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Coach Sean Payton reviews Saints rookie minicamp

Payton met with the media following Saturday's practice

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Rookie Minicamp Media Availability
Saturday, May 14, 2016

Opening statement:

"Just a couple things with regards to the schedule. Right now our veterans are in phase two, which is really strength and conditioning and all the running and some walk through(s) on the field, but that is really the gist of phase (two). Meanwhile, this camp predominantly, I'd say, is made up of rookies. There are a handful of players that have been with us that don't have an accredited year (of service) that are eligible to participate and then we are allowed five veteran players that are on a tryout basis. I think our numbers are around 40 that are trying out, 19 that signed as free agent rookies and the five draft picks. It is our rookie mini camp and we are just a little bit over halfway. We had two practices yesterday and one this morning."

With this many people out here what do you focus on and what do you look for?

"We meet as a staff and we will watch the tape, looking for athletic traits. You are evaluating all of them, and yet you're paying close attention to the guys you're only going to have for three days. They are all getting taught the install. The thing that is different this year that I think's a good thing is the signed rookies and the draft picks were able to come in on Sunday night and kind of get acclimated here for the better part of a week before we started (this rookie minicamp). Whether it is lifting weights… You cannot make any assumptions about the overall conditioning level of this group. Just try and get them in a routine, but to your question it would be just certain traits, skillsets and how they learn. Are they picking things up? How do they look at practice at what we're doing?

Why is that different this year?

"The schedule is just the way the program is set now. You are not practicing, it just allows us to get them in and start lifting weights and be a part of the football school with the veterans and it just shapes up this way this year."

Any impressions of (Sheldon) Rankins?

"He has been good, in good shape. It's hard for those guys in the front because we are not in pads. We are just in the helmets. He is a quick studier and handling the install well and he is in shape."

When a guy is in shape does that tell you something?

"Yes, there are some guys that are very committed, but what happens is the combine training's different from the training for this. After the combine training they go on a series of visits, and it is hard to train and travel. We try not to make any assumptions with when they get here, and when you have a group with 70-something players, there's a good chance that a number of them are going to be in shape and a number of them aren't going to be in shape. I am trying to make sure that we are getting them warmed up and paying attention to the periods and when we break. But it's good to see that though, but we have seen guys that are very committed. Marques Colston, during that first rookie camp, he struggled but by the time training camp came around he was with it. You just try and pay attention to each guy and make sure he holds up. They have to be available to evaluate them."

What is it like for a rookie defensive lineman to get a lot of production early?

"I think (the real question is) what can hold them back. Which is the same answer I think. I think their conditioning level, their learning level. Those are things that can hold them back from maybe having an opportunity. I think both those areas I feel good about with him. It is just a matter of finding the role as we get the pads on, but he has handled it extremely well."

On the flip side with David Onyemata?

"There is a little bit more of a learning curve twofold. We are working him at end and we think he has flexibility. He is a guy that has played inside in nickel downs, but he's been good and he's the first guy I mentioned yesterday. The (player from the) furthest north of here was David Onyemata. He had a little heat issue yesterday, but he had done a good job and I think he's picked things up. Certainly from an experience standpoint it's a bigger curve for him."

Is David Onyemata's contract delayed because he is from another country?

"I don't know that, is he unsigned? I don't know if we can draw parallels. I think it shouldn't be a long process."

Do you pay attention to hand size on receivers?

"Yes, there are just prototypes for certain positions. We note it if they are length deficient, if they are smaller. Certainly hand size (is a positive) for a guy like (Michael Thomas) or Willie Snead, who have real long hands. Those are good traits to have. There are prototypes for each position, receivers when it gets to the L grade, we're grading length. That would include hand size. (It's the) Same way with quarterbacks, it might be arms for offensive tackles."

Just your thoughts on Michael Thomas' hands?

"Yes, he has caught the ball well. He has strong hands. That is definitely something you will notice when you guys see him."

You had both Ohio State guys for most of the week?

"Yes, we had all the draft picks in Sunday night. Monday they started lifting weights."

The coaches at Ohio State talked about how both of those guys came in pretty highly touted and both had to go through the derecruitment phase. Are you getting them now where they are humble and ready?

