Take a look at quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi in action as we highlight the New Orleans Saints coaching staff on the sidelines.
In more than a decade with the New Orleans Saints, Joe Lombardi has helped craft one of the most productive careers in NFL history, with Drew Brees. But as Lombardi enters his 12th season with the Saints and 10th as quarterbacks coach, he also can point to the fact that he helped resurrect the career of Teddy Bridgewater and has had a hand in the progress that has been made by Taysom Hill. This season, he also will have a chance to work with former Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston , who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns last year with the Buccaneers.
Q: How do you get a feel for the quarterback room changes this spring with these virtual meetings? Obviously, you lose Teddy Bridgewater to Carolina and add Jameis Winston.
Lombardi: You can tell that he's (Winston) got a lot of personality, a charismatic guy, fun to talk to. And that's another reason I kind of wish we would've been able to get in-person (meetings and workouts with him). Because you can tell he's got a lot of energy and I think you'll feel that even more when, when you are person to person with somebody. But you can tell he works hard (and) loves football. So we're excited to have him.
Q: How much more do you involve Taysom Hill in the process this year in the quarterback room in addition to his other duties?
Lombardi: I think it'll just be where he falls in that slot as far as taking reps, you know. Even in years past, he's worked more at quarterback during training camp and offseason. So I think that'll be similar. He might get, I can't say a few more reps, because he's always gotten the full load of reps the last couple years or however long he's been in training camp with us. So I think it'll be similar. Maybe we'll incorporate a little bit more in practice as far as some of the unique things that he does. I think it'll be similar and just look for him to keep improving like he's been doing.
Q: What did you guys like physically from Jameis Winston that made you want to bring him in?
Lombardi: Well, what did he throw for? He threw for over 5,000 yards last year. So he is a guy that makes big plays and that is always exciting to see someone who's got that ability to get the ball downfield. I think he is probably a little more athletic than people give him credit for. So it's just fun when you see someone with those kinds of tools who puts them into play like he does, he moves the ball and scores points. He was a first round draft pick for a reason and we're real excited to have him on board.
Q: What's it been like having him in your quarterback room after watching him for so many years?
Lombardi: Great, he really is a fun guy too, I say, be around. It has been virtually, but he just has got a lot of energy. Like I said, he is charismatic and the big thing is you can just tell he loves football. He has got a great enthusiasm for it. I know that I get bored listening to myself talk for two hours over a computer, but man, he has a lot of endurance for just talking football and learning about it. I had heard a lot of good things about him from (people) like Ryan Griffin, who we had here (and) has been a backup (for Winston) in Tampa. He's exceeded even those expectations and the great things that we've heard about him.
Q: He's talked about wanting to be more patient and not force throws. How do you teach that? How do you help him through that process?
Lombardi: I don't think there's a simple magic answer for that. It's a lot of studying, understanding what we're trying to accomplish with our routes, the timing of our routes, how the footwork matches up to the routes. And we talk a lot about having your feet talk to your decision-making. Like if you're at this point in your drop, you've taken one hit, your eyes should be going over here. So it's just making that second nature. I think, like I said, you can tell he's very smart and he's picked up what we've been teaching quickly. And so he understands it, but going out there and feeling it and seeing it so that you can trust it, that's going to be the race that we're all in come training camp.
Q: Do you feel like despite the fact that you guys have had a clear starter in place, do you feel like you have been able to get some good competition in that quarterback room?
Lombardi: It's an interesting question. I'm thinking about it, obviously, like you said, that clear starter (Brees). I think we have been fortunate with the type of guys that we have had in that room and that the competition is always just to get better. As they show up every day, whether you're talking about Taysom (Hill) or Teddy (Bridgewater) and we expect the same thing from Jameis is just man, every day, you're in a race to get better, to get more comfortable, to understand the offense. I'm sure between Teddy and Taysom, maybe there was some competition, they felt comparing themselves to each other, but it never was explicit. I always feel like that's just the way that those guys are built and wired. They're trying to win every single rep, every single day and that's competition in and of itself. Not so much comparing themselves to someone else, as far as comparing them themselves to what they did yesterday.
Q: We saw the investment that the team made in Taysom Hill in the offseason for the next two seasons. Just from your perspective, how important was it to kind of secure a guy like that?
Lombardi: I think he's proven his worth on the field outside of the position of quarterback. And we have seen his growth as a quarterback and it's exciting. Because even maybe earlier in his career where, maybe we didn't think he was playing the position well, he was still making plays. Like I used to say, he can't help but make plays. And then every year he's been making improvement. Last year, we felt in training camp he made a huge jump where he was playing the position better. And you add that to all the physical skills that he has. We're very excited to have him. I think we're excited about his future. We are definitely excited about his future. And so, yeah, I think getting that commitment to him, him feeling that commitment from the team and knowing that we have him around for a couple more years, yeah, it makes us sleep a lot better.
Q: Can you help us understand that growth a little bit more?
Lombardi: A lot of it is just timing of plays, like when you're in the pocket and you're so used to seeing how Drew (Brees) plays. We get spoiled with that. Like when the ball comes out of his hand and there's an anticipation level and there's a trust level. And I think he went a long time where it was always like, man, you could have gotten rid of it, a hitch earlier, let's say. And he's got such a strong arm you often would catch up to it. Or maybe the ball arrived at the same time that it would have if Drew threw it because he just threw it faster, but he was later. And maybe his eyes stuck there a little bit too long, which may give a defensive back time to break on it. And on some point that ball started coming out a hitch earlier. So for me the biggest jump and there's a number of things, but if you wanted to highlight one thing, it was that ball was coming out of his hand earlier with consistency. And so it's an anticipation, it's a trust. It's a recognizing the defense. A lot of things go into that and at some point during training camp to my memory right now, it really took off the week when we played the (Los Angeles) Chargers in the preseason. And I just felt like, man, he has kind of figured some things out right here. And that carried on through the rest of the preseason.
Q: Do you think to yourself, 'Be careful,' when Taysom is playing all the positions except quarterback?
Lombardi: Yeah, sometimes we have him coming back across the offensive line and cutting 280-pound defensive ends. So yeah, sometimes I think let's make sure we do not hurt this guy. I would tell him always lead with your left shoulder whenever you're hitting somebody (laughter). But it's tough because he does so many things so well and I think sometimes you're like, well, we're not going to put him in those situations. Well, we're trying to win every game and sometimes it's hard to do what we said we're going to do. It's really incredible how quickly he picks up different skills that guys have been working on all through high school and college and it takes a couple of reps at it and all of a sudden he's doing a great job at the NFL level. It's probably underappreciated, as much as he is appreciated. I think sometimes it's underappreciated how well he does so many different things.
Q: How big a factor does Drew Brees play in that the reduced number of turnovers the last few years, specifically with his interception numbers being way down? And was that an emphasis for you guys to improve there?
Lombardi: Yeah, I think I want to say maybe the last three years, his interceptions have really taken a dramatic fall maybe even more than what they were before that. I think it's one of the things we say, like the most important job of a quarterback is to be available and the second most important thing is to make sure bad things don't happen. And I think in his mind he made a renewed emphasis on that. It's always been one, but I think he just decided I'm done throwing interceptions like before the (20)17 season. And like most things, he puts his mind to it and he finds a way to get it done. Yeah, I mean it's always an emphasis, I think maybe before the '17 season is when he was like, hey, we're just not doing it anymore and he's Superman so he made it happen.