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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints' early season slide is the kind of scenario Sean Payton had in mind when the coach and his staff placed a premium on character during player evaluations.
"This is when you get tested a little bit — not just physically, but you get tested mentally, emotionally," Payton said Wednesday, referring to New Orleans' 1-3 start.
"When we go into selecting players and drafting players and signing free agents, we look closely at those intangibles, not for when we're 4-0 and 5-2 ," Payton continued, "but you look closely at those intangibles when you hit that adversity."
The Saints were among the final four teams in the previous NFC playoffs, so the primary story line surrounding the club during the offseason was whether some key additions would help New Orleans better contend with Super Bowl champion Seattle for conference supremacy in 2014.
Instead, the Saints are in danger of being alone in last place in the NFC South Division if they lose to Tampa Bay (1-3) this Sunday in the Superdome.
So when one of New Orleans' new high-profile players, three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, was asked about the Saints' chances of rebounding to win the division, Byrd responded, "At this point, I'm not too concerned about the division. I'm worried about just winning a game — the next game."
Right tackle Zach Strief said the onus is on team captains and other veteran leaders in the locker room to keep an eye on the morale and focus of their teammates as the Saints quickly try to address the myriad breakdowns that have been costing them games.
"Do we feel like we're not talented enough? I don't think that's an issue in this locker room," Strief said. "I do think that guys can start questioning the process and that's leadership's responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen.
"This is not the week to be late to a meeting. This is not the week to go out. Everything's got to be tighter. We've got to meet more. We've got to work harder in practice," Strief continued. "We have to find a way to bring along guys that maybe haven't been in this as long to realize what it's going to take to win."
For quarterback Drew Brees, priorities include emphasizing the enjoyment of football while at the same time keeping intensity high.
"The most important thing is just to remind ourselves that we're supposed to have fun out here," Brees said. "It stinks when you're losing and that part's not fun, but let's remind ourselves what we have the opportunity to do.
"It's a game, so let's have fun and let's compete because that's what we're bred to do as well. It's the thrill of the competition and the fun of having the opportunity to win and do things that most people don't get a chance to do."
For team leaders like Brees, trying to do or say too much is "a trap you can very easily fall into," the quarterback said. Rather, Brees wants to set the example by bringing positive energy to practice, and letting his work ethic speak for itself.
"You can talk all you want," Brees said. "You can rah-rah as much as you want. You can have your meetings in the locker room or weight room or whatever, all you want, but at the end of the day it's how are you actually acting and your attitude and your approach — and that's what the young guys see.
"So if you come out and, man, you're flying around, and you're approaching practice with a really positive mindset and a great focus and, man, you're not letting little mistakes slide ... that's the best thing you can do as a leader."
Notes: Saints starting LT Terron Armstead, who left last Sunday night's game in Dallas to be evaluated for a concussion, participated in Wednesday's practice on a limited basis. He said afterward that he felt fine, adding, "I'll be out there Sunday." ... Those sitting out practice on Wednesday included C Jonathan Goodwin (neck), RB Mark Ingram (hand), RB Erik Lorig (ankle) and CB Corey White (foot). ... S Marcus Ball (hamstring) and LB David Hawthorne (ankle), who did not play in Dallas, both practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Ball had sat out practice the previous four weeks.
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