Take a look at offensive line coach Dan Roushar in action as we highlight the New Orleans Saints coaching staff on the sidelines.
Dan Roushar is entering his eighth season with the New Orleans Saints, and fifth as offensive line coach. During his tenure, tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk were named All-Pros and interior linemen Andrus Peat (left guard), Larry Warford (right guard) and Max Unger (center) were selected for the Pro Bowl. And this year, he'll help mold two promising young linemen – second-year center/guard Erik McCoy and rookie center/guard Cesar Ruiz. The Saints' offensive line consistently has been among the league's best, and Roushar wants to make sure it remains in the upper echelon of NFL units.
Q: How significant has the adjustment been to not seeing players, not having an offseason program?
Roushar: It's certainly been a challenge, but I think it's been a welcome challenge, with the idea that we've been restricted in our ability to be in-person contact with the players. Each morning for the last three weeks, we've had what we're considering virtual meetings, and we've really involved the young players and the guys that are new to the program. And we spend about an hour-and-a-half each morning with them going through the installations. And as we teach them the system and go through things, we have film to back up what we're talking about. It's really become kind of an interesting process. Because of our lack of ability to put them on the field and go through things, it's been a lot more communication back and forth, many, many more questions as we've watched others execute it – the players that have done this before them. But asking questions about, 'How would you handle this situation?' We've declared this player a Mike in a run scheme or a protection scheme, and, 'Hey, Cesar (Ruiz), how would you handle this?' Or Calvin (Throckmorton), or Jordan (Steckler), or Adrian (Magee), or Darren (Paulo). And just going through things. And really have been impressed with the guys' ability to give us good answers, and to challenge us – if the answers aren't correct – to find ways to guide them into what we think are the right decisions. And then in addition to that, we've had the opportunity to have them watch our players, and maybe critique them a little bit in what we're trying to communicate. And so it's been an outstanding back and forth. I'd say the biggest negative is, different than in years past, is not having the ability to get them on the field and go execute what we're doing. And certainly through that, you learn from mistakes. Right now, we're not able to see that but I think based on the situation that we've been put in, I think it's been tremendous.
Q: Minus the physical reps, how much are you actually able to teach because you can't go through that trial and error?
Roushar: I think you can certainly present the information. And through that, and a series of questions back and forth, you get a feel for their understanding of what you've described in technique and assignment. And then understanding in the system, how we get things done. And purely through their response, I think (offensive line assistant) Brendan Nugent and I both get a really strong feel for guys' grasp of what we've done. Obviously, the challenge is, we're not able to go execute it to really see if they truly understand it when it's all happening in real time. And that won't happen until we get to training camp. But that's the situation we're in. I think to this point, between Brendan and I, we feel like we have a pretty good grasp of their understanding of it to date. We've gone through three installations in its entirety and there's been a fundamental teaching of drills that we've done with the players. It's interesting when you go back to, oh, 2017, when we were really involved in football school, we were doing a lot of things with rules in mind where we couldn't put players across from them to do drills. We have devised a series of things – of movements – that we could simulate what they were getting ready to do. And we were able to show these things that we had on tape. And I think the one thing we know is these players are all in unique situations. Some have access to training facilities, some are working at their local high school or their respective university on their own. We felt like that'd be really beneficial for them to see those drills, because they could do that work on their own, and get them to be more game-ready when they return.
Q: Are there elements to the virtual offseason that you think might carry over into the future?
Roushar: I think there are great benefits to it. One of the things that I've noticed is, we're not in a race to get to the field. You're afforded time and so I think we've gone very slow in this process, and been very detailed and methodical because we know we're not going onto the field to execute these things. So from that standpoint, I think that the teaching has allowed us to be a little bit more detailed. It's allowed us to be more methodical in our teaching process, because we're not in a race to go out and execute 10 run concepts that go in that day, with eight protections and all the variances that come with that. So I think there's a real benefit forward that you could see that in the offseason, with our players, we could start this process away from the building and the facility and bring them closer to a complete understanding of what's being done quicker.
Q: Specifically, in regards to cadence with the center, is that something you can get comfortable doing virtually or does that happen on the field?
Roushar: It is one we certainly have to do on the field and we have expressed this to the guys as they operate. Each one of our quarterbacks are uniquely different. As much as you try to have them be the same there's no substitute for working with Drew (Brees), starting with the huddle to hear him call the play. All the information he provides, as quickly as he does it and then get to the line of scrimmage. And then certainly understand how he maybe has identified where we're working and directing us that way, and then in addition to that being able to anticipate the cadence, certainly with the center delivering it early to on time and the rest of us being able to get off the football and execute what we're trying to do.
Q: What was that process like with Erik McCoy last year and how long did it take to be a clean process?
Roushar: In Erik's case, he had the benefit of OTAs, minicamp and then coming back into training camp. A year ago we had great competition at the position and so early in the process we were rotating Erik with a variety of quarterbacks and I'm sure we'll do the same as we continue. That is important, but as we settled in and as we started to realize and recognize that he'd be our starting center, we got (him) a lot more work with Drew. Interestingly enough and Max (Unger) would attest to this with the centers that have played with Drew in the past, each week presents a new challenge. And Drew having all the knowledge and experience that he does, often times will just make the ever such subtle changes to what he might be communicating and directing with cadence each given week and how he wants it. That is no different than a great pitcher, catcher or batter even. There is such a comfort level that has developed in their ability to anticipate and work together. I'd tell you even going into last year, reflecting to last year, there was a couple of games where Erik was still not quite in sync with Drew. That just takes time and certainly you couple that with the injury and the games missed by Drew and now Teddy's (Bridgewater) operating in there. That presents a unique challenge to the offensive line, but in particular to the center. We can't simulate that, we try to explain that to him. We have clips of them hearing the audio on video, but until you're actually in game action, in our case first and foremost starting with practice, I don't think we'll be able to get that quite where we want.
