Saints pick up intensity with first padded practice of camp

After two days of non-padded training camp practices, the Saints picked up the intensity Sunday when they put on full pads for the first time since last December.

While it often takes some time to knock off the rust, coach Sean Payton liked the tempo and intensity of the 2 1/2-hour workout.

“I thought the early part of the practice was pretty good,” Payton said. “The end tapered off a little bit, but it was good to get the first one in and stay relatively healthy.”

While it’s still rather early in camp, Payton said the goal was to try and create a game-like situation.

“What’s encouraging is you want it to be competitive,” he said. “When you’re having that type of competition in your periods, it benefits both sides of the ball.”

GETTING CHIPPY: With players flying around, things got a little chippy a couple of times.

Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro sparred briefly after a running play with fullback Austin Johnson even though it was more like a couple of love taps.

During team drills near the end of the practice, Vaccaro threw running back Travaris Cadet to the ground after the play had ended.

“I felt like I needed to set the tone,” said Vaccaro. “We needed to spice some things up and get physical. I like to mess around with guys and make it fun.”

“He’s someone that flies around. … I think he is someone who is very instinctive,” Payton said. “We don’t necessarily want to throw our own players on the ground. We’ll get that cleaned up, but he is an instinctive player and I know he was anxious to be in the pads.”

DOING THE DIRTY WORK: Even though he took the lead in trying to set the tone during practice, Vaccaro ended it with the rookie tradition of carrying the helmets and shoulder pads of veterans to the locker room.

As he trudged off the field after a 2 1/2-hour practice was capped with a series of wind sprints back and forth across the field, he carried the pads of fellow defensive backs Keenan Lewis, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

ARMSTEAD REMEMBERS: Saints tackle Terron Armstead awoke on his 22nd birthday last Tuesday to a text informing him that a former Arkansas-Pine Bluff teammate Lydell Hartford Jr. had been killed in nearby Waggaman.

Hartford, a sophomore-to-be, was accidentally shot by a young friend who was removing bullets from a pistol. According to reports, he squeezed the trigger after the thought the gun was properly unloaded.

Armstead said Hartford was a walk-on who asked him for tips on his training regimen during weightroom workouts last summer in Pine Bluff.

“It’s a saddening and troubling situation,” Armstead said. “He had a hard time getting eligible, but he was persistent and he finally was able to play after six games. He ended up winning the (SWAC) championship with us.”

FAULK VISITS: New Orleans native and former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was at Saints’ practice Sunday on assignment for NFL Network.

Faulk said it’s much too early to tell how improved the Saints’ defense will be until it’s attacked in a game and the players respond and see how they tackle, fit the run and make plays. But he said there’s hope with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

“You should always be excited when you get a new coach after you were last in the league at something,” he said.