--With 2 1/2 months of hard work already behind them, the Saints are preparing to conclude the second phase of their offseason program on Thursday.
That's when the Saints complete the fourth week of coaching sessions, which made up the middle stage of their offseason program. The first phase, which began on March 21, consisted of strength and conditioning work only.
After that phase ended on May 12, the team began a series of 14 voluntary coaching sessions held over a four-week period. Players were allowed to participate in the non-contact drills in shorts and helmets.
The coaching sessions wind up this week, which leads them into a two-day veteran minicamp set for Friday and Saturday. The Saints will practice two times each day before coach Jim Haslett turns them loose for a vacation before the start of training camp on July 29.
In the coaching sessions, Haslett's staff emphasized the mental part more than physical. The goal of the sessions, which also included daily meetings with position coaches, was to get the players up to speed before the start of camp.
"This is the learning aspect of football," Haslett said. "You learn and you work on your techniques. To me, that's the big thing. We got a lot of young guys out here, all our draft picks and some free agents we're trying to get up to par on what we're doing."
Only two players didn't participate in the coaching sessions: starting right cornerback Fakhir Brown skipped the workouts as he attempts to get a new contract and weak-side linebacker Derrick Rodgers was excused because he was still recovering from offseason back surgery.
"You can't ask somebody to come to it," Haslett said. "It's the offseason. They're voluntary. It's understood. I'm just glad we got the turnout that we did and that these guys are working here together."
Strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson said this offseason was the most productive in the six years he and Haslett have been with the team.
"This is the first year where we had eight weeks of just strength and conditioning work with no minicamps or coaching sessions to break up that period," Gullickson said. "I felt as a group we went way past where we've ever been before in our strength levels and in our conditioning levels. We just had a chance to emphasize it more for a longer period of time."
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