METAIRIE – In what has already been and will be a year of firsts for the Saints, the team’s coaching staff experienced another one over the weekend.
The Saints had their first on-field practice without suspended head coach Sean Payton when they conducted a three-day minicamp for their five draft picks and 18 undrafted free agents and assorted other players — including players who were on their practice squad a year ago.
All told, 64 players participated in the minicamp that was closed in its entirety to the media and public.
The camp actually began Thursday with orientation and the first install of the team’s offensive and defensive playbooks, and continued with two practices each on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday.
Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Monday the coaching staff got what it wanted out of the players even though they were limited in what they can do under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.
“They undergo not only a physical evaluation but a mental evaluation,” Vitt said of the players’ initial experience with the Saints. “Can the player learn? Does he know what to do, and will he do it? Does he do it on a consistent basis?
“I would say overall the whole weekend was great,” he said. “Our players came in here and they really worked hard. They tried to do what was being asked of them. The tempo was good. The attention to detail was outstanding by these young guys.”
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Among the players the coaches got to see up close for the first time were defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the team’s top selection in the third round of the April draft, and wide receiver Nick Toon, their fourth-round pick.
Vitt said the early impressions of both were good.
“I thought Toon had a good weekend … I thought he caught the ball well,” Vitt said. “He ran routes very well and ran with the ball well afterwards. I thought Hicks did well. He ran down the ball well, especially on a couple screens. For a big man, you saw his speed and range.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said Hicks, who played his final two college seasons at Regina University in Canada, wasn’t overwhelmed with what he was given despite playing north of the border for two years.
“We didn’t feed the guys a lot of volume, but I would echo what Coach Vitt said where it’s very difficult to get good feel for a lineman when you don’t have any pads on,” Spagnuolo said. “Their game is physical and banging heads on every play. With this particular camp you can’t do that.
“In all the things we could assess, in terms of athletic ability and how he moved around, I thought it was very good.”
TOON IMPRESSES: Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. said Toon, the son of former New York Jets’ star wideout Al Toon, showed his maturity and knowledge of the game.
“We put him in a couple of different positions and the volume was not a challenge to him, even though there wasn’t a whole lot of volume,” said Carmichael. “He could line up at a couple of different spots and ran his routes real well. I thought he showed great hands.
“He was a guy we felt real good about after the rookie camp,” he said.
BROHM GETS LOOK: One of several veterans the Saints had in for a tryout was former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brian Brohm.
While Brohm wasn’t immediately signed, Vitt said they’re still considering him and could bring in a quarterback since Drew Brees isn’t taking part in voluntary workouts while waiting on a long-term contract from the club.
As of Monday, the Saints had only two quarterbacks — Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield — under contract with the start of their organized team activities just a week away.
“We’re still considering signing him,” Vitt said of Brohm. “Once the rookies leave here and this camp is over, the evaluation process doesn’t stop. We’re going to continue to look at some film and continue to evaluate them.
“Knowing what we have on film and the evaluation of (Brohm) right now, there’s a chance. Absolutely.”
BACK TO COACHING: Overall, Vitt said it was nice just to be back on the field coaching again considering the offseason the Saints have had.
While veterans under contract to the team have been participating in their offseason strength and conditioning program since April 16, the same day Payton’s season-long suspension began, they hadn’t been involved in a real practice since before their playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“Number one, we couldn’t wait to get back on (the field), because that’s what we do,” Vitt said. “We couldn’t wait to get back on the field because of the offseason we had here and really, to coach the group of guys in here that were eager to learn, eager to compete, eager to do what was being asked of them, was even that much more fun.
“It was a good weekend. It really was.”
ROSTER MOVES: The Saints on Monday signed four players who participated in the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis over the weekend and released five others.
The team signed tackle Hutch Eckerson, cornerback Nick Hixson, guard DeOn’tae Pannell and linebacker Lawrence Wilson and waived tackles Dan Hoch and Phil Trautwein, guard Nick Howell, linebacker Stephen Johnson and cornerback Josh Victorian.