Nationals

Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

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Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton likes to jot down to-do lists and notes on yellow pads.

Payton has had time to fill a nice stack of those this season. The Saints coach returned to work Wednesday following a nearly yearlong suspension for his role in the team's bounty program with some catching up to do.

The newly reinstated Payton watched the Senior Bowl practices and planned to meet later in the day with the staff to evaluate a defense that struggled during a 7-9 season and opened with four straight losses. Payton said there are plenty of challenges, from fixing the defense to replacing departed coaches and evaluating staff and players. Then, of course, there's getting ready for the draft and studying available free agents.

Payton said during a 45-minute meeting with reporters that he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agreed not to discuss specifics about whether there was an organized bounty system or of their 4-1/2-hour meeting on Monday.

``We're at a point where it's time for closure. It's time for us as a team, it's time for us as a league, to take this next step forward,'' Payton said.

Goodell lifted Payton's suspension Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected. Payton characterized his relationship with the commissioner as ``very good'' and said the discussion also ranged to topics like player safety, youth football and the NFL's current crop of quarterbacks.

He also said he feels that New Orleans fans will extend Goodell a ``gracious'' welcome during Super Bowl week despite any residual anger over the bounty saga.

The coach watched the Senior Bowl's North squad practice from the stands, chatting with assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis.

The NFL suspended Payton, Vitt, Loomis and four current or former Saints players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma, after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

Payton said he wasn't involved in the appeals process.

``I followed the process but I wasn't really privy to how those appeals went, how the meetings went, the specifics, and I'm still not,'' he said.

Payton said his situation was different because as head coach, ``it all falls under your umbrella.'' He said he wouldn't allow himself to get ``disappointed or upset, and I was just going to be patient to keep waiting and making sure I did everything the right way.''

Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitely

Payton said he has not spoken to Williams and ``I have no interest in talking to Gregg.''

He said he missed football ``quite a bit'' but that the hardest part was missing the daily interaction with colleagues like Loomis and Vitt and players like quarterback Drew Brees and defensive lineman Will Smith.

Brees said Wednesday from the Pro Bowl that he is excited to have Payton return. He said he texted briefly with the coach and they plan to talk more during Super Bowl week.

``That's just overtime,'' Brees said. ``It's not all going to happen in one sit-down.''

Saints guard Jahri Evans said he looked forward to catching up with Payton just to see how he's been doing. He called Payton ``a special guy'' for his play calling and coaching ability.

Evans expects the Saints will benefit from Payton's observations from afar during this season.

``I think he had a different view of the game and he's going to use that to his'' advantage, Evans said.

One advantage of the forced hiatus for Payton was getting to coach his son's youth league team for two practices and a game each week.

``We got to the Super Bowl but we lost that game,'' Payton said. ``I needed those players on that team probably more than they needed me.''

He has had quite a bit of success with big boy football, too.

Payton, who recently signed a five-year contract extension through 2017, has steered the franchise to its most successful period, including three NFC South division titles and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV.

He said the challenges of rebuilding after a losing season will be painful and that his comeback won't guarantee an immediate return to winning.

Payton said the Saints' struggles defensively and running the ball early in the season, along with problems with special teams at times, made it tough to win - with or without the bounty scandal.

Payton, citing advice from Bill Parcells, noted that his presence won't mean an automatic return to big success. It was the Saints first losing season since 2007

``Coach Parcells said to me that this mind-set that you're back and all of a sudden you're back to winning 11, 12, 13 games doesn't exist, because you very well could win five the next year,'' he said. ``He's right. We've got a lot of things we've got to correct to get to where we want to go. That's just the truth.''

He said he hadn't started talking to Loomis regarding any possible changes in the coaching staff . The rest of the staff conducted its evaluation of the offense on Tuesday.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has left to become the Bears offensive coordinator.

Defensively, the Saints allowed 7,042 yards, the most ever in a season, under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but also improved enough to later record the club's first shutout in 17 years.

``This meeting we're going to have is going to be painful,'' Payton said. ``We've got a lot of tough meetings ahead. That's what 7-9 is. Those are our biggest challenges.''

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Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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Sean Doolittle on recent pitching woes: 'It was kind of of a helpless feeling'

Sean Doolittle on recent pitching woes: 'It was kind of of a helpless feeling'

When Sean Doolittle pitched Friday evening against the Milwaukee Brewers, he thought he'd made huge progress on his mechanics and felt good heading into Saturday's game.

But when things fell apart after Christian Yelich helped the Brewers rally to a 15-14 win in extra innings, Doolittle knew something was wrong.

"I thought I was every bit good enough to grind this out," Doolittle explained on Grant & Danny on 106.7 The Fan Tuesday morning.  "It was kind of a helpless feeling coming off the mound."

