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Brees said that while the conditioning test previously consisted mostly of wind sprints, this year it was a combination of running, weight training and body-weight exercises such as pushups, which left players feeling as if they’d been through “a 10-minute wrestling match.”

“It was challenging for all,” Brees said. “It becomes very evident as to who was doing a great job staying in shape.”

Brees is heading into his 13th NFL season, having been through his last seven seasons in New Orleans without a major injury. How healthy he stays this year could depend on how good the Saints‘ new left tackle is.

Payton made it sound like he is not yet settled on a starter to replace Jermon Bushrod, a four-year starter who left in free agency for Chicago. The front-runner appears to be 2010 second-round draft choice Charles Brown, with free-agent pickup Jason Smith and third-round draft choice Terron Armstead also in the mix.

“Each player has certain strengths,” Payton said, adding that he will need to see how each handles more full-contact practices and preseason games. “I’m anxious to see how those guys play.”

Brees said he felt Brown performed well when filling in last season for Zach Strief at right tackle, but Payton has expressed concerns about Brown’s recurring injuries.

“Hopefully his health can be something that doesn’t affect how he plays,” Payton said. “This is a big season for him and an important training camp, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he responds.”

Meanwhile, Payton said he expects five players to open camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, though all except outside linebacker Victor Butler, who tore knee ligaments during offseason training, have injuries which could heal before the regular season.

The other four are safety Roman Harper (sports hernia), cornerback Patrick Robinson (knee), receiver Marques Colston (foot) and receiver Kenny Stills (wrist). Payton said Robinson will be evaluated on a weekly basis, while Harper, Stills and Colston will be monitored day-by-day.

Players who remain on the PUP list at the start of the regular season must sit out six weeks before playing.