"They are absolutely; they understand having gone through that transition at a program like Ohio State. By and large this group has been good and the focus has been good. The attention span in meetings (was great). I would say we talk to Dan (Dalrymple) in the weight room. Their attention to detail has been really good."

Any undrafted guys stand out so far?

"There are a couple. That's the big thing trying to get an early evaluation, especially the tryout players, and the reason I say that is they leave on Sunday if we don't ask them to stay. They're here for three days so when we go up there and start watching the tape we are just trying to make sure (that we notice) anyone worthy of the discussion. That's the ongoing process in making sure that a guy does not leave here that was here on a tryout that ends up having success somewhere else. Some positons it's a little easier to evaluate."

How realistic is it for (Sheldon) Rankins to play every down or is that something you eventually hope for?

"I think time will tell. History will tell us that for some guys that transition is quicker and for some guys it's not. I don't think it is position specific. I think we have had rookies that played various spots earlier and we have had guys that have taken longer to develop and we have had guys that never developed. I think just the early portion of the installment (is important) and just watching how things are going. I think from a mental standpoint he is extremely sharp and he has some leadership to him. I think you guys will like being around him when you have a chance to visit with him."

How has Chris Manhertz grown since last season?

"Good, obviously he is a small college tight end. He had a pretty good practice this AM. It is a process for him and yet he has been working hard at it. This camp is a good opportunity for guys like him that are eligible even though they are already with us just to receive those added reps and he is receiving reps, plenty of them early on. I think he is a lot further along and will continue to push to develop him at a fast rate."

Can you name any standouts?

"I think there are a handful of guys and then we're going to go watch film and there will be a few more. I think a couple days from now (we'll know). This practice this morning was a good one. I'm anxious to see how it compares to yesterday and we'll watch it as a staff. There are certain things that came away from practice yesterday and guys did some good things. I want to make sure that we're watching and it still is early and it's hard to point out one specific guy, but in the back on my mind I know yesterday's impression was pretty good with a few guys."

Do you anticipate Connor Barth is a guy you will take to West Virginia?

"He has hit the ball out here well. When we have a chance to get a guy who was in our division and has kicked well, it (gives us) a firsthand look. We wouldn't go to camp with three kickers. (Him being here is an opportunity) for us to have a chance to see how he does, and it's not an indictment on the two kickers currently here. He is just another talented player that we can look at for three days and that is a positon unlike some of the others, that is a little easier to evaluate than it is others."

Can you tell us how Connor Barth has looked?

"He has looked good in the couple practices so we'll see. I mean by no means myself, Mickey (Loomis) or any of the coaches know that a certain player is definitely (on the team). He has kicked it pretty well. There are some moving parts obviously with the snap and hold, but we'll see after this camp is over with and we'll discuss it at some point. We just haven't got to that point."

The Miami Dolphins have taken a no pads approach to rookie minicamp. Do you see any merit in that?

"I am just not really familiar with it. I understand it, but I would be lying to you if I said we considered it. We do pay attention to the challenge. When you bring this many guys in the assumption (sometimes) is that they are all in the same shape as Sheldon (Rankins) or one of these other players, but the fact of the matter is they are not. You want to make sure you're not dealing with an injury, but it is a sport that part of the learning process is for us coming out here and practicing. Our approach is different."

Is there a balance between the drafted guys and the free agent guys?

"The tryout guys are here for three days and we are not treating any of them differently and we are trying to get all these guys reps, but I think at some point you have to get out on the field and start working at your craft. For years it was earlier than May and now it's the middle of May. I am comfortable with what we are doing now."

Were you surprised that you were able to pick up some of these undrafted free agent offensive linemen as free agents?

"There are two things that happen from my experience. Hypothetically if you draft a player at a certain position, let's say you draft an offensive lineman, it is much harder when the draft ends in those phone conversations to convince the player and the agent. You draft a receiver, Michael Thomas, it is probably tougher talking on the phone when you are talking to prospective receivers (to convince them to sign as an undrafted free agent), but in our case where there is a need for an interior offensive lineman…the way the draft unfolded we did not draft one…That was the one position group I'd say midway through the fifth and sixth round we had up on the board. We had a plan in place, the draft ends and the attention really went to a group of offensive linemen. To credit the scouts and coaches, the plan all fell into place when we weren't able to draft one. I think that can vary from year to year. It's hard getting on the phone when you drafted two defensive linemen and convincing a free agent to come to your place rather than another team."

