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Steve Spagnuolo Discusses Tackling, Middle Linebackers

Posted Aug 22, 2012

Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo met with the media following practice on Wednesday

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

Post-Practice Media Availability

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What did you think of the tackling in the Jacksonville game?

“Not very good. The guys recognized that. We talked about it. Talking about it doesn’t do anything. This group I know is one of those groups where when they have something to prove, they usually respond. Now, we’ll see what happens in this particular game, but I don’t think we can win very many games tackling like we did last Friday.”

Is it tough to improve on tackling in practice, because you guys traditionally don’t work in pads?

“Yes, the league’s a little different now. Everybody’s going through it. There’s not as much live work as when I first got in the league. Some guys will tell you, you can either tackle or you can’t. I’m not one of those guys. I think anything has to be perfected and polished. I’m going to take a pure guess here, but Tiger Woods, as good as he is, still practices with his nine iron. You have to tackle. Sometimes the only time you get to do it is in a preseason game. That’s what these preseason games are for. This is why we have them.”

How comfortable are you where in just over a week Joe Vitt will be gone for a while and you yourself are new here to this team?

“It’s a challenge just to be losing Joe. I will be honest with you; I’m loving every minute of working with Joe Vitt. I think he’s done an unbelievable job both in coaching the linebackers and serving as the interim head coach. So we’re going to miss him. There’s a lot of expertise and experience there and there’s the relationship he has with the players. But, in this league and I think Joe would tell you the same thing, defensively, if someone leaves, someone has to step up. We have a plan in place. When we have to get to it, we will get to it. Losing Joe is tough. Again, he’s familiar with the guys. It’s a new defense. Everything is new to me in the building. The practice schedule, the weekly one, is a little different for me. That’s a part of adjusting in the league.”

Have you sort of insulated yourself from a lot of it and put blinders on since you have been so busy in installing a defense?

“That’s my makeup anyway. You get hired to do a job, that’s the job I’m doing. I hope I’m doing that. I’m not focused on anything else. Don’t tell Mr. Benson.”

With some of the injuries at linebacker was there a temptation to put Martez Wilson back there?

“It was an interesting thought, but to be honest with you, there was no thought to doing it. He’s good where he is right now and we will work through the injuries. I’ve never been involved (in a situation), where all three mike linebackers were lost at the same time. Usually one gets hurt and you have two left or two get hurt and you have one left. This is a little bit of a struggle and it’s no different than losing a quarterback. He’s the guy in the middle who makes all the calls, so we have to work through that. We have a game coming up and we have to get through it and then another one and all of a sudden it’s for real. Hopefully some guys get healthy and in the meantime we’ll find some guys to step in and do it.”

Are you happy with Martez’s progress?

“Yes, he has a ways to go. There are a lot of things that are really new to him. The pass rushing part, he’s done a little bit of that. But the first and second down, on a tight end, reading blocks, it’s new to him. Whoever has been around this league long enough knows this, where in my opinion there are three speeds to this thing. There’s preseason game speed, regular season game speed and the playoffs are a whole different world. Right now, he’s fighting through that. It’s all new.”

Is it advantageous to get into the regular season mode to get used to it?

“Yes, that was part of the plan for all of us to get used to it. A lot of guys have been here and are used to it. We have a couple of new coaches on defense, so it’s been beneficial.”

Could Barrett Ruud step in at middle linebacker?

I’m hoping. I was out there every moment when the offense was up and we were servicing the offense in practice, I was off to the side, trying to give him the Reader’s Digest version of what you do as a mike linebacker here. But, he’s been in the league for a while, so he has a little bit of experience. You say things, he correlates them to something (he did) at another place, but it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge. We’re going to have to cut it down for him, but hopefully we can get him in there.”

Are there a couple of drafted rookies or undrafted free agents that have caught your eye?

“I’ve said this before that there’s competition at the safety spot, so that’s interesting all the way around. We have some d-linemen that are working well. The linebacker position’s in a little bit of shambles with the injuries. I’d focus on those safeties and probably the interior defensive line. For guys who have to earn spots, this is a hard thing in this league where you have ten days and then next Friday you have to tell people they don’t have a job, but that’s part of it.”

What do you think of Lawrence Wilson?

“Him and I have talked a lot about the University of Connecticut. I coached there for five years. No, he wasn’t naturally a mike linebacker. He’s bounced around the league a little bit. He’s settled in there. He can run. The guy is physical. The system’s a little challenging for him, because he hasn’t’ done that, but I think he’s done an admirable job. Because of the situation we’re in right now, he’s going to step in there and do a lot more of it.”

What stands out to you about Will Smith?

“I’ve watched him from afar competing against him. He’s one of those guys who’s always a factor defensively. I just think he’s a complete defensive end in a 4-3 scheme who has to play first and second down run on the blocks he’s going to face. Yet, when you go to third down, I still think he’s an effective pass rusher. To me, he’s an all-around 4-3 defensive end, the kind of guy you want on your team.”

Did you have a certain weight you wanted him at? I know different defensive coaches have had him at different weights.

“No, I talked about it a while ago and I can’t remember honestly. Will’s been in the league long enough and Dan’s (Dalrymple) been in the league long enough where I’m sure they’ll get it to where he needs to be.”

Have you worked him at tackle?

“A little bit.”

Is it something he could do?

“We would like to be very multiple with all those guys to be quite honest with you. I think that helps you in the long run in a lot of ways. You may see him in there. The great thing about that group and the d-line coaches is that they are willing to do it. Down the road I think it will help them.”

What do you get out of this traditional third week preseason game that you don’t get out of others in the league?

“Try to find out who the backup mike linebacker is. There are a lot of things in my head. We’re still in an early phase here. I go back to the speed of the game here, and I do mean it about the three different speeds and we get to that first regular season game and I’m just not sure if you got enough reps at everything. Do you cut it down? I fight the volume of the defense. Do you cut it completely down? If you cut it too far down you’re not multiple enough and you can’t be successful on defense. There are a lot of things going on in my head right now, part of the thing with the third preseason  game, not only with vets and getting the defense installed, but that we also still need to evaluate guys for the 53 and how many of that is on defense.”

What other defensive players do you look at for leadership with the middle linebacker situation affected by injuries?

“We have leaders out there. Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper step up there. They’re in there. I watch those guys all the time. Will Smith’s in the huddle. I know we’re dealing as of right now with the loss of him. Sedrick Ellis, I saw him today step up there vocally. I thought the d-line had a good practice today. One thing that impressed me most when I got here way back in the spring was the number of leaders and potential leaders on the defensive side of the football. Sometimes, they don’t always surface, because there’s good leaders in front of them. But they’re there. I think we have enough of them.”

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