Drew Brees has made no secret of his contempt for how the NFL has handled the Saints' alleged bounty program that ran from the 2009-11 seasons. The veteran quarterback has harshly criticized commissioner Roger Goodell for doling out such severe penalties, including the one-year suspensions of head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
But Brees believes his team will show the kind of resilience necessary to achieve a successful season.
"I think for us, we still have a strong veteran influence on our team," he said. "We just handle this like professionals."
Brees has been pleased so far by what he's seen from his team in the preseason, despite the roster turnover and coaching changes. That includes the addition of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the former Giants' defensive coordinator who helped New York win the Super Bowl after the 2007 season.
"We have some new faces, especially on the defensive side," Brees said. "We have a new defensive coordinator, so we have a new defensive scheme that we're trying to install. You just need time, you need time to develop that, time to integrate it into what you're doing, then see how the personnel will fit into that puzzle. Time on task is the only way to get to that point."
Can Freeney make switch?
We won't soon forget how clumsy former Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman looked when he was used as an outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense. Now another prominent pass rusher is facing a similar challenge. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, one of the best pure pass rushers of his generation, is making the same switch under new head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
"It's a new scheme, but because of that, there's that intrigue, like what is it really going to be?" Freeney said. "This is the time to see what we've got, and see if it's going to work."
Freeney admits it's a bit awkward to drop back into pass coverage.
"I was thinking about that the other day. I had to cover Reggie [Wayne]," Freeney said of the Colts' wide receiver. "I know Reggie took it easy on me. I was actually kind of stride for stride, I had confidence, like, 'Hey, I can do this.' "
Freeney hopes he won't encounter the same problems that Kampman did in Green Bay, where he was totally miscast as an outside linebacker. So does fellow defensive end Robert Mathis, one of the league's most underrated pass rushers.
"It's fun for me to do something new because I've been doing the thing I've been doing for 10 years," Freeney said. "That being said, it is unfamiliar territory, so I don't really know how it's going to be until I really get out there. But everything indicates that it's going to be fine. All of the drills that I've been doing, all of the going against the offensive tackles, going against receivers, tight ends, it's been good. So we'll see."
Cards desperately seeking QB
No wonder the Cardinals were big players in the Peyton Manning free-agent sweepstakes.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt made an aggressive move to bring Manning to the Cardinals, mostly because Whisenhunt knew how desperate the team's quarterback situation had become. Manning wound up choosing the Broncos, leaving Whisenhunt with a choice between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
How tough has it been for the two quarterbacks? Let's put it this way: All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was left to mutter after Friday night's loss to the Chiefs, "I don't know what it is, but obviously, we need to get it fixed pretty quickly."
Not likely. Skelton has a 39.2 rating for the preseason, and Kolb's rating is as low as it can get: 0.0.
Kerrigan looks for more
Ryan Kerrigan had a terrific rookie season for the Redskins in 2011, producing 7½ sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown in the opener against the Giants. But the former Purdue star thinks he can get demonstrably better this season.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with my assignments and abilities," Kerrigan said. "Now I just have to pass rush."
Michael Vick initially thought he'd suffered a serious injury when he hit his thumb on teammate Jason Kelce's helmet in Thursday night's game against the Steelers. "When I first hit it, I heard some pop and I didn't know if it was from my finger or just from the collision," he said. "But I lost feeling in it for a second." Vick eventually got feeling back in the thumb and was able to grip the ball by the end of the game. Keeping Vick healthy is a huge priority for the Eagles. Vick has missed a combined seven games in the last two seasons because of injury.
Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi suffered yet another concussion Friday night in Cleveland's preseason game against the Lions. That's the third straight year he has had concussion problems.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton likes what running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis brings to the team. "He's a pretty complete package," Dalton said of Green-Ellis, who signed a free-agent deal after not re-upping with New England. "He presses the line of scrimmage and helps set up blocks. He's got good hands, catches the ball downfield, and can make plays in a lot of different ways."
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles found out in a hurry how his surgically repaired left knee would respond to conduct. On his very first carry against the Cardinals, he took a shot to the knee. He got up immediately. In limited work, Charles had three carries for 12 yards and one catch for 11 yards. He had ACL surgery last September.
Bill Belichick has been associated with the 3-4 defense for more than three decades, but he's using more 4-3 defense these days, mainly because he has drafted more defensive linemen in recent years. "[The Patriots] have the ability to flip from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme," said Brees, who practiced against the Patriots last week before playing New England on Thursday. "I remember when we played them in '09, we'd watch a game one week and it was all 3-4 and then you'd turn on the film the next week and it's all 4-3 . . . It seemed like they were a little more exclusively 4-3 [Thursday]."