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Defense strong in Saints scrimmage
By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
AP - Aug 5, 9:03 pm EDT
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Offensive-minded new head coach Sean Payton saw the New Orleans Saints' defense get the best of his team's first scrimmage of training camp.
While two new marquee players, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush, each provided a sampling of their potential to move the offense, defensive stalwart Charles Grant who stood out most in a nearly two-hour scrimmage Saturday.
Grant had a sack, wrapped up Bush behind the line of scrimmage and rushed Brees into an ill-advised throw that linebacker Scott Fujita intercepted and probably would have returned for a touchdown if not for a quick whistle.
The defense gave up only two touchdowns -- and that was when reserves were on the field on both sides of the ball.
"It's always that double-edged sword," Payton said. "You're encouraged on one end because they established some pressure and hurried the quarterback. Then you want to check your protections and make sure that you're giving (quarterbacks) a chance to function."
The scrimmage, held in 60,000-seat Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, was closed to the public but open to relatives and special guests of players and team staff.
There were four interceptions and six sacks during the scrimmage. Brees and Adrian McPherson each were intercepted twice. Longtime cornerback Fred Thomas made the other interception of Brees, while veteran safety Jay Bellamy and rookie cornerback Grant Mason victimized McPherson.
The offense was at a disadvantage, however. Coaches decided not to allow tackling of position players such as quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. That meant quick whistles for sacks when defensive players got into the backfield before the quarterback could unload the ball.
It also meant running backs like Bush and Deuce McAllister never got a chance to lower their shoulders or demonstrate their abilities to slip tackles.
The offense also was without receiver Joe Horn, who was attending a funeral, and three other key players nursing minor injuries: receiver Donte Stallworth (groin) and first-string guards Jermane Mayberry (shoulder) and Montrae Holland (knee).
Bush did display the agility and acceleration that so often brings crowds to their feet, turning the corner around a solid block by left tackle Jammal Brown for an 18-yard gain early in the scrimmage. He also gained 13 yards on a catch in the right flat. While Saints staff did not keep official statistics, it appeared that Bush finished with about 35 yards rushing on seven carries and about 30 yards receiving on five catches.
"I don't think the offense had as good of a day as we wanted to, but that's what the scrimmage is for. To work on and get better next week," Bush said.
Payton said Bush "looked pretty explosive." Brees added, "We all kind of saw that gear that everybody talks about Reggie having. He looks good on a college field, I think he looks pretty good on an NFL field, too."
Bush exuded confidence about his ability to pick up the offense and take on defenders. Contact was unavoidable at times, and on one play Bush collided hard with safety Omar Stoutmire. When asked if he thought Stoutmire had given him an introduction to the NFL, Bush responded, "Nah, I think I welcomed him to Reggie Bush."
Including a two-minute drill at the end of the scrimmage, Brees completed 15 of 22 passes for about 133 yards. He was ruled sacked once when Will Smith and Tony Bryant fought through their blocks and pulled up in front of Brees before he could throw.
"They just got us today. It's back and forth, which is good," Brees said. "It keeps it competitive. Obviously with all the installation (of new plays) that's gone in the last few days, guys are still trying to digest everything, and it makes for some fun practices."
Todd Bouman, currently working as the third-string quarterback behind Jamie Martin, threw the first touchdown pass. On a first-and-goal, he hit tight end Zack Hilton on a fade to the left corner of the end zone. Fifth string quarterback Jason Fife threw the other scoring pass on a short first-and-goal dump-off to tight end Nate Lawrie.
While the offense often stalled out, the field goal kickers made sure they came away with points. John Carney hit all four of his field goals, including two from 46 yards, one from 34 and one from 32. Kicker Connor Hughes hit a 49-yarder.
Although Horn and Stallworth were out, Devery Henderson, Jamal Jones, Marques Colston, Chris Horn and Mike Hass all made catches, some of them difficult, and there were very few dropped balls.
"Those guys are competing, man," Brees said. "There's only a certain number of receiver spots and a lot of guys that are playing very well. So we'll see how it shakes out."