Following the first practice of the week in preparation for Thursday's NFL kickoff matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, both Head Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees met with the media to discuss their thoughts on the upcoming matchup. Below is the transcript of the press conferences:
Head Coach Sean Payton
"A quick note with our practice squad and this will kind of be a work in progress with the schedule being short this week: Brandon Carter worked at offensive guard, Sean Canfield at quarterback, Harry Coleman at linebacker, Matt Clapp at fullback, Montez Billings at receiver, DeMario Pressley defensive tackle, Reggie Jones at corner and Dustin Mitchell at tight end. These guys worked today with us on the practice squad. Today's schedule was much like a Wednesday, which is a base installation on first and second down."
Do you have an injury report as today is like a Wednesday?
"Fortunately for us we don't have to report any injuries today. As soon as we have to, we'll report them."
What new dimensions does Malcolm Jenkins bring to the free safety position?
"Number one, he has good athleticism. We feel like he has a real good football I.Q. He has good awareness. You see his range, he's a good tackler and he has good ball skills. Those would certainly be the things that we've seen in him after one year."
Does this game matter more than a normal opener, given what went on last year?
"I think there's added attention when you kick off the season with a game like this that's featured as a national TV game. You have two teams that a year ago played real well and played in a hard-fought game in the NFC Championship Game. I think the league does a good job of putting a matchup together such as this to start their season. That being said, it counts as one game. The first game of the season gives you an idea of where you're at in week one and certainly there's a lot of football after this game and yet this game is the only one we can play right now."
Had the game in January gone the other way, would you expect your team to be coming at this game with a little more oomph or more seriously?
"You would be implying that we're not looking at it with seriousness or vigor or oomph. I think it is what it is. We're looking forward to playing and getting the season started. The hypotheticals are tougher to deal with."
What happened with Jonathan Casillas' injury and what direction do you plan on going in now that he's on injured reserve?
"We'll see. It's a foot. It ended up being a Lisfranc and he probably within a week will have surgery on it. He's on injured reserve as you mentioned. We'll see what we do from there."
Does the way you play your outside linebackers help you in this situation?
"They're trained to play both 'Sam' and 'Will' and we have to be flexible enough to get our best group on the field and be in the personnel grouping that we want, based on what the offense is doing and sometimes based on what we want to do."
How did you come to the decision to place Darren Sharper on PUP? Is there a chance he might be ready before six weeks and did that weigh into the decision?
"You go through it all. You're really trying to gather all the information and see where the progress is at. Those are always tough decisions. Both with him and Clint (Ingram), we felt that with where they're at now that was going to give us the best option and certainly there's a lot of football after six weeks – more than half of the season is left. But we obviously spent a lot of time on that decision."
Does the way that Jenkins has taken to the safety position make it a little easier?
"No. We strictly look at the player that's injured and try to really look at when he's going to be close to or at 100%."
Did Sharper come close to getting back on the field?
"No. He's made progress, but if he had come close we probably wouldn't have put him on PUP."
Are you looking around to see if there might be a linebacker elsewhere who could come in?
"We'll study – not just the linebacker position – but we'll study the cut lists and the players that are available."
Is there a possibility of Junior Galette getting in the linebacker rotation?
"That's a lot to ask for a guy that's playing defensive end. Certainly he has flexibility and we'd like to see him take some snaps, but I think early in this season that would be hard. The one thing we saw from him, though, was pass rush ability and we saw him be disruptive in special teams. Those would be the things that we'd look more towards than jumping right into the linebacker rotation, not having ever played linebacker."
When you're playing against a guy like Brett Favre who has been in the league and seen everything and you don't have a guy like Sharper with his experience on the field and have Jenkins instead, what are you losing without Sharper and what are you gaining by having a young guy out there?
"When you lose experience there are certain things in regards to instincts and that's the key. The turnaround for Malcolm and what he's gone through in this preseason has been getting the snaps and he's gotten a lot of them; he has gotten a lot of work. They are two different players age-wise and certainly where they're at in their careers but I think Malcolm is a quick study and he's smart. He's going to look at a lot of the tape and he's going to spend time with Sharper. It's a close-knit group and they're going to look closely at this offense; it's different than a year ago, just as we're different. Both teams are different when you look at the rosters. You have to be ready for some things you haven't seen and that's pretty typical in week one."
In Galette's case, did it come down to him and Bobby McCray for that roster spot?
"No, it did not."
What does Junior give you that Bobby may not?
"In Junior's case, it was those snaps that we feel like he's going to be able to provide at some point in the kicking game. But it wouldn't be fair to compare him to Bobby, so I don't want to do that. He showed promise in the kicking game and flexibility so we'll see where we line him up and see how versatile he is. We saw some of the explosion; we saw some of the disruptiveness. Not just last week but throughout. We'll look closely at what he brings and what we feel like he can bring to our defense."
When do you have to announce an injury report?
