New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Black and Blue Report
Monday, July 28, 2014
You're a man of many stories. Since we're in West Virginia, do you have a good Jerry West story?
"Jerry West is one of the best guards to ever play in the NBA. What people don't understand about Jerry West is that the only thing he could do was go to his right. The whole world knew he could only go to his right. He had no crossover. You might as well have cut his left arm off, and he still became a prolific shooter and a hall of famer. Of course the NBA logo is him…what a great player."
How much different is camp to you now as opposed to when you started in the NFL in the late 70s?
"Listen, you don't have to go back to 1979 when I started, you can go back to 2006 when we started here. You're living in dorms; it's hot. You're doing two-a-days. Camp is six weeks long; it's a battle. Now it's one-a-days, we're staying in a luxury hotel. We've got players that get mad now if the breath mints aren't right on their pillows and they don't have cucumbers to put over their eyes at night. It's a lot different. We've got chefs running around cooking specialized meals, so it's different. The core beliefs of a player can't change, and that's what we try to do most around here."
How does it change the way you coach? Does it at all?
That seems hard when you have two entirely different formats.
"No. The core beliefs remain the same. This game is not going to change now. We still have helmets, eleven players, the field dimensions are the same, it's a sixty minute game. All those things are the same. What has happened is that there's a lot more advertisement, there's a lot more eyes on us. It's the most popular game in the world now…well, soccer. All these things: luxury hotels, agents, Mercedes, limos…bada bing, bada bang, bada boom. But on Sundays when you cross the white lines, it's still played the same way. You have to physically reduce your opponent's will to compete. You have to be smart. You have to limit your mistakes. You can't turn the ball over, you've got to win the turnover battle. When you're in training camp, physical conditioning precedes mental toughness, and mental toughness precedes discipline. All three are necessary to win. If those core beliefs get away from you, well you might as well go coach in the world league, a soccer league, whatever you call it."
David Hawthorne said the other day that he loves the depth at the linebacker position, and as a result, there's a lot of pushing of each other. Would you agree with that assessment right now?
"Yeah. We've got good players. Today is the first day we're in pads, it's a real practice. So we've got a lot of work to do. I think this depth is going to be defined with the contact in camp and these preseason games coming up, and we'll see how it sorts out."
Can you talk about the addition of Victor Butler back into the linebackers group.
"Well the best thing that Vic does is rush the passer, so earlier in this training camp we had him at the Sam linebacker and he did a real good job. We flipped him back over to the Jack, which is the linebacker that's going to align on the open side away from the tight end and attack a two-man surface. That's what he does best. He's healthy, he has worked hard this offseason to overcome his injury. He's a very willing player. He wants to be a good player. So again I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know how this is going to sort out. He's got to play well in the preseason, he's got to play well in training camp, and we'll see what goes on."
The middle linebacker is often referred to as the quarterback of the defense. Can you explain what that entails?
"Well I think just like the guy who's place he took, Jonathan Vilma…Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton are just as important to our defense as Drew Brees is to the offense. They're going to hear the defense out of his lips. He's going to set the front and get people lined up before the ball is snapped. He's got to recognize the formation and get us out of a bad defense. And then when the ball is snapped, he's got to execute. He's got a lot on his plate. Listen, this is not a perfect game played by perfect people. That all seems easy to do, but all of these no-huddles and fast offenses and personnel changes in and out, it's a challenge. He (Lofton) has done a great job so far, as did JV before him. We were blessed to have those two guys."
Coach Payton said that offenses have developed and changed to take up more space on the field. How does that affect your defense?
"Yeah there's no doubt about it. I think the number one thing that we have to understand right now is that this game is always going to evolve. You really have to take away the plays that each team does best before you even have a chance of winning. Each week takes on a life of its own. As these offenses evolve and you take the whole field, you need to make sure that matchups are critical. That's why the middle linebacker has got to see mismatches, formation recognition, shifts, motions, and make the adjustments off of those things. It's a challenge; it's a chess match. But at the end of the day, the team that is the most physical, who breaks their opponent's will to compete, who tackles the best, who executes the best is going to win."
There is an obnoxious amount of noise as to how good this team can be in 2014. I know there's a way to manage noise when things are not going well, but how can you advise your team to manage this kind of noise?
"Well, let me tell you something: I don't know what the noise is because I don't read the noise. I've said this a million times: we all learned to write in second grade, but most of us go on to something else. I don't read the experts or what they have to say. The only thing we're focused on right here in training camp is becoming a better football team every day. The only people that we have to worry about right now and compete against are the Atlanta Falcons. If you can't manage expectations…Our organization is going to work hard every year to get to the championship, but you can't put the horse before the barn and all that other stuff. We've got to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. It's a division opponent, it's the opening game, and that's what we have to do. You can't win them all until you win the first one."