Saints Head Coach Sean Payton addressed the media the day before Training camp begins in Metairie. Below is a full transcript of what he said, courtesy of the Saints.
“I have some notes here. It is a little bit more specific maybe than in years past, just to keep the numbers squared away. Two players currently are on the Reserve/Injured list. These players do not count towards the 90. That would be Dannell Ellerbe and Dan Arnold, who was injured during the spring. Reserved/PUP right now—these players count towards the 90—Terron Armstead, Senio Kelemete, and Max Unger. Reserve/Non-Football Illness would be defensive tackle Nick Fairley. That doesn’t count towards the 90. Active Reserve/Non-Football Injury is Devaroe Lawrence. He counts towards the 90. Chris Watt’s on the Reserve/Retired list. He’s not going to play anymore. Then, here are four players that we recently signed: Michael Mauti, Dejaun Butler, Kristjan Sokoli, and Martin Wallace. This morning, we waived running back/return specialist Marcus Murphy. So, if you can figure that out, and you still have 90, then you are doing well.”
On paper, what is the strongest position that you feel most comfortable with?
“That is a good question. We are deep at running back, and we are experienced there. Of course, I think we have experience and depth at quarterback. I think defensively, the one area I know we have improved in is the secondary. I am just putting a broad brush on that question, but those would be the first things that come to mind.”
Which ones do you feel like will have the most competition?
“I think there will be a lot of competition at linebacker. I also think there will be good competition on the defensive line, particularly at a few of the end positions (such as) the weakside end. There will be competition at defensive tackle. I also think at corner. We have a pretty good mix of some experienced guys with some younger players, players we have drafted in the last three years at corner. That will be interesting to see how some of those battles shape up and turn into—you guys will see it first hand—how those players adjust and get up to speed.”
You seem pretty thorough about trying to figure out why things do not go as planned. The slow starts the last three years, have you found anything in the offseason or training camp (that could be responsible)?
“You can go back, and we’ve done this each and every one of the seasons. We’ve had more success in the first quarter poll; we’ve certainly been on the winning side of that. Part of that has a lot to do with a younger team. I think that history has told us that there are times where teams start off with some adversity but begin to rally back and play well. I think it is going to be important for this team to handle the first four weeks of the season and hopefully try to start faster than we have—we had a tough opening game loss last year vs. Oakland—especially in those home games. If you are going to be the type of team that we want to be, then you are going to have to play well on the road as well. I think, early in the season, that is certainly an area that we have to be improved in.”
You mentioned during OTAs that you were hoping to get Max Unger back by the third preseason game. How comfortable are you with that timeline?
“I think we’re in that vicinity. We come back after the summer, and ultimately your goal’s to have him start the regular season and (figure out) what kind of snaps he can receive prior to that. I know he had a really good five weeks away, just during the rehab process. It is pretty common to call and check in on how guys are doing. His process is coming along well, and more importantly now for him is the upcoming week. I think he has done a good job of taking it in small, incremental steps. We will be smart. He is a player that is smart himself. I do not concern myself as much mentally with what he is missing. The key for us is, in fairness to any player coming back off an injury, is making sure that their football conditioning is ready to play. Our goals remain the same.”
It seems like Josh LeRibeus took a lot of snaps with the first team during OTAs. Are you pleased with him?
“That was a good addition for us, I agree. He is extremely smart, so making a transition at that position—what we do offensively with as much as is on the plate of the center and the quarterback with regards to protections—I thought the learning curve for him in a short period of time was very good. That was good to see.”
What do you think are realistic expectations for how (Hau’oli) Kikaha plays this season?
“I do not want to set an expectation on a player that probably more than anyone in this room has a higher expectation of himself. I know for him it would start with being healthy, being productive, contributing to the team. I got in Sunday evening and came by here to see the locker room. It has changed; we have done a lot to it. I had not seen it yet. I do not know what time it was, but the room itself is darker than it used to be. So, it is about 9:30 or 10:00 at night, and I am kind of meandering through, and all of a sudden, there is Hau’ in a towel, and there is no one else around. I was like, ‘What are you doing here Sunday night at 9:30?’ My point is that I think it is awfully important for him to be successful and to contribute in a way that is centered around his strengths, and those are rushing the passer, playing with energy and effort, and remaining healthy. I think that would be a good starting point before specifically hitting any individual goals. I am sure that he would answer that question the same way and would probably include team goals and team success and being healthy and contributing. He has worked extremely hard this offseason. He is cleared to go medically, and there is a confidence about him that is always good to see. He is one of those guys that you know is working away from the building at a really high level.”