"Tomorrow will be the first time and we'll announce just the status. That's typically what we'll do throughout the year."
Were you close at all to keeping three quarterbacks? I know you had said sometimes that comes down to roster numbers and other positions.
"Both of those guys competed real well but they're uniquely different, Chase (Daniel) and Patrick (Ramsey). They got a lot of work and a lot of reps. I think Patrick picked things up very quickly, being that he just got here for training camp. Chase certainly made progress from last year on the practice squad and ultimately it just came down and that decision wasn't as much two or three but it was who do we want to have back up Drew (Brees) and that's the decision we went with. But both of those guys got a lot of valuable snaps and I thought that both of them played pretty well in the preseason."
How tough was it to cut a draft pick in Al Woods
"You're hopeful for all your draft picks. I think the mistake is maybe hanging on to them or not recognizing some of the deficiencies and all of a sudden you go two or three years into that. He did some things on a positive note that were encouraging and yet ultimately we didn't feel confident enough with where he was at right now and we went a different direction. We've tried to hold true and really evaluate the players once they get here and he was an example of that."
Was he a consideration for the practice squad?
"I don't want to speculate in regards to whether he was a consideration. He's someone that certainly has size and I believe he signed with someone else's practice squad today."
Who will you list as your backup nose tackle if someone else had to play there besides Remi Ayodele?
"I think it would be no different than a year ago if you recall when we had the injury. We have flexibility in that Sedrick (Ellis) can kick inside and (Anthony) Hargrove can kick to a three-technique. It's similar to what we did the last third of the season after we went through losing Kendrick Clancy. When we lost Kendrick, typically we took seven defensive linemen to the game and we have enough versatility within the packages that that's what we'll do to start here and we'll keep looking."
Can Jimmy Wilkerson play inside as well?
"He certainly can factor into the tackle position too. That would be accurate."
Who are some of the guys who made the roster because of their ability to contribute on special teams?
"Galette was one that we're talking about. I think the decision with (DeShawn) Wynn was predicated on special teams. Certainly when you look at a couple of the safety spots and what (Chris) Reis and (Pierson) Prioleau and some of those guys provide. At linebacker, K.C. Asiodu is a guy that we felt like has special teams skills. Courtney Roby certainly as a receiver can play special teams. Those are a few."
Is Pierson going to be the new captain on special teams?
Despite giving up a long kickoff return on Thursday night, are you a little bit more encouraged than in the last couple of weeks on special teams?
"What we get to do now is to try to get our best personnel on the field and it shifts from the preseason, where you're trying to evaluate a bunch of different players and the rotation changes by quarter. Now we get a chance to really measure where we're at with our first wave. It's the first time – when you start the season – that you're really putting your first group out there. In the preseason, you're split and segmented and you're looking at a lot of players. I think we'll be ready to go. We had a good practice today in regards to our coverage units and we'll have a good plan."
What effects do you see in the changes from the rosters from last season for both teams?
"You just look at the team and the starting lineups that won't be on the field that were a year ago, just like there will be for us. I think that's pretty common in our game now. As you look through the flip card and you look through the lineups, Darren Sharper, Mike Bell – there are players that played last year, more than half a dozen, that won't even be in the active dress list. But I don't think that's unusual."
When you gameplan, given that it's week one, how much do you go on what the Vikings were like last year?
"I think you have to study closely the systems and you have to study closely the personnel. And then within your own scheme, you're going to get wrinkles thrown at you and it typically becomes a little bit more of a transition in week one. As the season progresses, you're better able to hone in on certain personnel but in those early weeks you're really working off of postseason last year and some preseason from this year and really the bulk of the '09 season."
Do you think the chemistry will be a bit of a challenge for the defense at first because of the three new starters?
"These guys have had a lot of work and the defensive staff will spend a lot of time this week making sure that the 11 guys that are out there understand the package and the defense called. The key – especially in a game like this that will be an emotional game as week one typically is – is minimizing the things that keep you from winning. Doing a good job of protecting the football, defensively continuing to work on taking the ball away, lowering the penalties on both sides of the ball – those are the key things. The blocking, the tackling, the fundamentals of the game; clearly there is some transition when you insert players like you're alluding to into the lineup."
Because of Favre's age and uncertain ankle injury status is there even more of an emphasis on hits on the quarterback?
"Every week there's an emphasis on putting pressure on the quarterback. So to think that there is more of an emphasis any one week would be false. Generally if a quarterback has time to throw, especially a guy as talented as Brett is, it becomes hard because he's very accurate, he has a strong arm and a great release and he's very confident. The same thing applies with Drew Brees. If you give some of these top-flight quarterbacks too much time, it becomes hard to cover."
Do you expect Favre to have some timing issues because he hasn't been in training camp and out on the field that much?
