Several brief takes from New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton's Wednesday teleconference:
- Running back Tim Hightowerwas honored as this year's Ed Block Courage Award winner for the Saints via a vote by his teammates. The honor is awarded to the player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship, while also serving as a source of inspiration. Hightower missed three full NFL seasons due to a torn ACL and resulting complications, before returning last season. "I'm going to say, a perfect candidate," Payton said. "He's tremendously respected in the locker room. In all my years coaching, I don't know that I've been a part of a team with a more worthy Ed Block candidate than Tim Hightower. What he's been through and how he's overcome, and if you knew all of his story and if you've heard him speak about his story, it's pretty impressive. It just made so much sense."
- Payton said the Saints have restocked the roster well in the last several years, with players such as receiver Brandin Cooks,*left guard/tackleAndrus Peat, cornerbacksP.J. Williams andDamian Swann, defensive tacklesSheldon Rankins andDavid Onyemata, receiverMichael Thomas and safetyVonn Bell. There also have been several undrafted free agent keepers, like receiverBrandon Coleman, defensive endKasim Edebaliand cornerbackKen Crawley*. All are draft picks or rookie free agents from the last three years. "I think the last couple of drafts have been good to us and it's going to be that much more important that this upcoming offseason is," he said. "We've got some young players that are getting a lot of snaps and yet, this offseason is going to be critical to hit on the right type of guys that can help us, so we're not sitting in this position a year from now."
- Tampa Bay (8-6) has its most victories since 2010, when it finished 10-6. Payton said there's a pretty big reason why the Buccaneers have been successful this season, especially lately (wins in five of their last six games). "I think defensively, they're taking the ball. They're third in the NFL in takeaways (with 26). If you really took the season and cut it in half, the last eight weeks for them, since their Thursday night game (a 43-28 loss to Atlanta), they would be first in the league in turnovers. Defensively, they're getting pressure on the quarterback, they're in the top five on third down. Offensively, they've done a good job of the big plays. They're patient. I think the quarterback (Jameis Winston) obviously has a lot of confidence in (receiver Mike) Evans(84 catches for 1,159 yards and 10 touchdowns). But you're seeing these takeaways at an alarming rate."
- The Saints were shut out in terms of Pro Bowl representation, despite the fact that quarterback Drew Breesleads the league in touchdowns and passing yards, and defensive end Cam Jordanpossibly is having his best all-around season. Brees is an eight-time Pro Bowler, and Jordan twice has been a Pro Bowler. Payton pointed to the team's 6-8 record as the likely cause. "I just told the team, it's the first time I can think of (not having a player voted into the game) and yet, generally, it's a byproduct of having success."