That helplessness led to him being placed on the injured list with a knee injury.

"I kinda battle a little bit of knee tendonitis regularly. It's something I've managed throughout my career," Doolittle said.

He thinks he tweaked it playing in San Diego early June. Since then, he believes his mechanics have suffered trying to alleviate the pain.

"Trying to compensate for it maybe favoring it a little bit subconsciously, my mechanics eroded," Doolittle noted. "It's just this beautiful chaotic circle we have to just pause, get the knee right."

Doolittle says he's going to take the time off to re-work his mechanics. Specifically, he wants to work on a toe-tap and slight hitch he has in his throwing motion, which he described as a subtler version of Clayton Kershaw's famous leg kick.

"I think there's some things I can do mechanically to get my body in a better position," Doolittle said. "This is an opportunity to get it right."

His big goal is to get his body in "better position over the rubber before the kick."

That way, he can have more momentum over the baseball, especially with a powerful four-seam fastball. "You're basically falling down the mound rather than driving and getting behind the ball." 

Throughout the season, he noted he's had good communication with manager Davey Martinez, and that blaming anybody would be a waste of time.

Since being placed on the IL, he's had a few days to rest before he started some light pitching activities Tuesday.

"It'll be a good break to get my body ready for September and October," he noted. "I'm throwing myself into this process and I'm not hanging my head."

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Former Penn State stars Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders catch up after joint practice

Former Penn State stars Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders catch up after joint practice

Things this time last year were a lot different for Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley and Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

McSorley was entering his final year at Penn State, and not highly sought after as an NFL QB prospect. Many draft 'experts' predicted McSorley would have to change positions in order to play at the highest level of the game.

But McSorley, was profiled in NBC Sports Washingtons' I Am The Prospect' series, stuck with quarterback, and early on, it's paid off. The Ravens selected Penn State's all-time passing yards and touchdown passes leader in the sixth-round, and thus far, McSorley has shown promise. 

Sanders, a rising junior at the time, had just 56 career carries and less than 400 rushing yards in his first two seasons with Penn State. While that was not a reflection on Sanders (after all, he was the backup to some guy named Saquon Barkley), the junior had little film to indicate to pro scouts that he would be ready for the jump just a year later.

But after being the Nittany Lions workhorse in 2018, where he rushed for just under 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns, Sanders immediately became on the league's radar. The 22-year-old earned his way to All-Big 10 second-team honors and showed enough at the combine for the Eagles to invest their second-round pick in him.

The Ravens are set to face the Eagles in their third preseason game on Thursday, but Baltimore has been in the City of Brotherly Love for the past two days, competing in joint practices with the Eagles. These practices have given the former Penn State teammates time to catch up before they play each other in a couple of days.

"I think it's cool, just thinking that we were at Penn State a year ago," Sanders said. "Now we're all living our dream, just on different teams. When we get together for times like this, it's pretty cool."

"It's really cool. Spending years together in college, now we're all on separate teams now, but it's cool," McSorley said, echoing his former running back. "We're rooting for these guys. Turning on one of [Miles] games and watch him run, rooting him on. it's cool to come out and be on the practice field with him again. Haven't seen him in a while, being able to say 'what's up,' it's pretty cool."

Very few people know each other's skillsets the way McSorley and Sanders do of one another. So who better to ask than each of them as to what their respective team can expect out of each?

"They're getting a dawg, man, " McSorley said on his former teammate. "They're starting to figure that out now. He's a special player and Philly is going to love him."

"Same with Baltimore. They got a dawg," Sanders said on McSorley. "He's been showing it in the preseason games. They said he's not a quarterback, but he's proving everybody wrong. That's just how Trace is."

Besides checking in regularly to see how Sanders is doing, McSorley has found another way to follow his former running back's rookie season.

"[I'm going to] try and get him on my fantasy team," McSorley said, getting quite the chuckle out of Sanders.

Besides the loyalty aspect, McSorley could end up getting significant production from Sanders on his fantasy squad. After an impressive performance in the Eagles second preseason game, NJ.com reported that "it is increasingly hard to project him as anything less than this team’s No. 1 running back." 

Sanders may be a more than viable fantasy option as a rookie, but he doesn't play the popular game himself. But if he did, he knows one player he would snag.

"I don't do the fantasy stuff, but if I did, I would definitely put my boy on there," Sanders said on McSorley. "Watching everyone I played with in college, looking at their stats each week and seeing them. Just grow and be better players each week. The way we do it here, it's the same mentality because we all went to the same school."

The two will get to see each other in person for the first time at the NFL level on Thursday. 

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