On the locker room, what was the motivation to redo it?
“Last year was phase one, where we did a lot of meeting room renovations. This year was phase two, which was the locker room. You guys, I am sure, will see it soon. I was just talking with Mickey (Loomis); you forget with training camp being here that it is not necessarily open locker room. We might just open a locker room instead of doing just off-the-field (interviews). They did a great job with it. It looks completely different. Then, there are some things we will do next year. It was part of the plan.”
Are you optimistic that Terron Armstead could contribute this year around mid-season or November?
“I am optimistic that he will be able to contribute this year. That being said though, along the lines of Max (Unger) though not the same timetable, we have to make sure that he is healthy when he does get back on the field. He will play this year. I am not going to give you a game or a date yet; it is too early to tell. I know he too is far along with the rehab. There are certain injuries for which you can just say, ‘(He will be back) within this timeframe generally.’ So, we are going to have to play games without him.”
What caused you to put Dannell Ellerbe on Injured Reserve?
“We met yesterday, and when he has played, he has been very productive. Ultimately, it came down to the availability, trying to stay healthy. He is rehabbing and working hard to get back and get 100%, but ultimately it came down to a decision where we were younger at some positions, and quite honestly, there were far too many games where he was not available.”
Is there value in knowing what you have though? He could have played eight, 10, 12 games.
“Yes, but there is also a value in development. I think the challenge sometimes is that if there are reps being given to a player, and it is hard for him to stay healthy, then it can prohibit someone else from stepping up. We have met a couple of times and are going to meet more tonight with regards to how we will shape that lineup. Certainly, we have got two or three candidates at Will. I am sure that those younger players and some of the veteran players we have signed will have opportunities.”
Do you feel like you have built better depth on the defense these last few years?
“I do. The only area that was a step back initially would be Nick Fairley. That being said, we feel pretty good with some of the draft picks, some of the free agents—I mentioned the secondary. Some of these young guys are going to play. I know we are deeper at linebacker. When you just look from last year to this year, we are going to be better on defense. Now, in which areas and how much better is going to be important, and what we do offensively to help our defense will be equally important.”
When you look at young first-round picks like (Marshon) Lattimore and (Ryan) Ramczyk, obviously you want them to contribute. How important is training camp in getting them ready for Week One against Minnesota?
“That is a great question. I think it is an extremely important time period from a training element and, just as importantly, for the competition and playing in preseason games. Every year we have seen young players grow. I go all the way back to 2006 when Marques Colston struggled in the spring after he was drafted late, and then he had a training camp that was outstanding; that allowed us to make some roster moves and have him start the season at receiver. Certainly with a guy like Ryan, we will start him off on the left side where he played in college. He had a good summer in the training room. He is in shape. The difference between the spring and training camp is that in the spring, you really are not playing football with pads. All of those things get revved up a little bit (in training camp). I am just speaking to Ramczyk. With Lattimore and the rest of the rookie class, we talk all the time about the learning curve. They have worked hard. Now they are going to get those opportunities. We will mix the lineups throughout camp. The one thing we will play close attention to as coaches though is how they are doing each day. Do they know what to do, and how well are they doing it? I think there will be a lot of competition at a high amount of positions.”
It seems like Daniel Lasco and Jake Lampman have been very productive and might make the final roster. How important is it that they continue to progress on the coverage units?
