By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints changed their practice and travel plans Monday, heading for Cincinnati as Tropical Storm Isaac headed for the Gulf Coast.
Interim coach Joe Vitt called off practice and meetings so players could evacuate their families. The Saints also contacted the Cincinnati Bengals and got approval to practice at Paul Brown Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
The Saints are scheduled to play their final preseason game Thursday in Tennessee. The team considered flying there directly ahead of the storm, but couldn't work out the logistics. Instead, they decided to make a stop in Cincinnati.
"Joe (Vitt), who's kind of running the show now, has been a good friend for a long time," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after his team's practice Monday. "So it works out well. We've talked a couple of times already."
Lewis offered to hold a joint workout with the Saints, but New Orleans decided on a separate practice. The Bengals will practice in the morning before heading to Indianapolis for their final preseason game against the Colts on Thursday night.
The latest National Weather Service forecast has Isaac coming ashore on the Mississippi Gulf Coast just east of Louisiana on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning with maximum sustained winds of about 100 mph. Each updated forecast has had the storm landing farther west than the previous one.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Sunday afternoon.
Vitt decided to give his players time to take care of their families. The Saints haven't practiced since their 34-27 preseason win over the Texans on Saturday night in New Orleans. Drew Brees was sharp in that game, going 17 of 25 for 179 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
New Orleans has been scrambling since the path of the storm changed.
"They haven't had an opportunity to have their team back together," Lewis said. "They haven't even looked at the tape of their players (from the preseason game) yet. So they're going to get in here tonight and try to get some of their evaluation done from the last game."
Linebacker Will Herring tweeted a photo of himself cleaning out his freezer in preparation for leaving town.
It'll be the second time the Saints have visited Ohio this month. They opened their preseason in Canton in northern Ohio, beating Arizona in the Hall of Fame game.
It's not the first time a storm has forced the Saints to alter practice plans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, forcing them to play the entire season away from New Orleans. In 2008, they practiced at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis the week before their regular-season opener at home against Tampa Bay due to a mandatory city-wide evacuation for Hurricane Gustav.
"That's the way this team is built," Vitt said. "That's the way this organization's built. I think that it really just shadows the resiliency of our community. This community faces these types of things it seems every year. We stand beside our community, encourage them to take shelter and everybody can be safe in this thing."
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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