METAIRIE, La. – Saints quarterback Drew Brees practically laughed while describing himself as “still green” at the onset of his 19th NFL training camp.
The smile on the 40-year-old’s face looked like an acknowledgment of how silly he knew he must have sounded as he spoke, even if, to him, there was real logic behind his assertion.
“By no means have I arrived,” said Brees, a former Super Bowl MVP and the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing with 74,437. “I had a coach tell me, ‘As long as you are green, you will continue to grow. As soon as you are ripe, you’ll soon be rotten.’
“As soon as you think you know it all, you’re done,” Brees continued. “So I’m still green. I’ve still got things to learn.”
Brees is in the final season of his contract, but has declined to specify how much longer he might play.
He is by no means in denial about the erosion of skills every older athlete faces, but he strives to be proactive in his approach to maximizing his longevity, from the way he trains to the way he eats.
The father of three sons and a daughter talks of “finding ways to stay young, feel young, recover, just be as efficient as possible, having the body operate as efficient as possible, doing all the little things to be as accurate as possible, be as quick as possible.”
He takes an academic approach to learning about the effects of aging on the body and how to mitigate them.
“I study all that stuff,” Brees said. “I feel like I’m pretty aware of what you lose with the aging process. So everything I do from a training perspective, from a recovery perspective, is to combat that. So you just try to stay ahead of that curve – right? – stay ahead of that curve. And so far, I feel like I’m beating it.”
Last season, Brees passed for 3,992 yards, more than in any of his first five NFL seasons in San Diego, but fewer than any season since his arrival in New Orleans in 2006. The extent to which age contributed to his relative dip in yards passing is a matter of debate. The Saints’ offense has been oriented more toward running and short passes since the arrival of 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara , and New Orleans has been one of the NFL’s top six rushing teams in each of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, Brees’ NFL record 74.4 completion percentage last season was complemented by a touchdown to interception ratio of 32-5, better than all but one QB: Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (25-2).
“Nothing’s changed,” Sean Payton said when asked if he’s had to adapt play calling specifically because of Brees’ age. “It’s not like we’ve had to go in a different direction. Look, when we’ve been able to have balance on this team and play good defense and create turnovers, it’s been a pretty good formula for us.”
Payton listed the 2006 season, when the Saints advanced to the NFC title game, and the 2009 season, when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, as examples of his more balanced teams.
Brees looks slender, fit and spry as he moves about the offensive backfield on drop-backs and roll-outs.
During Saturday’s practice, he connected with young receiver Cyril Grayson Jr. deep down the left side of the field, and shortly after followed that by finding new tight end Jared Cook on an out route of around 20 yards. Later, he whipped a side-arm throw around a defensive lineman and connected with new running back Latavius Murray.
And while Payton has spoken of dialing back the workload of Brees and other established veterans during camp, the quarterback does not appear wanting for energy or stamina as he takes time after most practices to refine chemistry with receivers and work on what he calls the “nuances” of the passing game.
“I can draw a route on paper, but then I can show you three different coverages where you’re running that route in three different ways, right?” Brees said. “So it’s just our understanding of seeing and feeling the same thing. And then just the trust that, hey, I know he’s going to be there … and he knows the ball’s going to be there and he knows the timing in which it’s going to be there. He knows when he’s got to speed it up. He knows when he can be patient.”
As much as Brees says he still has to learn , it seems he has even more to teach.
“I feel like I’ve lived it so many times that I know the way it’s supposed to look. I know the way it’s supposed to feel. I know the timing,” Brees said. “So as I sit there and communicate that to a young guy, I can sit there and just tell him story after story … that would back that up.
“I like to think, when those guys listen to me, and I’m telling stories about this rep with Marques Colston, or this rep with Jimmy Graham, or this rep with Lance Moore – whoever it might have been – that there’s some credibility there, right?”
Good luck finding anyone at Saints headquarters who would disagree with that.
NOTES: Payton said DT Sheldon Rankins, who tore his Achilles tendon last season and began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, is “ahead of schedule” in his rehabilitation, but probably won’t be back before the end of camp. … LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was among the guest observers at Saturday’s practice. … The contract holdout of top receiver Michael Thomas continued through a second practice. He can be fined $40,000 for each day missed.
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