The New Orleans Saints began organized team activities on Tuesday. At the Saints Hall of Fame Golf tournament on Monday, Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton talked about the work ahead:
On starting Organized Team Activities this week:
"In the last five weeks, I think we had a really good turnout, we are at 100 percent (participation) right now with the offseason program. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we start with the OTAs (Organized Team Activities), it's good to see these guys and last week we had the rookies in. That's kind of a crash course for those guys to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. But everyone is here so we are looking forward to getting started. Tomorrow is the first time we are really kind of doing some football team activities and I think guys are excited about that. The weight room and the conditioning element have gone very well."
On what's it like to be back:
"It's obviously exciting, it's good to be back around the coaches and the players, and there are a lot of new faces. But I think now, it's been a number of months, so you kind of get into a routine. Certainly I'm anxious to have a chance to see some of these guys on the field that I haven't seen."
On Will Smith playing at linebacker:
"One of the challenges with the transitions right now is trying to make sure we put the players that were on the roster a year ago in the right spots, but there is where we will start him at and you know how much those guys (outside linebackers in a 3-4) rush, so we can play him strong and weak, and we can play him right and left. But I think initially that right outside position would be very similar to what he has played for us in the past."
On players switching positions:
"I just think there is going to some flexibility when it comes to a transition. There is going to be a handful of players that as we begin the process we look closely at and then all of a sudden decide, hey, are we better off putting him at another position? There will be a few players that will dual-learn, they will learn more than one spot."
On the possibility on Jonathan Vilma switching positions:
"Well, I think it's a little easier for Jon, that inside linebacker position, there are two of them and certainly we see him as one of those guys."
On Akiem Hicks:
"He's got position flexibility and is a guy that probably would be more prone to being one of those guys that I just talked about, could be end or could be nose. He certainly is someone that I am anxious to see on the field."
On Drew Brees saying workouts have been intense so far:
"There is always a sense of urgency. It's competitive to begin with in our industry and I think the players understand that, certainly (just as) we do as coaches. In each offseason you are trying to gain an advantage, improve and get ready for the upcoming year. So, I am sure the players, just as well as the coaches, myself, (are) disappointed with the past season. That's kind of behind us and guys are anxious and yet understanding it's going to be pretty competitive coming into this training camp."
On Organized Team Activities starting this week:
"It will be good to see the guys out there doing football activities on the field. We have been in this offseason program now for five weeks and we have had our rookie camps. We have had some of it, but it will be good to see the full squad out there and get going on 2013."
On having 100 percent participation in the team workouts:
"I think that means that we have a focused group. Guys that feel like last year wasn't indicative to the type of team we have and I think it speaks well to the new players that we have, not only the rookies, but some of the guys that we have brought in this offseason. I know we are all looking forward to it."
On having all the team's draft picks signed so early:
"It's unheard of, actually before camp isn't unheard of, but obviously this early and that's a credit to Khai Harley on our staff, and our players and (the) agents of the guys that we drafted. There's no reason for it to be an item that lingers very long, but we are glad to have that behind us and we can just focus on our team getting better and getting ready to play this season."
On the rookie pay scale helping teams sign rookies early:
"Yes, the rookie pool (and) that way the rookie contracts are handled now is a reason for the speed of these signings."
On the time it took to sign draft picks compared to last year:
"That was my decision more than anything else. I felt like we wanted to wait until later for a variety of reasons and I don't really want to lay them out here, but I wanted to see how it went signing them early this year, to see if that made a difference. Look, there is no award for signing guys early, we had all of our guys in camp early last year too, so I don't think signing them early makes a difference in terms of getting them in camp. We will get them in camp under this system. But whether or not there is an advantage of signing them in May as opposed to July, I don't know if there is, I don't think there is actually."
On having three different defensive coordinators in three years:
"Well I think that is a challenge for our players. Look they have to learn something new each year now for the second year in a row, but that also gives them an opportunity to be focused. It gives everyone a level playing field in terms of winning a starting position, so I think that can be good in terms of competition. But, obviously you would prefer to have the same system in place and have a base that you are starting from."
On if there is a position group he is looking forward to watching during OTAs:
"No, nothing in particular. I would say there are position groups that, you are limited in what you can do physically so it's hard to (evaluate). We certainly shouldn't be making a lot of evaluations right now. Our coaches are teaching and we are preparing physically in terms of strength and conditioning. It's a lot less about evaluation right now as preparation."
On if he thinks there are more position battles this year than normal:
"Well, I don't know that I would say that, I think every year there are position battles and there are guys that come in and win starting jobs, and not just rookies, but players that are (in their) second and third years that are more prepared and ready to be significant contributors. We have some players that we drafted last year, Nick Toon, Marcel Jones, and Andrew Tiller, guys that have a year under their belt and are ready to compete. We have Mark Ingram who wants to (make) a bigger contribution, so we have a lot of players (like) that. Joe Morgan is another guy that has had some success in the past and is ready to put another step forward, and so I think every year there is competition and there are guys that surprise everyone, surprise themselves a little bit. I think it's more of the same."
On Will Smith:
"He is going to start out at outside linebacker. Look, Will Smith is a really good football player and we will find a place for Will to be playing, but I think ideally he would be outside linebacker. I think that is where we see him and that's where he will start out in this camp. Look, I expect the same things we have gotten out of Will in the past, which is really a high level of play."
On getting a good early look at the team's five draft picks:
"What you find out is are they serious about it, are they workers, can they learn, are they as athletic as you viewed them and I think in every case it was yes, yes, yes, and maybe even a little more so for a couple of guys. But, one thing about the rookie camp was that I felt like it was the best group of free agents and tryout guys we've had in the past six or seven years, so that was very pleasing. I think what happens with part of that is that you have a better quality rookie camp, the quarterbacks as a group are the best we've had in this rookie camp and when the quarterbacks are of higher quality, obviously the play on the field reflects that and I thought that did that."