Dennis Allen spent 12 of the previous 16 seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints' coaching staff. This year, he will enter his first as the team's head coach. On the eve of his first training camp in his new position, Allen fielded a few pre-camp questions from senior writer John DeShazier:
Q: What's your excitement level as you enter this training camp?
Allen: No. 1, I'm excited about the team that we have here. I think we've got some outstanding players, we've got an outstanding coaching staff, personnel, front office. It's just a great organization to be a part of and you feel like going into it, you feel like, man, we have a chance to really do something here. And then obviously on a personal level, I'm excited about being the head coach in this circumstance and really kind of being able to put my own stamp on the New Orleans Saints organization, which has been one of the most successful organizations over the last 16 years.
Q: What would you want a "Dennis Allen" Saints team to look like?
Allen: Not really a whole lot different than a New Orleans Saints team has looked. But some of the trademarks and hallmarks of what I want this team to be is, I want this team to be a tough, physical football team. I want this team to be a smart team that understands how to play situational football. And I want this team to be highly, highly competitive. And so, things like speed, athleticism, effort, are all things that you're going to see out of this team.
Q: You want to put your own fingerprints on some things. What would be an example of a Dennis Allen tweak?
Allen: I think there's some things in how we've conducted some of the team meetings that's just a little bit different than some of the things that Sean (Payton) has done, but I think more so than anything else, it's not really about – I mean, there's going to be a few scheduling changes. For instance, our walk-through is going to happen in training camp where it's the last thing that we're going to do. So there's just a few changes like that. But it's more going to be just about it's my personality. It's how I do things, it's how I operate on a day-to-day basis, more so than a lot of concrete things that you're going to be able to look at and go, 'That's totally different.'
Q: There's been a lot of talk about the new receivers' room. How do you feel about the room?
Allen: I feel real good about it. Health is going to have a big factor in that, but yet, we have a lot of weapons in that room now. And so, now it's really about getting that cohesiveness with the quarterback and the receivers all being on the same page, getting the timing and the rhythm down and just getting those reps together. Because with Mike (Thomas) having missed a lot of time and Jarvis (Landry) being new and Chris Olave being new, there's still a lot of newness to that that we've got to work through.
Q: How comfortable do you feel with Jameis Winston at quarterback? It's his third year in the system, his familiarity is high.
Allen: I feel real good about it. I think Jameis has worked extremely hard to get himself ready physically, mentally, emotionally. I think he's done a great job of that. He had a year to sit under Drew (Brees), he had last year where there was a little bit of a training camp battle and he had half a season, and this year he's kind of going in with the starting quarterback position and I think he's operated that way throughout the offseason. And I'm excited about seeing what he can do.
Q: How were you able to help this defense transform, from 2015 to now, where the defense has become the strength of this team?
Allen: No. 1, I think we clearly identified exactly what we're looking for, and then we found the players that fit that scheme and we're multiple enough within our scheme that we can kind of tweak some things to allow our guys to do the things that they do really well. Rather than, we're just drafting football players and then we're trying to fit a scheme around that, we kind of clearly identified: This is the type of scheme that we want to run, these are the type of players that we want within that scheme. And then, the scheme is multiple enough that we can tweak within a bigger parameter. And then, it's really just about mind-set and culture. You preach messages over and over and over, and you get the right guys in here that buy into it. (But) nobody's any good without a lot of really good players, and we've got a lot of really good players.
Q: How difficult is it to find the "multiple" players?
Allen: They're not easy to find, but it's easier to find those guys when you clearly know exactly what you're looking for. And when you clearly define the type of guys that you're looking for, then they become a little bit easier to go out and find.