Q: What have you learned about Cesar Ruiz in your interactions thus far and what are your first impressions?
Roushar: I certainly have been impressed with his ability to absorb the information and be able to communicate it back to us. I think he's got really good recall, from meeting to meeting to meeting. And that's one of the things that we challenge him with. If this was a normal process we would probably be on install four at this time and what happens is your emphasis going from practice one to practice two is installation one. Then we'll call that our base offense. Then installation two is a continuation and then you add into your sub and your nickel packages and then third down becomes installation three and so on. What happens is you continue to move forward and often times you don't get the repetition on something that maybe you installed day one, when you were in practice number six and yet you to have to have recall as Sean (Payton) and Drew would call that concept. There has to be great recall for him. That's what he's appeared to do very, very well as we've gone through film and gone back and forth. I've been super impressed with that. There's a level of maturity, each and every day that we click on, let's say the meetings going to start at 9 a.m., they go through the process and each day he's there early. He has great questions. He does a phenomenal job of wanting to know why and he will ask those questions. The reality is the more he understands the better he's going to perform. I find that to be very reflective of the entire group. This jumped out at me, this is a bright group overall and I've been impressed with their detail and recall to everything we've been doing."
Q: Does that line up with everything you saw in Cesar throughout the draft process?
Roushar: It does. I think when we had an opportunity to meet with him and our research on him in talking with the coaches that were exposed to him at Michigan and the job they did with him, it really lines up consistently with what we thought. Now, we haven't had a chance to obviously have the player on the field yet, but what we saw on film with him and I think our hope is that he'll be exactly the same thing that we've seen and he'll continue to progress and make strides and improve.
Q: Will the time off the field make it easier to put him into a position and leave him there?
Roushar: The challenge will be for us is we do have competition and we do have depth that's being built as we've built the roster. I think the one thing is without the OTAs, the benefit of that and going through a minicamp as we look at it right now, I think it will accelerate the process and whether we put Cesar strictly at center and make a move with Erik or vice versa, those will be decisions we'll make. Right now, when we're talking to him, we were demonstrating a technique by a player that had played for us and really played a number of positions, and you express to the player just how important and how valuable they are as a sixth, seventh or eighth offensive lineman in our system. To be able to do so many different things at a high level and in this case we see value in Cesar as an interior player. We recognize he was a heck of a center the last couple years at Michigan and we recognize his value in that area, and I think it's between Sean's (Payton) direction and as we see this thing taking shape the ability to make a move with Erik and slide Cesar or go the other direction with it. Those things will be determined as we come to camp and attack this thing.
Q: When you look back at last season, was the interior line play something that had to get better?
Roushar: Here's what I think, I think that when I looked at our cut ups I didn't see the same play that I'd see the two previous seasons. I'm going to be most critical with me. I don't think I did a good enough job getting our guys ready and then playing at a high level consistently week in and week out. And there's a variety of reasons and we can go through all those, but this is a performance-driven industry and so it starts with me and we have to do a better job of playing at a higher level. And we also recognize that Drew (Brees) is very, very comfortable in the shotgun situation. We drop him directly behind the center the vast majority of the time and I think as we think about those things we have to do a better job of protecting that spot so Drew is comfortable consistently and can execute and do the things he does at a high level. In addition to that, we recognize we have to perform at a high level in every situation that comes to us. Whether you're evaluating short yardage, goal line, four minute to finish a game and then certainly going through every concept as coaches, we're always striving to improve and get better. And I just felt like last year for a variety of reasons, we didn't play quite to what I feel like our standard has been, and yet you win 13 games and you recognize that you have a couple inside guys that are honored with going to the Pro Bowl and you see their successes. I think they would tell you and I would share with you that we expect a higher performance and I think that's what Sean is always striving for, whether that's the center/guard position or tackle/tight end position or any other position on our football team. We're looking for excellence and that's what we're striving for.
Q: If Erik McCoy was to slide over to guard, do you think his skills and athleticism would be able to shine a little more?
Roushar: I think we start with his traits of being extremely tough. He's a very smart football player and has great lower strength and he's physical. Right away you have the makings of a good football player. The other thing you know about him is he's very selfless. He will do whatever he thinks in our opinion is the best interest of the football team. He's willing to do whatever, he's a football player and loves to be out there. It certainly will be a transition, guard is much different from center when you break it down. When you start thinking about just going through a simple protection, more often than not you have guards isolated in protection without help.
Q: What's been your opinion of Andrus Peat and how he has played the last couple of years for you?
Roushar: Well, I still think we're striving for a lot more consistency as he is. I think we've seen great improvement in his work ethic, there's clearly a competitiveness and a toughness that we've learned to appreciate about him, and yet he would share with you and I would share with you that, like all of us, we're still looking for more. He's a tremendous team player. He's worked through some significant injuries in each of the last few years and so you've appreciated his ability to make as quick of a recovery as he possibly can to come back and try to help the team win. He's a very smart player. He is very well-liked by his peers, and yet one of the things about Andrus is as you all know he's a very quiet person. Very reflective, very smart, very caring, he's recently been married in the last year and his developing his family. Just an outstanding person that we want to continue to see grow as a football player.