Joe Vitt felt the void immediately. He took the field Friday for the first practice of the New Orleans Saints' rookie minicamp, and for the first time in a long time, colleague and friend Sean Payton wasn't by his side.
The competitive barbs, the coaching tips and on-field evaluations Vitt, a 34-year coaching veteran, had grown accustomed to receiving from Payton were conspicuously absent. Payton and his ever-present team-issue sun visor had left the building.
The Saints have conducted 970 practices since Payton took the helm as head coach in 2006. The five weekend workouts were the first conducted without Payton's involvement in some capacity.
Payton began his league-mandated one-year suspension exactly one month ago today. Since then, his absence has been felt daily, almost hourly, at the Saints' facility, but never more so than last weekend when the Saints held their first on-field workouts since the heartbreaking playoff loss to San Francisco in January.