“It is paramount, if you are playing the third or fourth running back or if you are the fourth or fifth receiver—you cannot just go to the game and be ready to go in as a backup and not enter the game. Very few of those players exist—the backup quarterbacks and some of the backup linemen, maybe. From a snap standpoint, when you start dividing up reps and start looking closely at who is playing, those guys have to contribute. The very reason we drafted Lasco was what we saw not only as a running back but also what we saw as a player on special teams, especially on coverage units. Lampman is the same way. He makes the team because he has some (good) preseason games. We will have a handful of these players competing for those same types of positions. Those guys that are maybe not in the starting lineup have to be able to contribute somewhere in that area.”
Was it strange to wake up this morning in your own bed and drive to training camp after having spent the past three camps in West Virginia?
“It is not a big change because we train here in the offseason. We have had training camp here before. We are all creatures of habit; very quickly over the next three days, we will be into a routine. You forget a little bit about your commute then, to and from the hotel, your meal schedule, your practice times. The good news is that you are not loading up a trunk and forgetting something, nor are you worried about packing. I think more important than anything else is just getting your times down. What time are you setting your clock in the morning for? That is where we are with the first day. We had the conditioning test today for the veteran players, and tomorrow will be much like you have seen in the OTAs, that kind of practice with helmets. That will be for the next two days. Then we will start up in pads on Saturday.”
I am sure you have heard lots of theories in recent years about how hard and hot training camp needs to be and how much location matters. What is your philosophy?
“I do not know that I have sat down and said, ‘Here is my philosophy on how grueling a training camp has to be.’ I obviously did in 2006. Part of that was a result of finding a place to train at a time when there was a lot in transition. I think you pay attention to you team and your veteran players. It was said to me once, ‘you pay attention to the guy that is in the best shape on your roster, and when he is tired, then certainly the others are too.’ I think we do a pretty good job of adapting to different environments. You have all seen practices where you might take three water breaks, and you have seen practices where you might take seven. Those are not listed on the practice schedule; there are two listed. But it is about paying attention all the time to the heat, the energy level. There are going to be some tough practices, particularly with the schedule now that it is laid out to where you get only one practice a day. Drew (Brees) and I were just talking about how in 2006 we had the conditioning test in the AM on AstroTurf—that was about 125 degrees—and then in the PM we had a padded practice. So, a lot has changed, and yet it is still a game that we have got to take advantage of this time in pads to work on the fundamentals, the details, and then evaluate and get the right 53 players on the team. Meanwhile, there is a certain element of toughness and camaraderie that you are trying to build. There are going to be those moments in games—they are hard to simulate—when all of a sudden, there is a game on the line, and you expect guys to be successful. So there is a balance there, but it is varied. It varies from Jackson, Mississippi here to New Orleans and out to West Virginia. Generally, the better teams come out of it with confidence. I can think of some tough days with no restrictions back then. It was pads in the morning, pads in the afternoon. ‘Don’t ask when we are not in pads. The tunnel is dark. The end is not in sight.’ It is different, yet we will be efficient with it.”
We have had a rainy summer here. Would you consider going indoors if it rains so much that pools collect on the field?
“I would use judgment there. The thing I pay attention to is the lightning. We have had a lot of rain. It is always hard to forecast the weather here. You can look at your weekly outlook, but it is a 50% chance of thunderstorms for the next two months. Hopefully, we can get in as many practices outside as we can. Our start times are good. It is great for our fans. I am sure that there are going to be days where you start outside and all of a sudden, (head athletic trainer) Scottie (Patton) comes over with the little instrument that he has, so you move inside. You make sure that you use caution with the weather. We used to have some challenges with the wind sometimes for the guys filming practices. I think that has gotten a little better. That field is probably the last thing I am worried about. It is brand new from two years ago. You could dump whatever you wanted on it, and if you gave it half an hour, you are in great shape. That would be down on my list of concerns. I think weather, though, (is a concern). Periodically, we might change it up, but hopefully we will get as many as we can outside.”
Was there a need for a change of scenery this year?
“I think that we have taken the approach where after three or four years at a place, you move. I am sure we will change again. It was good to get back, especially now with the three years having been on the road. The setup we had in West Virginia was outstanding. The set up here from an element of just your own marketing and being closer to your own fan base has tremendous benefit. I think more than anything else, it is ‘Put us somewhere’ and then once we are there and get the schedule and work through some of the little nuances, you feel really comfortable with it. We recognize that it is going to be warmer and hotter, and that means that we are going to take a little bit more time between periods, but we are going to get the periods in. Hopefully, it is not such where we are getting a lot of rain, and you get 90 guys inside on the turf. We have been fortunate over the past 10 or 11 years with weather, even in Jackson. We seemed to just miss rain, and hopefully we can continue that trend.”
