NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Rookie Tyler Palko has been learning the Saints' vaunted offense by studying starting quarterback Drew Brees' game film from last season.
Along the way, he's noticed something that might serve as a warning to defenses all across the NFL.
``From what I saw with Drew last year on film to how he's operating now in the preseason, he's head and shoulders above what he was,'' Palko said. ``When things are clicking, especially with someone like Drew, you can't be stopped, you can only stop yourself, and that's a fun offense to play in.''
Palko's observations would be one thing if Brees was coming off a mediocre season. But Brees was the runner-up for MVP in 2006 after leading the NFL in passing.
The Saints' starter, who threw for 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, is now more than a year removed from complicated throwing shoulder surgery. His arm has looked much stronger throughout the preseason than it did a year ago, while his comfort with coach Sean Payton's versatile offense apparently has improved.
He completed 90 percent of his passes (35-for-39) to numerous wide receivers, tight ends and running backs during his last three appearances in preseason games, then shrugged off those performances with seemingly no intention of patting himself on the back.
``I think it's what you expect,'' Brees said. ``In the preseason, you want to look efficient and sharp. That's obviously what I've tried to do.''
In improving from 3-13 in 2005 to a playoff worthy 10-6 last season, the Saints were fortunate not to have too many injuries at key positions. If Brees went down, for example, it could be disastrous.
But in good health, the league's leading offense in 2006 may be even better now.
Reggie Bush had a tremendous last few months of his rookie season, scoring nine touchdowns in his final seven games. He reported for training camp confident and fit, eager to join veteran running back Deuce McAllister in a dynamic backfield that can punish defenses with power and speed.
``Both of those guys appreciate what each other brings to the table. I think they both are guys that put the team first and they both want to see us be successful,'' Payton said. ``The objective is for us to score enough points to win games. There's a flow to game sometimes that might feature one more than the other. I think there are enough touches and I think there was a year ago for both of those guys to be effective.''
Receiver Marques Colston, one year ago a little-known seventh-round pick from Hofstra, returns primed for a Pro Bowl season as the Saints' No. 1 receiver. The 6-foot-4 playmaker has bulked up by about 10 pounds in the weight room, surpassing 230. He'll be joined by returning starter and big-play threat Devery Henderson, along with veteran David Patten, who may have won the No. 3 receiving job with a strong preseason.
And a new receiving threat has arrived in tight end Eric Johnson, who when healthy was among the most productive members of San Francisco's passing game.
Meanwhile, the Saints' defense, which wasn't dominant but held the fort by making clutch stops, should be stronger and deeper.
The Saints preserved the strength of their defense by extending the contract of defensive end Charles Grant, who worked effectively last season with fellow end Will Smith in the pass rush.
And after last season's success, Payton, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, didn't have to do much of a sales job to attract free agents. Linebacker Brian Simmons, safety Kevin Kaesviharn and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy wanted to be in New Orleans, where they're all expected to contribute. Clancy, who was a starter for most of last season in Arizona, has so far unseated Hollis Thomas for a starting job.
``I think players in our league look for destinations where they can win and places where the fit is right,'' Payton said. ``Part of it is related to the contract and money. But hopefully, we continue to become a place where guys look at, players, coaches or anyone for that matter, as a good spot to work in as an organization that's a winner.''
Now expectations of a run to a first-ever Super Bowl hang over the Saints like never before. Payton is trying to find that fine line between embracing such optimism while not taking success for granted.
``What has happened in previous years isn't necessarily a predictor of what will happen this season,'' Payton said earlier in training camp. ``I feel comfortable that this team understands it's a different season. The goal that we set out for last year we fell short of, in regards to playing for a championship. Those are lofty expectations. Yet, those are the right types of goals that you set. I think our players understand that and will be able to handle that.''

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