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Going Camping 

The beginning of the football season is a time for hope. Every team is undefeated, and fans have reason to hope this year might be the year. Saints fans have experience with optimism, but it's an optimism tinged with gallows humor, the result of too many hopes dashed in spectacular, unpredictable fashions. Nonetheless, when training camp begins each year, fans again start predicting -- or at the very least dreaming of -- a trip to the Super Bowl.

For that dream to be realized, a few questions will have to be answered about the 2004 Saints. Will Aaron Brooks develop into the quarterback he has shown signs that he could become? Can Donté Stallworth stay healthy? How close is rookie Devery Henderson to contributing this year? On defense, how will the addition of former St. Louis Ram Brian Young affect the defensive line? Has Johnathan Sullivan got his weight issues under control? Who's going to start at linebacker? Has offseason work with safety Tebucky Jones improved his covering and tackling skills?

For those who can't wait until the Saints play the Seattle Seahawks Sept. 12 on opening day to find out the answers to those questions, a visit to the Saints Training Facility at 5800 Airline Drive in Metairie is an option. In recent years, fans had to brave the heat and mosquitoes in Thibodaux to see training camp, but with the new facility on Airline Drive, it's easier for fans to get an up-close look at the players who might make up this year's team. A trip to training camp also gives insight into how a team comes together, letting fans see the drills and scrimmages that shape the Saints.

Besides being a great occasion to meet other fans and kibitz about the team, going to training camp is a less formal way to see the team. Players are often available after practice for autographs, and fans can take still photos, though videotaping is forbidden. Camp started July 30, but since the first preseason game is Friday, Aug. 13, in the Louisiana Superdome against the New York Jets, the whole team and its prospects will be on the field trying to earn roster spots.

Sessions open to the public alternate between morning and afternoon workouts, the morning sessions scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the afternoon sessions lasting from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. There are open afternoon sessions Tuesday, Aug. 10; Thursday, Aug. 12; Tuesday, Aug. 17; and Thursday, Aug. 19. The open morning sessions are Wednesday, Aug. 11; Monday, Aug. 16; and Wednesday, Aug. 18. Gates open an hour before each practice, and there are food and drink concessions at the facility. The preseason schedule continues with games at Green Bay (Aug. 21) and at Chicago (Aug. 27) before the Saints return home for the preseason finale against Miami (Sept. 3).

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