(AP Photo) Payton returns to a team similar to his first one
New Orleans, La. - It's here. Saints football without an asterisk is back at last. The excitement surrounding the Saints is swirling, and emotions are at a fever-pitch. It's safe to assume that anyone associated with this team is chomping at the bit to get started.
But as I peel back a few layers on the 2013 Sean Payton led-version, a different feeling is also present.
It's the feeling of mystery, at least as for as Payton is concerned.
Every year brings a new identity to a team -- that's a given in the NFL. No two teams are alike from year-to-year, but this year it's different for Payton.
He has his normal soldiers. Players like Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston are all here. But once you dig deeper, you realize the familiar names are getting fewer and fewer.
Payton acknowledged as much upon his return to the team. He's stated several times that the biggest surprise when he came back was just how many new faces were in the building. That team he coached in 2011 looks a lot different than the one he'll coach today. Essentially he returned to a team that had a portion of the roster turned over twice.
In today's NFL, that accounts for A LOT of new players.
For Payton it's 25. As in, against Atlanta, Payton will coach 25 players for the first time. That's nearly half of his roster.
Seventeen of those 25 are first or second year players. Meaning not only is he having to count on players he doesn't know all that well, the majority of them have little to no experience in the NFL. And for the Saints to have the kind of success they want to have, a significant portion of those youngsters MUST contribute. In years past it was a luxury; this year it's a necessity.
That unknown can eventually be good or bad.
It's why the comparisons to 2006 make so much sense. That was the only other year Payton went into a season not having coached more players. No one knew what the Saints were capable of that year. Not even themselves. That year the unknown turned out to be one game within a Super Bowl.
This year the mystery isn't as big as '06, but it is the biggest since ‘06.
That's why, in my opinion, we haven't heard Payton go into much detail at his press conferences this week. It's hard to really answer questions about a team he really still needs to figure out.
The only way he can get that concrete answer is to play, which will finally happen today.
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