Saints practice in Cincinnati sun

Drew Brees called the Saints together before the start of

practice on Tuesday, an uncharacteristic move by the quarterback to

make sure that a team with so much experience in dealing with

distractions was ready to handle the latest one.

The Saints practiced on the Cincinnati Bengals’ grass fields

downtown on a sunny, 87-degree afternoon while Hurricane Isaac bore

down on New Orleans, finishing their preseason the way their entire

offseason has gone. It’s been one thing after another.

”A lot of this has been swirling around us and now all of a

sudden, we’re together and let’s make sure we’re out here with a

purpose,” Brees said, summing up his speech to the team. ”It’s to

get better, not just to run around and run some plays.

”We’ve got a great group of guys, great leadership. Everybody

understands we’re going to weather the storm literally and find the

way to make the most of it and make a positive out of a tough

situation.”

The Saints were forced to scramble when Isaac set course for New

Orleans. They played a preseason game on Saturday night, then

rearranged their plans and spent Sunday and Monday evacuating their

families and preparing their homes for the storm.

They’ve been through this drill several times already. The

Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32) played their entire 2005 season away

from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

They practiced in Indianapolis the week before their 2008 season

opener after Hurricane Gustav forced an evacuation.

Needing a place to practice for their final preseason game on

Thursday in Tennessee, the Saints found enough open hotel rooms in

Cincinnati and received the Bengals’ permission to use the visiting

locker room at Paul Brown Stadium and work out on the adjacent

fields.

Most of the team flew into town on Monday night. A few players

arrived on Tuesday morning after evacuating their families. Brees

drove his family to Birmingham, Ala., then flew to Cincinnati on

Tuesday morning.

When they weren’t in meetings or practice, players were on their

cell phones or watching the storm’s progress on television.

”I’m glued to the TV, just trying to see where that storm’s

tracking and how strong it is and what the projections are,” Brees

said. ”The crazy thing is we’re going to play a game in Nashville

and by Thursday evening, the (remnant) of the storm is supposed to

be there. So you can’t really escape it.”

The Saints held a team meeting on Tuesday morning, followed by

practice and another meeting. They planned a light workout on

Wednesday morning before flying to Nashville for a game that will

mark another transition for the team.

Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season as part of

the Saints’ bounty scandal. Assistant Joe Vitt took over on an

interim basis, but will start his six-game suspension next week.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will be in charge while Vitt is

away.

In addition to handling the Saints’ hectic week, Vitt is

figuring out how to turn things over to Kromer during the final

preseason game.

”Really, I’m phasing out and he’s phasing in,” Vitt said.

”His role will expand in the game on Thursday night. This is

really the second phase of the transition that’s going to have to

take place.”

So much has happened to the Saints in the offseason because of

the bounty scandal that the schedule and travel changes didn’t seem

to bother them very much.

”There is always adversity, there is always something that

happens,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. ”This year it

happened in the offseason.

”There is always going to be something, but I think the staff

has been proactive on speaking about you’ll be judged based on how

you handle that. Some teams handle the adversity by tanking. Some

teams handle the adversity by rising to the occasion. I think we’ve

been pretty successful of that here in the past. This is just

another one of those things.”

Strief grew up in nearly Milford and took a few players out to a

local chili parlor when they arrived on Monday night. He was having

a ribs restaurant supply food on Tuesday.

Safety Roman Harper considered it part of being with the

Saints.

”We are the best team in the league at mid-stream

adjustments,” Harper said.

The Bengals were leaving the stadium while the Saints arrived on

buses Tuesday. Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who lives

in Louisiana, was hoping to get in touch with some of the Saints

during their brief visit.

”I know some of the guys up here and will try to reach out to

them,” Whitworth said. ”They’ve had to deal with a lot over the

years. It’s just another year or another something that’s probably

made them as tough as they are as a football team, all the

adversity they’ve overcome.”

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