SAN ANTONIO (AP) – For the first time in three days, the New Orleans Saints didn’t spend their afternoon watching news reports of destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

They were finally back on the practice field Monday, getting used to their new surroundings in San Antonio.

“I think being on the field and in the meetings is a time that’s away from all that,” coach Jim Haslett said. “It’s good for your mind to get on the field and practice and be where you’re with your peers.”

But for one Saints player, it has been particularly tough getting his mind back on business. Return specialist and special teams player Michael Lewis was born in New Orleans and attended Grace King High School and Bonnable High School in the area.

Lewis said he has more than 30 family members living in the New Orleans area.

“We all talked about what was going on before practice,” Lewis said. “Everybody in my family is OK. But now that we’re here, we know what we have to do.”

Though the Saints still are awaiting word where they will play the balance of their home games, the team expects to practice in San Antonio for the rest of the season. The NFL announced Monday that their second game – which was supposed to be their home opener against the New York Giants – will be on Monday, Sept. 19, at Giants Stadium.

The game will begin at 7:30 EDT on ABC, then be switched to ESPN at 9 p.m., when ABC goes to the regularly scheduled game between Washington and Dallas in Irving, Texas. In New York and Louisiana, as well as other parts of the Gulf Coast, ABC will continue to carry the Giants-Saints game, switching to Redskins-Cowboys when the Saints game ends.

The team left New Orleans a few days before the storm, then played their final preseason game in Oakland on Thursday night. Players had been off between then and Monday.

They gathered for meetings at the San Antonio Convention Center, then traveled 10 minutes by bus to a practice facility at the San Antonio School District Spring Sports Complex.

It’s the same facility the team used temporarily last year while waiting out Hurricane Ivan, and also was used by the Dallas Cowboys during training camp in 2002 and ’03.

Saints receiver Joe Horn said the field was “decent.”

“I can take you over to the Astrodome or the Air Force base (in San Antonio) and show you a lot harsher conditions,” he said.

The Astrodome and Kelly USA, formerly an Air Force base, are two locations where displaced residents from the hurricane-affected Gulf Coast region are staying.

Lewis, a Pro Bowl special teams player following the 2002 season, said the team’s day off Tuesday doesn’t give him enough time to get back to his home in Metairie, La., and check on his property and relatives. He gave his grandparents the keys to his house when he visited with them over the weekend.

“I was grateful when I came to the Saints because I’m from New Orleans,” Lewis said. “I’ve given everything a lot of thought. I sat down with a couple of guys. You can’t do much right now until the water comes out. But, when we can, we’re talking about doing something in the parks to give the kids something.”

Haslett said distractions won’t be a problem as the team prepares for its opener Sunday against NFC South rival Carolina. But there might be another problem.

“I was a little tired today,” Horn said. “It was just being off for three days and coming out in full pads and getting your breath back.”

Temperatures in San Antonio exceeded 95 degrees, which Haslett said wasn’t the main reason for any fatigue his players may have felt. Practicing in full pads is something the team doesn’t normally do at this point in the week leading up to a regular-season game.

“We put everybody back in pads to get them acclimated,” Haslett said. “The focus was good. The execution wasn’t as well as we would like it. We have to pick it up.

“But we’re not going to let (the players) make excuses. If we have to play every game on the road, we’ll make our adjustments. If the NFL wants us to play every game on the road, we’ll do it.”

AP-ES-09-05-05 2036EDT


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