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Saints encouraged by QB Brees, RB McAllister

JACKSON, Miss. (July 28, 2006) -- Reggie Bush 's contract holdout not withstanding, the New Orleans Saints ' season could hinge most on the recoveries of marquee veterans Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister.

The opening practice of training camp provided what head coach Sean Payton viewed as encouraging signs for the new starting quarterback and stalwart running back.

Brees fired 25-yard passes over the middle -- accurately -- on several occasions, and showed finesse on a 30-yard fade along the sideline that was hauled in nicely by sure-handed rookie Mike Hass.

McAllister, wearing a black sleeve on his surgically repaired right knee, took part in all first-team drills. But more telling for Payton was a set of timed 300-yard shuttle runs he put the team through earlier in the day during sweltering heat.

"I was pleased with how he ran. I was pretty excited about it," Payton said. "I don't know if he's 100 percent yet, but he's progressing."

Their performances enlivened a crowd of 1,720 in the stands at Millsaps College. Fans howled a prolonged "Deuce" on several occasions and shouted Brees' name as well.

McAllister -- a Mississippi native -- boldly said he intended to give Saints fans every reason to keep calling his name come fall.

"My goal is to make the Pro Bowl and put this team in the playoffs. It's going to take 1,400 or 1,500 yards to do it," he said.

However, he later said he couldn't be certain that he's as healthy as he thinks he is "until you really get that first hit on it. That's when you really will know."

"I feel good about it. ... The burst (of speed) is coming. I'm able to make the cuts that I want," he added.

Payton, a former college quarterback who saw very brief stints playing pro, said he thought Brees looked good and "located the ball well."

Brees said he could play immediately.

"No doubt at all. I could go right now," Brees said.

Brees said he intends to limit himself to about 80 throws per day during training camp solely for precautionary reasons. He has been throwing since April and there had been days during his rehabilitation on which he threw as many as 100 passes.

He began with short passes and has worked his way up to about 55 yards, he said. While he feels strong enough to do more, he wants to follow a more cautious schedule with the regular season still more than a month away.

"You don't throw more that 80 times in a game anyway," Brees said. "I am right where I want to be right now."

There was little news concerning Bush's contract. Reached by phone in New York, Bush's agent, Joel Segal, said he wanted to stick to his policy of not discussing negotiations until the deal is done.

Payton and several players said they weren't concerned about it -- yet.

"I haven't set a point where you start worrying," Payton said. "You remain optimistic and you try to get better. ... There are so many other things on my plate right now."

Other than Bush, there were two no-shows, one of whom was excused. Payton said he had spoken recently with reserve quarterback Jamie Martin and permitted him to report to camp late for "personal reasons."

Eight-year veteran linebacker Anthony Simmons also did not show. Payton did not say if he knew why but called it an unexcused absence.

Meanwhile, kick return specialist Michael Lewis pedaled a stationary bike on the sideline along with defensive tackle McKinley Boykin, a rookie out of Mississippi.

Lewis, who had knee surgery last season, had participated in minicamp in June before having additional arthroscopic surgery in late June. Payton said Lewis' knee was enflamed recently and coaches decided it would be better for him to sit out practice.

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