Beyond the weather, moving here, what are some of the significant adjustments you had to make?
“The adjustments in this direction are a little bit simpler because they do not involve travel. The only logistical adjustments are when you are bringing equipment to and from the hotel. We already talked about the weather. It is really about looking at the logistics from the hotel to the facility. I would also say that we have to pay attention to what they are doing on their day off. One of the benefits of being away is that you know they are together. So, we will be smart about that. I think it is a little easier coming in this direction than the other.”
Has Adrian Peterson done anything to surprise you?
“Whenever you sign a player like that, you are anxious to see how they are doing in the offseason program, absolutely. He is in great shape. He was outstanding today. We had really good results with the conditioning test, but it is encouraging because the one thing you count on is that if he is healthy, you know that (he is good). I think that he is anxious to get back to playing and, like everyone else who is coming off and injury, to get back to full speed.”
What did you see from Michael Mauti to bring him back?
“It was a great story. I promised him when he left for the surgery, the procedures that he was going to go through, that we would work him out when he was healthy. Two or three different times during the summer I got this little video clip sent to me, and it was him doing power cleans, him doing this, or him doing that. So, I knew that we were going to work him out. More importantly, it was fantastic to see him being healthy. It will be somewhat unprecedented with his process of going through what he has gone through and then playing football again. That was an easy decision. He went through a workout the other day with us, and I already knew he was going to pass it based on the videos he was sending me. That was a little bit more of just going through the process. It is good to have him back healthy.”
It might be simplistic to say that some years you come into camp with a message of “Things have to change.” Was that the case this year?
“We have not handed out T-shirts if that is what you are asking. There is a lot of work ahead of us; we are going to challenge these guys. I think they will be up for the challenge. Hopefully, they are smart enough to understand it. We have a really good division. We have a tough, challenging schedule. We will hit throughout this training camp period objectives, things that must happen, where we have to improve. We will touch on certain things, but I think that it is a team that has a chance with the leadership we have. It is certainly a team that will understand the sense of urgency that we have to play with, especially early.”
Was there one item that was first on that first PowerPoint?
“No. We have two meetings on day one. The first meeting was on operations; tonight we will meet, and it will be more towards training camp and the season. There are certain goals that we will set and certain topics we will discuss. It is hard to give those to a group of 90 guys all at once, yet there will be certain things. We will kind of check them off as we go.”
How does A.J. Klein add to the defensive leadership?
“That is a good question, and we have talked about this in meetings and even on visits with certain players that have come through here. We are not waiting to find a certain get-in-line pecking order for who is leading. He is a great example. He is a player with which if I do not feel like I am getting it on defense, I am going to be pissed at him. So he is going to very quickly say, ‘Well, I am not waiting on anyone else.’ That is one of the reasons why he is here. I think we will get great leadership from him and some other players like him. This league is different. It is not where you wait your turn. I am not interested in who the voted captains were a year ago or two years ago or three years ago. I am interested in the direction this team is heading and who is leading it. He is a player that I think has some of those intangibles. It is important to him like it is to all of these guys. He will not hesitate and wait around. Throughout our time here, we have acquired players the week before the regular season from other teams, and they were all of a sudden in roles different from those they were in elsewhere. Scott Fujita certainly was in a different role here than he was with us in Dallas—(Mark) Simoneau and (Scott) Shanle too, just to name a few. Depending on the position, you come in here, and you are a guy that we are counting on leadership from—you probably have some skins on the wall form somewhere else. That is a little more challenging sometimes as a first-year player. I think that is a good point.”
Did everyone pass the conditioning test?
“Not everyone. We will have an addition tomorrow to our PUP list, but I will wait for you guys to get it on Saints Black and Gold Report or our website. I am going to give him 24 more hours.”
