning’s franchise

record of 21,734 yards passing. Brees is already the Saints’

all-time leader in TD tosses with 122.

And he could get better.

”He started out (with the Saints) at a super-high level and

it’s hard to get better, but he finds some way to do it,” receiver

Marques Colston said. ”The thing he’s really done well is

communicate to us what exactly he wants, and that’s what makes the

offense click the way it does.”

Brees, somewhat small for a quarterback at 6-feet tall, has been

underestimated much of his career. He was passed on by the entire

NFL in the first round of the 2001 draft coming out of Purdue.

His journey to Super Bowl MVP with the once sad-sack Saints,

which included his rehabilitation from a career-threatening

throwing shoulder injury in 2005, formed the foundation of his

first book, ”Coming Back Stronger.”

Now, as Brees enters his 10th season, he has established a

reputation as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Former Saints and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert, now

a sports radio personality in New Orleans, said he has ”never seen

a player work harder to lead by example.”

Bush said Brees has both mental and physical ability to

lead.

”He’s extremely athletic,” Bush said. ”He’s extremely

talented and regardless of whether he’s 6-4, 6-5 or 5-9, he’s still

going to be Drew Brees. And he’s a great quarterback.”