Take a look at defensive coordinator Dennis Allen in action as we highlight the New Orleans Saints coaching staff on the sidelines.
Now in his second stint in New Orleans, Dennis Allen enters his fifth full season as the team's defensive coordinator in his 11th campaign with the club after he was re-hired by Saints Coach Sean Payton in 2015. One of the most respected defensive minds in the NFL, Allen has developed and led an ascending New Orleans defense that has ranked in the NFL's top five the past two seasons in both run defense and sacks, while also developing a promising group of young defenders, mixed with veteran leaders and valuable free agent acquisitions.
Q: Are you excited to work with Malcolm Jenkins again and what experience does he bring to a team?
Allen: I was here when we drafted Malcolm (Jenkins) back in 2009. I think Malcolm brings a sense of leadership, an intelligence level to our defense especially from a backend perspective. I'm excited about working with Malcolm. I thought Malcolm was an outstanding player when he was here before and he continued that in Philadelphia and I'm anxious to get an opportunity to work with him again.
Q: Does having Janoris Jenkins for a second season change anything or allow you to do more with him this season?
Allen: I don't know if anything changes in terms of our approach. Certainly, I think the more opportunity we have to be around him and to evaluate him the easier it is for us to really determine all the things he does well and try to put him in those positions as much as we can. Certainly, we feel like he has real good man coverage talent and when you do have corners of that nature with he and Marshon (Lattimore) both it does lend to the ability to play, maybe a little bit more man-to-man. That will be something (we look at) as we go through training camp and get through some of these preseason games. Certainly, we'll utilize that time to evaluate, look not only Janoris (Jenkins), but everybody on our defensive football team to find out the things that we can really do well and those would be the things that we want to stick to as our bread and butter throughout the season.
Q: Can you divulge anything on how to get three safeties on the field this year?
Allen: Yeah, look I have thought a lot about it. I think certainly when you look defensively, at least for us and I'd say this is a trend throughout our league. We played 70 something percent, I do not know the exact number, but 70 something percent of our snaps were played in a sub defense, with five defensive backs on the field. Now, whether that's three safeties and two corners or whether that's three corners and two safeties, certainly that remains to be seen. I think when you look at some of the depth that we do have at the safety position, I think that bodes well for us and we've got some guys that have some flexibility, in terms of what they can do. Guys like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, guys like P.J. Williams, who has the ability to play inside the slot of wide receivers, as well as play and succeed at a traditional safety position. Certainly, we feel good about some of the depth we have and look, part of this whole process is going to be getting through training camp and getting through some of these preseason games. Finding out exactly who we have and what we have and then our job will be to utilize those players the best we can to give us success on Sundays.
Q: Going back to Janoris Jenkins, how important was the couple weeks that you got to spend with him at the end of last year there or is the overall body of work more important there?
Allen: Well, look, certainly there's an overall body of work that you utilize to try to form opinions about what a guy can or can't do, but there's nothing like the experience of having a guy in your building. I can tell you just from my experience with him in that brief period of time, I felt like he was a real pro, I felt like he came to work every day with the intention of getting better and I think he was a great addition to our football team. I am certainly excited about working with him again this season.
Q: Can you speak about playing Tom Brady twice a year in the division and how much extra study, if at all, looking at him and what he does in the offseason knowing that he's going to be in the way twice a year?
Allen: Certainly I think it's a great addition for Tampa Bay's football team. Certainly Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. It's certainly a huge challenge for us. I think it's a challenge for us opening up the season and playing these guys because you really have a couple of things that you're looking at. There's the study that we've got to do of Tom in New England and the things that he was doing there as well as studying Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich, their offense, their philosophy and then trying to merge those two together to find out or see exactly what we're going to get to open the season. That'll be a challenge. That will be difficult for us to deal with, but it is a challenge that we are excited about. I think when you play in the National Football League, there is something about competing at the highest level that excites you. I think we are as competitive of a group as there is and we look forward to the challenge. We understand that it is going to be difficult, but we are excited about the challenge.
Q: With all those guys with the position flexibility, how much does that open up your ability to disguise? I know you already do a lot of it, but do you feel like you have to even more room to be creative and create deception?
Allen: I think that's certainly something that we want to be able to do and having guys that have the versatility and the athleticism we have, both at the linebacker and the secondary position will be advantageous for us in terms of what we can do. Certainly the longer the down and distance, third-down, two-minute, some of those things we can get a little bit more creative in what we do and how we try to attack the offense.
Q: I would imagine with this accelerated offseason, it's obviously going to benefit, at least early in the season, having continuity as a team. How much do you also feel like, from a coaching standpoint, just one's own ability, the cream will rise and be able to show some of the better coaches just how they're able to prepare just on a short offseason too?
Allen: Well, I had this discussion with the defensive staff last Thursday it was, we were on a conference call together, and I said, 'this is the challenge for us. The challenge for us is how are we going to be better teachers this year?' And I do feel like the best staffs rise up in these type of situations. When you face challenges, that's when you really find out how good your group is. I feel like we have a good group of coaches and I feel like we have an advantage over some other teams because I do feel like we have a veteran group that's worked together, but we have to be creative in how we go about teaching because we're not getting all the same time that we would get if we had a normal offseason program with the OTAs and on onto minicamp and then training camp.
Q: Are there any elements to the virtual offseason program that you think might carry forth in future years?
Allen: I think certainly there's some things we can do with the technology that we have that allows us to really be able to still accomplish a lot of things, but yet be able do it virtually. I think there was a lot of things in terms of the meetings that we were able to do with the players and the staff. I think we can handle those things virtually, but I do think there's a lot to be said about one-on-one or face-to-face communication. That element I think you miss a little bit with this technology, but I certainly think there's some things about, whether its Zoom or WebEx or whatever that you can utilize those things and still get a lot accomplished.
Q: What's your vision for Zack Baun and is he someone too that can be flexible in the sub package, sub rush or various ways?
Allen: Yeah, we love the flexibility of the player. That was one of the things that was the most intriguing to us about him. There's a vision for this guy being able to move around and do some different things for us. Obviously, as a rookie there's a big learning curve in terms of what he's going to be asked to do, but we see him as a guy who can play on the ball, he can also play off the ball and certainly we felt like one of the things that we thought he really did well was affect the passer. There's certainly a vision in our mind of some things that we can do with him from a rush standpoint that I think can really benefit us.
Q: You made a significant donation to the Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund, can you talk about why that was important to you?
Allen: I think we're going on 11 years here in New Orleans on two different stints. This city has really become home to our family and we just felt like we needed to do something to try to help out our community and we felt like that was the best way for us to go about doing that.