Did you do anything different?
“Yes, we change it each year. It was a series of sled pushes, a series of ball slams, calorie rows, and pushups, divided up into quarters. You would do a triplet or three of those movements and then push the sled a certain distance. It breaks it up for the linemen. One of the challenging things about having a universal test is that what suits Zach Strief might be different from what suits Tommylee (Lewis). You are trying to come up with something that is going to challenge the whole team, and I think they handled it well. It was tough, but I think they did a good job.”
Is Nick Fairley ever going to play again for you guys?
“I would never sit at this table and use that word ‘never.’ I think as we sit here today, though, we have prepared ourselves for him not playing this season. There is a downside to that when you are talking about Nick Fairley, and there is a good side to that. The good side to that is that fortunately, this was discovered not the hard way. As successful as he was for us on the field last year, he is wonderful to be around, and I think that the focus when I think of Nick is making sure he is healthy and that this maybe was able to help not only himself but also other members of his family or others that might have this. It is a challenging thing because he came out of the draft, and there were some rechecks, and it cleared at that time from everyone. I have a trust in the medical experts, and I know Mickey (Loomis) does as well. So, it is just a difficult, unfortunate condition, and yet fortunately, we found it.”
Is there any chance the condition could get better?
“Not that I am aware of. I do not think that it is a condition that you can go in and have a procedure done to change that. So no, not that I am aware of.”
When you see the level Brees played at last season despite being 39 this year, is it possible that a better running attack might help Drew play better?
“Yes. I think it definitely is. I think it is important. Separate the topic of his age and his career, the first thing he will say if asked that question is about winning and each week, what are the things we have to do to win? To his age, I have not really seen anything. He was either the top time or was in the top two on this test today. He is in great shape. His training routine, from a nutrition standpoint and all of the details he handles so well, is excellent. I think to the point of how we play offensively, I think it is very important for us to find that balance and then understand weekly what we might have to win that game specifically.”
Could you explain the rationale on releasing Marcus Murphy?
“The timing is never good. Simply put, there are three offensive linemen that we start training camp with (on injured lists). We are going to be thin there. Then when it came to a few of these workouts, and when it came to, specifically, another addition of a guy like—not specifically a one-for-one—but a guy like Mauti who is coming on board and some of the offensive linemen. Pretty soon you are paying attention to not necessary where are we deep, but where do we feel like players 90, 89, 88, and 87 are? We felt like the depth we have at running back allowed us to do that.”
You made several coaching changes this year. As you go through the offseason, how did you approach that?
“I talk about this a lot with the players: there are times when you think you are repeating yourself as a head coach. There are too many times where you think more people have heard the message, when in reality, not as many have. I think the same thing exists with your staff. The meeting in the hotel this morning, going through the meeting rooms and making sure that you are not assuming that everyone knows the layout there. Of course, we worked in the spring together. You are paying attention to what your expectations are, and you are coaching the coaches. I think the very nature of what we do is to teach, and we want to teach efficiently and effectively. It is important to make sure the lines of communication and the chain of command is crystal clear and never blurred. Sometimes, if you are not paying close attention to that, it can be. Sometimes it becomes blurry, not by anyone’s intent. It is important to make sure we are on the same page, and we are teaching out players and getting them better. That is what we do for a living. So, we have to do that very well or at least better than our opponent.”
We often ask if you are optimistic about the roster, but is there anything about the newness of the coaching staff that excites you?
“Yes, and I will be a lot more excited about them if we play well early. I think that the coaches, like the players, have strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, to that point, we talk all the time about trying to put the players in the best positions to be successful. Hopefully, I can do that with out coaching staff and make sure that in a leadership position, we are asking the right guys to be teaching the right subjects. It is about making sure that the communication is clear and that they understand what we are trying to do each day and then confront it if it is not and move forward in a positive way with the mindset, ultimately, on strictly winning, not necessarily how we win. It is just about being successful as a team.”
When you look at the injuries on the offensive line, how important is it that you are not wearing down Zach Strief?
