METAIRIE, La. — Aaron Kromer began his first day in charge of the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff by providing his players with a dose of perspective.
The images of flooded homes, schools and businesses in the south Louisiana communities hit hardest by Hurricane Isaac last week provided all the material he needed.
“I talked to the team this morning about adversity, and that this isn’t adversity: Having a new coach (in) Game 1, having Joe Vitt during the preseason, having Sean Payton have to leave when he did,” Kromer said. “That’s an opportunity for all of us to step up.
“Adversity is when your house is flooded and you can’t go home,” Kromer continued. “That’s what we talked about … and our guys over time have realized that the fans and the people in this area can always bounce back — and we live by that.”
Kromer will be the figurehead of the coaching staff for the first seven weeks of the regular season, starting with the opener against Washington this Sunday and including the bye week between the fifth and sixth games.
Monday was the first official day of his ascension, and also marked the beginning of suspensions for Vitt (six games), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation.
Payton, the Saints’ banished head coach, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a former defensive captain, were already serving suspensions running the entire season.
In the meantime, the Saints sound as confident about their chances to contend for a fourth straight playoff appearance as they would if there had never been a bounty probe.
“We’ve established a culture here that everyone has bought into, and when you’ve established a culture, no matter who’s at the top of it, it’s always the same,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the defensive captains for 2012. “The Saints organization is not about Sean Payton. It’s not about Mickey Loomis. It’s not about Joe Vitt or a certain person. The New Orleans Saints have a culture in what we do. So the way we practice, the way we meet, the schedule in which we do things all have a purpose and everybody buys into it.”
When the Saints opened practice on Monday on their indoor field, Kromer, an offensive line coach, stood with a group of linemen near the corner of one end zone as he always has, running that position group through individual drills. When the team went to 11-on-11 drills, a portion of practice closed to media during the regular season, Kromer said he took on more of an oversight role.
“I’m following the formula,” Kromer said, referring to the way the Saints have run practice, meetings and other functions throughout the past six years under Payton. “Any time you have a plan, you have a good sense that things are going to go well. And we have a good plan here.
“We have great leaders. We have five great captains. We have a wonderful coaching staff,” he added. “It’s going to be a collective effort in this situation, so I feel good about that.”
Right tackle Zach Strief, also a captain, said the team is aware things will seem different sometimes.
“You can’t expect coach Kromer to be coach Vitt or coach Payton. There will be times when his message might not be exactly what coach Payton’s message was,” Strief said. “When we’re on the field, we know the offense. We know how the offense functions. We know how we adjust. That stuff won’t change for us.”
Before their time away from football began, Loomis and Vitt attended a team dinner Sunday night in which team captains were announced.
“It was emotional for them, really, and it was emotional for our guys because we are going to miss those guys,” Kromer said.
However, Loomis and Vitt decided against delivering any parting speeches, players said.
“The idea is, let’s not make it a bigger deal than it already is. Let’s not have this dramatic, rah-rah, everyone-starts-crying speech,” Strief said. “We have to deal with it, and I think that the advantage here is we’ve dealt well with adversity in the past.
“We have faith that this will be no different.”
One reason for such faith is the experience across the roster.
Starters including quarterback Drew Brees, receiver Marques Colston, running back Pierre Thomas, guard Jahri Evans, safety Roman Harper, linebacker Scott Shanle, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, Strief and Jenkins all have been on the squad at least four years and have won many games together, including a Super Bowl.
There has also been an infusion of new talent in recent years — players like tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Darren Sproles and new middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
“Whenever you put all that together,” Jenkins said, “There are not many kinks in the armor.”
Notes: Lofton (left ankle) and starting CB Jabari Greer (groin) both rode stationary bikes during practice, but both said they expected to play against the Redskins on Sunday. … After missing all five preseason games because of arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, WR Adrian Arrington ran routes at practice and said he will be fit to play this week. … LB David Hawthorne, a projected starter who had arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee two weeks ago, returned to practice and appeared to be running with the first team. He said trainers are monitoring him closely but that he hopes to play in the opener.