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Saints Aimed at Being a Contender

August 4, 1998

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) _ Seven hours on the bus, six hours on the practice field.

The New Orleans Saints were up by 5 a.m. on Tuesday, on the bus by 6 a.m., four hours later they were on the field to work against the Minnesota Vikings.

It was the first of four trips the Saints will take in the next 10 days, all aimed at building a contender.

``This is the kind of thing that will make us better,″ said Saints defensive coordinator Zavin Yaralian. ``Working against other teams, especially really good ones will teach our guys a lot more than our just telling them what to do.″

With that philosophy, New Orleans planned to follow up the Mankato trip with two days in Green Bay combined practice and their first preseason game. Then they fly to Shreveport, La., Aug. 11 for a scrimmage against Dallas, followed by three days of work in Denver and their second exhibition game.

``Guys are pretty excited about the travel,″ linebacker Mark Fields said ``Especially the part that doesn’t involve getting up early and on a bus. We’re at the point we need some hard, physical work.″

The road work follows three days of work against the Chicago Bears, four practices and a scrimmage.

``The next couple of weeks we’ll have a better idea of where we stand,″ said Saints defensive tackle La’Roi Glover. ``We did pretty good against the Bears. Now the Vikings are another step.″

The Saints scheduled a 16-hour day on Tuesday, returning to their home base in La Crosse, Wis., by 9 p.m. for the evening meal.

They worked against the Vikings twice, for the most part taking a pounding as Minnesota used a more aggressive approach to the practice.

``They were coming off the ball and hammering us,″ offensive coordinator Danny Abramowicz said. ``When they’re doing that you shouldn’t have to say anything to your guys. You shouldn’t have to, but I finally did. I told them to respond.″

It’s the kind of lesson the Saints coaches hope the combination of work against other teams and in other cities teach the team before the season.

``We need this kind of work,″ linebacker Brian Jones said after the morning session with the Vikings. ``They go to the playoffs every year and we haven’t been in four or five years.″

Coach Mike Ditka has set his sights on two goals in his second season with the Saints. He wants New Orleans, which was 6-10 last year and hasn’t had a winning season in five years, to beat the San Francisco 49ers and win the NFC West, an unlikely scenario.

He emphasized conditioning during the offseason, he’s harping on being more aggressive than their opponents during training camp. Working against teams like the Vikings and the Cowboys should show the Saints what they need to do.

``We go against these guys and we see what they can do to us at this point,″ Yaralian said. ``So if we’re going to be a force in the league, we know we’ve got to step it up.″

During the extended travel Ditka said he would cut back to some extent from the twice-a-day practices in full pads he’s held for most of training camp.

``We’re going to go two-a-days when we can, but when we’re traveling around, we’re going to go one-a-days,″ Ditka said. ``that will give them a chance to get their legs back under them.″

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