Is Sean Payton more immersed in this than ever, since being away last season? I know it has been a storyline we have talked about a lot, but still, with training camp, it has been a while since he has been in this sort of atmosphere.
"Today was the first time I had seen him since we broke (from the offseason program) in mid-June, but the feelings and emotions are still very much the same from when we came back in April and started the offseason program. We are all excited. We are all glad to get back to a sense of normalcy. Finally, we get a training camp that is just all about football. We started off with a bang with today's conditioning test that was a little different than what has been the norm around here. It was challenging for all. It becomes very evident as to who is doing a great job of staying in shape and maybe who wasn't. You paid the price if you had been a little lackluster there, but I would say that the effort was tremendous, today. Yet again, it just proves that we have a bunch of guys who have worked hard, that have prepared themselves, and that really care a lot about this team and what we are trying to accomplish."
Malcolm Jenkins said it was the first normal offseason that he has had as a member of the Saints. Has it been the first one that you have had in four years?
"Yes, because Malcolm came here in '09, so his first year was the Super Bowl (year). He didn't know what a normal offseason looked like. You go into that post-Super Bowl offseason, and straight into the lockout, and then you go straight into all of the bounty stuff. Here we are, really four offseasons later, and it is the first normal one in a while. That is why it was a breath of fresh air to get back in this building in April, just knowing that it is a new year. The goals, (and) the structure is still very much the same, but with a renewed sense of urgency and a few little wrinkles to challenge everyone and to make sure that we all know that you have to work to earn your spot around here always. No matter what you have accomplished in the past. We like that."
Was there anything you have done differently these last five weeks after the end of the offseason program?
"There are always new little wrinkles. I would say that the base structure is very much the same. I trained back in San Diego with Todd Durkin. I have for 10 years. There are guys that have been there consistently, and there are guys that have rolled through at different times. We have a great group down there. We have a great workout plan from week to week with lifting, conditioning, throwing, agility, and recovery, all of those things. You have to get your mind right for that. Every year, he has something a little bit different. There are certain things that maybe each one of us knows that we have to work on and improve upon, and maybe that becomes an added element. I have a group of mentors that I reach out to when appropriate to fine tune some things. Every offseason, you are searching for that edge. What is going to be that little edge, that little wrinkle, this year that is going to help get you where you want to go."
There have been a few network rankings and articles that have turned a lot of heads that have said that really the Saints' star had fallen after last year. Does that motivate you or this team, at all, that people are sleeping on you guys after just one year?
"We were all motivated anyway, but we will stay under the radar until it's time."
What are your expectations about the running game with Mark Ingram having the vote of confidence?
"Whatever it takes to win. Mark certainly deserved that opportunity. Every time he has had that number of carries or those opportunities with a more substantial role, he has always taken great advantage of it. He has been impressive. Pierre (Thomas) has done a great job. Darren Sproles has done a great job. We have a good stable of backs that can all do the job. Whatever you ask them to do. It is not just the base run game, but it could be nickel packages. It could be out of the backfield. They all have the ability to do that, and that is what makes them great, especially as a group. There are some guys too that you just know, with every rep, that they are getting better, and Mark Ingram is definitely one of those guys."
Can you provide some insight and your perspective on what it will entail for Sean Payton to be calling the offensive plays again, for the first time since early 2011, and what that will mean for the team?
"Sean calling the plays again…here's the thing, that is the way it was for five and a half years until he got hurt, and then Pete Carmichael kind of took over for the remainder of the year (2011) and, obviously, last year. I thought that Pete Carmichael did a phenomenal job. Now, I had Sean Payton in my year for five and a half years previous to that, and I am very familiar with that voice and those instructions as well. I have confidence in whoever is calling the plays whether it is Sean Payton or Pete Carmichael. I love the fact that Sean is back, and he is taking the reins and that he is going to be the voice in my ear."
Can you give some sense of what the conditioning test was like and how it was different?
"I won't tell you exactly what it is, but it wasn't just running. Normally, when you think conditioning test, you think straight conditioning. It was a combination of some weights and some body weight exercises. It was all-inclusive. It was like a 10-minute wrestling match."
Did Jimmy Graham challenge you this year?
"You can ask him. We didn't go at the same time. It wasn't like we were going side by side like we were competing. We were in different groups, but somebody's time was better than somebody else's, so you can ask him."
What do you think you missed most in Sean Payton's absence, of all the things that he means to you, as a coach, as a friend and as a confidante?
