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New Orleans Saints make anticipatory moves off field to ensure preparedness on field 

'It's kind of trying to think outside the box a little bit at each position'

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears matchup in the Wild Card round of the 2020 NFL playoffs.
Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears matchup in the Wild Card round of the 2020 NFL playoffs.

As much as possible, the New Orleans Saints are attempting to remove the element of surprise.

That explains the practice squad additions of kicker Blair Walsh and long snapper John Denney, seven- and 15-year NFL veterans, respectively, as New Orleans (13-4) prepares for Sunday's NFC Divisional round playoff game against Tampa Bay (12-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

New Orleans lost its entire running backs room entering the regular-season finale against Carolina: Alvin Kamara tested positive for Covid-19, and Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Michael Burton and running backs coach Joel Thomas were declared out due to contact tracing.

Ty Montgomery, who'd been practicing primarily at receiver for several weeks, moved back to running back and the Saints signed running back Tony Jones Jr.  off their practice squad for the Carolina game. Montgomery rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries in a 33-7 victory.

"I've got a punter in the building," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "I don't have another long snapper in the building. Now, I have another long snapper on game day, but another long snapper that I can access should something happen. And then, I don't have another kicker, but I have one now.

"So it's just kind of having, like, Where are we going if all the running backs have Covid or have close contacts? Well, fortunately Ty is over with the receivers and that's who we're going to use. So it's really just that. We have a punter in the building as a Plan B, and now we have a long snapper and a kicker."

New Orleans also has quarterback Trevor Siemian on the practice squad to guard against having its quarterbacks room diminished.

Walsh has made 154 of 187 field-goal attempts (82.4 percent) in his career. Denney played 14 seasons for Miami, was released by the Dolphins prior to the 2019 season and was out of football until now.

"These guys will be away (from the team) and we've got some flexibility as to how we bring them on and bring them off the roster," Payton said.

The key, Payton said, is having the flexibility to attempt to anticipate the unforeseen.

"The onboarding process doesn't match an injury or Covid process, and I don't really feel like trying to kick, or hold, or snap," he said. "And so, it allows us to add them in the building and then put them to practice squad and then shuffle the roster a little.

"And if something were to happen to one of our specialist positions, the answer is here. We've just got some flexibility now and I think that would be difficult if something were to happen. So it's kind of trying to think outside the box a little bit at each position."

THE CHAMELEON: You've heard about his battle rap prowess, seen him Griddy, watched him get slimed. Payton has shown the ability to adapt to the times when it comes to relating to his players, something he addressed Wednesday morning during his teleconference.

"I think, man, we're so much different now relative to coaching these players than we were in '06, '07, '08, in just how we present, how we teach," he said. "And I think there's an old adage: We adapt or we die. And I think that certainly falls on the teacher.

"How they learn (presently) is different than how they learned, and that's constantly changing. And so it's not just music, it's not just the visuals. The days of putting up a PowerPoint presentation, or just a simple chart on a screen – that's got to be done with a movie scene. I mean, we're still going to make the point and we have to be a little bit more creative in how we do it.

"And I think lastly and most importantly, we have to be ourselves, too. Like, we can't try to be someone we're not and one of the great parts of this job, for me and for us as coaches, is that we get to be around young athletes and young people in general. And I think that's pretty good."

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