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PostPosted: Tue 03.18.2008, 09:12 
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Payton says Bush will take part in conditioning drills in N.O.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
By Jimmy Smith

Near-perfect attendance -- including previously reluctant running back Reggie Bush -- is expected at the Saints' offseason conditioning program that commenced Monday with a team meeting at the club's Airline Drive practice facility.

Coach Sean Payton said that, with the exception of several players who were attending an NFL Players Association meeting in Hawaii, turnout for Monday's session was "near 100 percent."

Payton said that Bush, who last year worked on his own in Southern California, would be a regular this offseason in Metairie.

"He's planning on being involved in all of our offseason, which is encouraging and good," Payton said. "It's important for him, especially with running backs and the pounding they take, to be real diligent in the weight room."

Last year, Bush participated in the on-field organized team activities later in the spring, but made only rare visits to the lifting and running portion of the offseason program. He missed the last month of the season with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Payton said the team, not singling out Bush, knows the importance of the conditioning program as the start of building toward next season.

"We've got an outstanding facility, we've got good weather," Payton said. "We've got a lot of things that are conducive to training. I think our team in general understands the foundation you begin to put together starts in the offseason. It's not one single player. I think Reggie as well as the rest of the guys understand the significance of this time of the year and how it helps you as you move into the start of the season."

Bush had a disappointing season as the primary back in the Saints' offense after Deuce McAllister tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3. Bush rushed for 581 yards on 157 carries and four touchdowns and caught 73 passes for 417 yards and two scores.

Payton, in a group setting with the New Orleans media for the first time since the day after the 2007 season ended, touched on a variety of subjects, including his team's recent acquisitions via free agency and trade, logistics for the team's regular-season game in London against the San Diego Chargers in October, the status of last year's No. 1 draft pick receiver Robert Meachem and McAllister.

On if the team's defense is improved by the addition of linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan, cornerback Randall Gay and defensive end Bobby McCray: "I think we've begun the process. We talked at the end of the season about areas we felt we needed to improve upon. You're constantly looking at your roster and looking at ways, either through free agency or the draft, that eventually will help your final 53. Jonathan is one of those guys we're excited about. Hopefully, he can help this club. That's the big reason for us bringing him here.

"(Gay) and (McCray) are guys who should be able to help us. I think the most important thing is just having a vision for the player and what the player's strengths and weaknesses are and how he fits to what you're doing."

On Meachem: "Medically, he's been cleared. I've been encouraged with the feedback I've gotten with the way he's running. I think any lingering effects from his knee from a year ago have all but disappeared. That's encouraging. . . . He's cleared and full speed ahead."

On the recovering McAllister (ACL surgery) and the decision to defer a roster bonus until next month: "I think Deuce and the organization have a great relationship. I think it's both sides mutually coming to a decision. I think Deuce said it best. I think it's in the best interest of both parties to push that date back. He's working hard with his rehab. I saw him today, and he looks good. It was certainly a decision both parties felt good about."

On the acquisition of quarterback Mark Brunell and the future of former backup Jamie Martin: "Mark's a veteran player. It's no secret we were actively pursuing a few veteran quarterbacks. We were fortunate to sign Mark last week. That being said, I had a chance to visit with Jamie last week, and it probably negates his opportunity here."

On the team's plans for London: "I think the one thing that we're planning that's a little different is leaving right after our game Sunday to get over there for the full week as opposed to leaving later in the week and trying to get adjusted."

VILMA'S HEALTH: Vilma spoke with reporters and updated the health of his surgically repaired right knee. "I plan to spend as much time as I can here in New Orleans," said Vilma, who arrived Sunday night. "Of course, I've been rehabbing down in Miami and I have a trainer down there, so both trainers will be talking with each other and deciding what's best for me.

"I don't want to give a percentage, but I'll say I'm right where I need to be. It's been progressing very well and I haven't had any setbacks, knock on wood."

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