"A mentor, and that includes a lot of things. That is not just necessarily X's and O's, football. Although there is a lot of that. Obviously, there is a great player-coach relationship. There is also a personal relationship. You are talking about the guy who believed in me enough to bring me here and give me the opportunity that not a lot of people were willing to give me. Certainly, he was sticking his neck out by doing that. (He was) a first-time head coach coming to New Orleans post-Katrina. There will always be a special relationship there. What I feel like is regardless of what has happened in the past, regardless of our accomplishments or the number of wins, every day that I step into this building it is how can I still justify to him that I am the guy that can lead this team and be his quarterback. I hope that I can do that for a long, long time. The fact is there is always a challenge every single day. (I) Never get complacent. (I) Never take it for granted."
Have you ever played for a coach that has motivated you like Sean Payton?
"I have been fortunate to play for Marty Schottenheimer who was a great motivator. Joe Tiller, in college, had his way of motivating you. I have had great position coaches. All of these guys who have been mentors for me and have been for a very long time. I feel very lucky to have them in my life and to have been influenced by them in such a way, but I feel like it has helped mold me, not only into the player but also the person that I am in the way, that I handle adversity and that kind of thing. Sean helped take it to another level."
Along that line, by the time this season is over with, you will have turned 35. Are you getting the sense that the clock is ticking a little bit?
"I think 35 is the new 25, actually. No, I don't perceive it like that. I don't sit here and say, 'Hey, I only have five more years to play or whatever,' and 'I have to win one in the next five.' No, every year is kind of a stand-alone. I think that I am still at that stage in my life where I feel like I can play forever."
As training camp starts, do you kind of feel the same way, over last year?
"I don't think angry is the word but very focused. Just locked in. I'm on a mission. Like I said, I walk into training camp, and it is all about football. There is nothing else swirling around, or at least nothing else that we are going to allow to distract us."
Do you keep tabs on the decision about left tackle?
"No. I think that we have three or four guys that are going to be competing for it. When that decision is made, that guy will have earned that position, and I don't worry about that because I think they are all extremely capable. I also just know as a unit, our offensive line is so strong. They have been together a long time, even though potentially the guy on the left side could be a new guy who hasn't been here before. They have all been together for a long time and have played at a high level for a long time. They take a lot of pride in that. That offensive line group is very much a unit. You might say that with the tackles, it is more about the one-on-one matchup or that kind of thing, and that it is the interior guys who are really working together, but, no it is a unit. We find ways to obviously, through our protection plan and packages, we design a game plan for whoever we are playing against to help certain guys and do certain things. Whoever earns that spot at left tackle will have earned it and they will have my vote of confidence."
Do you expect a level of patience to be a part of adjusting to whomever that new guy is coming in?
"Let's just say if (Terron) Armstead wins that job (he will have earned it). He's a rookie, and he has never played an NFL game before, but as I recall, Jermon Bushrod stepped into that role (in a similar situation). He had never played a game before (at left tackle). His first season was '09, and we go and win a Super Bowl. You never know how that plays out, and Jermon Bushrod just went and signed a big deal (with Chicago) as a free agent. I have a lot of confidence in the guys that we bring in here, the guys that we draft, the guys that we bring in as free agents, and the guys that have been with our program for a while. Charlie Brown has as good a shot as anybody. He has stepped in and played very well when he has had the opportunity. There are a lot of guys that have the chance at being the starter. We will see what happens. "
In 2010, you had three highly-talented tight ends. Jimmy, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski go in the draft. How fortunate do you feel like Jimmy Graham landed here considering here some of the issues that some of those other guys have had?
"Again, a lot of credit (goes) to our scouting department and our GM (Mickey Loomis) for being able to go out and find a guy in the third round like Jimmy Graham. You see his talent level, but what a lot of people don't see, unless you really dig deep, is this guy's work ethic, his passion, fire and competitive nature. He wants to be great and loves football. He is a good guy. He is a great locker room guy. You love being around him. Those are all those things that you can't just turn on the tape and see. You have to spend time and learn about this guy. I am glad he is on our team because I know what he means to our team, and am excited for the opportunity he has this year."
Along the same line, Gronkowski and Hernandez received big contracts. Jimmy is in his last year of, and he really hasn't caused any fuss. Obviously, it is not really a distraction for him, but how fortunate do you feel that it is not around, surrounding this camp?
"I guess we are fortunate. I just love that he has the mentality that he always has something to prove. He has had great success in his young career, and yet he knows that he is only scratching the surface, and there is always another challenge."
Is there any point in the season, where you sprint out of bed, ready to go? Is that maybe tomorrow with the first training camp practice?
"Well, I might be a little sore after that conditioning test. I don't know about sprinting (joking). No, there are a lot of those days. Tomorrow will absolutely be one of them. "