“It is important. There are a handful of guys who we discuss prior to training camp on kind of a limited list. On the third day, you might back off of their reps. Zach would be one of those players, clearly. Yet, there will be a day at practice when he might be schedule for one of those, yet you say, ‘Hey, I need 12 snaps.’ I think that there is that balance. When you are thin already—when I say thin, I mean relative to your normal training camp 90-man roster—it might require you to reduce snaps in that period rather than just look at your schedule and say, ‘Well, we have to do this.’ Those are some of the things that you have to be flexible with. We have a handful of players like him that would fit into that pitch count role, just being smart with them. Drew is that same way somewhat. We have looked at days to back off of the workload of what he is getting.”
What does Tyeler Davison mean to the defensive line rotation? It seems like he is really important.
“I would agree. He has had a good offseason. You probably have not seen as much of him just because of where he is at. He is in good shape. I think his versatility and ability on early downs to play for us (is helpful). He is athletic, and hopefully, he can have a really good year because I think we need him to be successful, and we need him in that rotation and competing. I know that he is going to have to compete for those snaps, but hopefully he is able to do that.”
You added Ryan Herman to the front office. Are you getting deeper into analytics?
“First off, there are a handful of things that we look closely at. When you are looking at trends and trying to make rhyme or reason from certain studies, anything from opponents to nutrition to exercise. All the data we get from Zebra is vital to us. One of the challenges Mickey and I talked about is taking it in and figuring out who is really paying attention to all the details of it and presenting it. There are certain things that we can look at and see very cleanly, and Ryan has a unique ability to grab information and pull out certain things that stand out that are important to discuss. So when we were discussing this hire, there were two or three different areas that involved personnel: scouting, both college and pro; opponents; your own team in regards to your analytic information and in regards to how you are training. For these practices, I will get information from him, and then just as importantly, individually with your own players. When we hired him, he became the smartest guy in the building. He has a number of degrees. He is a very impressive guy with a pretty diverse background. He is someone who has practiced law, who has worked in the salary cap area for Miami and Cleveland. He has done a lot of things. He was very impressive in the interview process and in visiting with him at the Combine. Already, there are a handful of things that he has put on my desk where it is broken down into a fashion where I can make something of it. It is interesting. To some degree, having someone who is able to take all of this information—it is one thing to collect it, but then how do you apply it?
You said you pay attention to the guy in the best shape on the team. Who is that?
“Well, my strength coach tonight is going to tell me who that is. I know it is probably one of two or three guys. I do not want to be early and then have to correct myself tomorrow.”
Is it your expectation that you will find a fill-in for Armstead without having to move Andrus Peat?
“I would like to be able to say yes. So, you will see Ryan (Ramczyk) there. You will see (Khalif) Barnes there. Hopefully, that goes well.”
After three straight 7-9 seasons, do you see any parallels to the 2006 season?
“It is hard to recall all of the specifics in 2006. I can recall sitting in the locker room after a preseason loss to Dallas and telling Mickey that we were not going to win a game. I think the important lesson, obviously, in our league is different than any of the other sports—the ability from one season to the next, whether your team improves and you play better or you stay healthier, this is the time of the year where hope is across the whole league. As the months go forward, it begins to diminish in some cities, and we have to find a way this year to make sure it is not happening here. I do think that it is still about the right group of individuals who put the team ahead of any individual achievements or goals and a coaching staff that does the same thing, that grinds on each day and focuses on winning that day. We are smart enough when the season comes around to understand how to win each week, or how to prevent ourselves from winning and how to avoid those things that keep you from winning. I think that is a good example of that type of turnaround. Look, you do not see that as much in the NBA or in baseball. You do not see that as much in some other sports. The way this league is shape and with the roster changes that take place every year, it is about finding the right team. I use that term ‘the right 53.’ It is going to be different from a year ago. This is a different team. There are different players on it. The roster, when it is all said and done, will be different. So, that is encouraging to me because I think what would be discouraging is being at a place in sport where you felt like there was not that question that you just asked, that it did not exist because it was much more challenging to do. I think that playing this schedule early on, playing well, improving the areas we have discussed both defensively and offensively, and finding out how to do a better job with the ball—all of those things will be points of emphasis.”