Brees says he needs to improve his completion rate
Drew Brees accepts the notion that he's trying to bounce back from an off year - at least by his own lofty standards.
It hardly matters to the Saints' star quarterback that his 63 percent completion rate last season was as good as Tom Brady's, or better than those of Matthew Stafford (59.8), Eli Manning (59.9) and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (59.7).
It was still Brees' lowest in his seven seasons in New Orleans, and not even the mention of his league-leading 5,177 yards passing could persuade him that 63 percent was still pretty good.
''No, it's not,'' Brees said Friday, following the first practice of training camp.
''I have goals for myself as to where I should be every time I step on the field, no matter what,'' Brees continued. ''It's definitely better than 63 percent.''
Brees, after all, owns the record for the highest completion rate in NFL history at 71.2. He set the mark in 2011, right before a prolonged holdout that landed him a five-year, $100 million contract last July. The record he broke in 2011 was one he had already owned since 2009, when he connected on 70.6 percent of his throws.
Last season was a mixed bag for New Orleans' star quarterback in what was also an unusual year overall for the Saints, who slogged to a 7-9 record amid the bounty scandal and related sanctions, most notably the season-long suspension of head coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton.
Brees led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2012 with 43, yet he also was tied for the league lead in interceptions with 19.
Payton watched the season unfold on TV and has been back at work since January, plenty of time to break down video of every game. The coach suggested that some of Brees' less flattering statistics resulted from a combination of factors, some of which were beyond any quarterback's control.
''We obviously didn't play well enough on defense,'' Payton said, alluding to the Saints' NFL record 7,042 yards allowed last season. ''There were a number of things offensively that we didn't do well. When you factor in a handful of those things, that (quarterback) position or job description changes and becomes more difficult.''
Payton said Brees was ''exceptional'' in a number of areas, adding, ''It's hard when you are playing from behind or you are chasing points or you are throwing more then you want to be throwing. Then I think it becomes hard to be efficient at that position.''
At 34, Brees said he still feels like he's in his prime, and dismisses the idea that his dip in efficiency or increase in turnovers were indicative of anything other than an off year.
''I am still at that stage in my life where I feel like I can play forever,'' Brees said.
Receiver Lance Moore said he, too, saw Brees' 2012 completion percentage as an aberration.
''I guarantee you it won't happen again,'' Moore said. ''That'll be something that he's studied the whole offseason.
''We just weren't quite as solid as we've been in the past on offense all around,'' Moore added. ''We didn't run the ball as well. We weren't nearly as efficient. We turned the ball over more. We can do a lot of things better.''
Brees did not go into specifics as to why he thought his completion rate dropped by eight percentage points, saying, ''There's not an exact science.''
''In the end, does it really matter as long as were winning? No,'' Brees said. ''But I know the higher it can be means that we're getting positive plays, and that's a good thing.''
Notes: S Roman Harper (sports hernia) and WR Kenny Stills (wrist) were not on the physically unable to perform list as Payton said they might be a day earlier. Both of them participated in practice on a limited basis. There were only three players on the PUP list: CB Patrick Robinson (right knee), LB Victor Butler (left knee) and WR Marques Colston (foot). Colston and Robinson are expected to be back before preseason ends. Butler has torn ligaments and his ability to return this season at all will depend on his rehabilitation. ... DE Kenyon Coleman was out with the flu and WR Jarred Fayson with dehydration stemming from Thursday's conditioning test. ... Payton cut the first practice an hour short with temperatures climbing into the 90s. ''You've got to be smart and willing to adjust,'' Payton said, adding that he didn't want to work players too hard the day after their conditioning tests. ''We were going to mindful of their bodies. We've got a lot of time here.'' ... Despite the hot weather, 2,613 fans filled temporary stands lining the club's two outdoor practice fields. Many lined up to get hours before gates opened at 8 a.m.