Can you discuss the process? Is it a give and take between the player and coach and agent?

"The process start with the clubs initiating the phone calls. If you ever sat in on the process, it is just a room with phone calls going. We had a plan on the board. Midway through the latter part of the third day where you're trying to prioritize the graded players and you assign scouts, coaches, Khai (Harley), Mickey (Loomis) split into groups and we are working on various players. Someone might hand me the phone and it is the head coach talking to a player to talk to them about our program. I know there are a lot of similarities around the league. The hour and a half after the draft is something. It is interesting and there is not an exact science to it. There are players you had in the boat. All of a sudden (for example Arian) Foster at Houston, he is in. Did he get drafted? You receive a call where he's going to go to Houston and at the time you just lost a running back, but years later (in re-evaluating) you lost a great player. You try to treat each prospect and phone call (with an attitude) you need this guy. You only have seven rounds. There's going to be a number of guys that make squads. We looked at last year. We looked at the profile and how many guys made active rosters and practice squads that weren't drafted and there were a bunch, so it's an important part. What's interesting is it's handled in an hour and a half and it's kind of hectic.

Are you kind of the closer?

"It just depends. Dan Roushar has a great relationship with the center from Michigan State (Jack Allen). At some point I am talking to him. It really depends on the player and the agent. Sometimes there's the tie to the agent. He knows this program has guys that have had success as free agents. If you look 2007 and Pierre Thomas, we had already drafted a back (Antonio Pittman), Deuce (McAllister) was here, (Aaron) Stecker was here, (Reggie) Bush was here and Greg McMahon was close. But sometimes it could just be a relationship, just like that. If you took every free agent we signed after the draft, spent time with them and asked them how they came to that decision (to sign with the Saints), I think you would see that the first thing…The agents are smart enough to look at the depth charts in front of them…Opportunity. There could be some other things."

There's a school of theory that the interior is more important when you have a shorter quarterback than one that is 6-3 or 6-4. Would you agree with that?

"The interior's important for all of them. Now does it vary a little bit maybe. The inside portion of your protection is critical. There are some quarterbacks that do not need as much space and others that do. Obviously early on here, we had Jahri (Evans) and Carl (Nicks) who were real solid players. I'm sure we'll have that handled by the time we get to the start of the season. I think if the defense can occupy that spot two and a half, three yards behind the center, then you're going to be in trouble, regardless of the height of the quarterback."

Did you build the interior of the offensive line that way or did it just happen like that?

"I think it kind of happened. We drafted Carl in the fifth round, he had position flexibility, tackle or guard. From that time to where we are at today, obviously the throwing/passing element of the game is very important and defenses are getting real good at trying to disrupt that spot."

How has the entire offseason process gone to date?

"The question reading the players we have acquired through free agency and now the draft, I think it's gone fairly smooth. I'm anxious to see how some of these veteran guys are doing. They are working hard in the weight room. In about a week and a half here we will get into some OTAs and you guys will have an opportunity to see them as well and then we'll get into the minicamp, the latter part phase three (of the offseason), which will be the second week of June."

Is there a position where you would expect to sign a veteran maybe after June 1?

"Not in specific. Obviously we're paying attention to the offensive linemen. The focus is on this group. We'll kind of see how it goes."

At the draft you said that the coaching staff could improve the pass rush through both personnel and coaching. What do you mean by that?

"There are times where you might be pass-rushing deficient and you have to find a way via pressure, zone pressure, man pressure, somehow or another to get him (quarterback) to move off a spot or get him to throw it quicker than he wants to. I do think that's possible. It happens each week when you watch games. Sometimes you watch a team with a good blitz package and create problems for a quarterback."

How did Erik Harris and Griffin Neal come on your radar?

"Each one a little differently. Harris was a guy we worked out and signed. I'm sure there were a handful of teams aware of him. With Griffin, it's different, he was a couple years removed, played over in Germany. We had him here at a tryout and then signed him to the roster. He's receiving a lot of snaps."

Is there a Delvin Breaux connection with Harris?

"Probably, but those players in the CFL are getting scouted pretty well."

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