"He's been able to do this for a while now. When you look at a guy with his experience, I think it's different. It's not the norm; it's the exception to the rule and he has proven that and played at a great level. Case in point, last year. It was very similar."
QB Drew Brees
I'm sure you get pretty pumped up for any game, but do you get more jacked up for a matchup against an upper echelon quarterback like Brett Favre?
"Yes and the fact it's the first game of the year. Obviously there's a lot of reason to be excited. I feel good about our team and where we are at and just excited to get on the field and start playing for real."
Have you thought about how emotional things might be with the pregame ceremonies before you kick this thing off?
"Yes. We were part of this game in 2007 up in Indianapolis after they had won it. Unfortunately that wasn't a great moment because we were on the other side. Hopefully the home team being us, plays like the home team did that night, but I guess I haven't thought a whole lot about it. You're so much in preparation mode for this team and who you're going up against as opposed to thinking about the emotions of when the banner drops, the crowd and everything else, but certainly that's something to start thinking about so I'm somewhat prepared for it, so that I stay calm once we move on from that."
Do you think that can be an advantage?
"Yes. We'll find a way. I think it could definitely be our advantage, just watching the sheer emotion of watching that banner drop and knowing we were a part of it and that it will hang forever and we will all be linked together forever because of it. Anything that gives you extra emotion and hype, it's what it symbolizes."
How do you make the transition from playing portions of games in the preseason to playing a full game?
"I'd say practice is the best thing that prepares you to play the game, getting the reps in practice. Throughout training camp, the ones get half the reps, the twos get half the reps and the threes get in there and get some reps. Once you get into the preseason games, those somewhat emulate the practice reps as well. Once you get into the regular season, the ones are getting all the reps. Once you get into the game and the ones get all the reps. So, I guess as the practice schedule changes, your mindset changes. You know the regular season has arrived and obviously we're going to be playing four quarters, sometimes a little bit more than four quarters to get the job done. There are just certain little triggers and so obviously looking at today's practice the number of periods we had, the numbers of reps the ones are getting. You almost feel like you played a game today. Tomorrow you feel like you played a game too. It's the number of reps, whether it's walk through reps, live reps, or thinking and putting yourself in the moment of the game."
There was a lot of chirping in the offseason about how it was perceived the Saints defense went after Brett Favre. Has it ever crossed your mind that they want to get back at you guys and go after you more?
"If you play defense in this league, you love to take a shot at the quarterback, a legal clean shot, albeit, you hit him as hard as you can. I would expect nothing less from those guys when they try to get a legal, clean shot on me to hit me and hit me hard. It's just like when Kyle Orton went and tried to tackle James Harrison a couple weeks ago. That guy, he's fair game. Whenever the quarterback becomes fair game, he's fair game. I don't think our guys were trying to do that in a dirty way at all when we played them. We did hit Favre and he kept getting back up and slinging it, to his credit. I don't feel like there's anything malicious, rather than our guys are playing hard, playing to the whistle, taking clean fair shots, but definitely trying to hit him hard."
Do you think your offensive line is prepared for that mentality on your side?
"Definitely, they're ready. I think we have a reputation as a team that we mix it up; we get the ball out quickly. We take our shots. We've been pretty good in regards to protecting the quarterback, trying to get it out and to avoid sacks and all those things. They're used to getting sacks and they're used to hitting the quarterbacks and all those things. Obviously I know they're going to be coming after me and that's fine."
Have you gotten used to the new position of the umpire and when you do two minute drill in practice do you practice the umpire's new positioning?
"No. The adjustment was getting into preseason games. When we played the Chargers, trying to practice the hurry-up plays and getting called for a couple of them just because now he has to be further away from the ball. It takes more time. Think about everything the quarterback position has to do from breaking the huddle to getting up to where the ball or even if you're doing a hurry-up offensive play. You're trying to communicate the play. You're trying to make sure that this receiver's on the ball. This one's off. Look at the ball. Look at the defense. Any movement in the defense might cause you to change the play or something. You have a lot of things to think about already. It's something that obviously we have to make the adjustment.
What's your view of becoming a mentor for the first time in that you don't have a veteran like a Doug Flutie, Jamie Martin or Mark Brunell on the roster?
"Yes (role change), now that I think about it. I had Flutie all those years in San Diego, except that last year in '05. Philip (Rivers) and I were competing but we had good dynamics in the room. When I came here, I had Jamie Martin for two years and MarK Brunell for two years, some guess that were older than me and had been in this league longer than me. Now I have Chase Daniel. I guess for me, I like having those young guys around, for their passion for the game. Chase is one of those guys who's going to work as hard as he can. He wants to learn. He's like a sponge. He asks a lot of questions and those are opportunities for me to tell him the way I see it or I learned it. It kind of re-emphasized those things for me and that's a good thing. There's certain questions he'll ask and I'll think that's a good question. I'll always look at it like this but now maybe I can see a different viewpoint. It's caused me to re-evaluate or fine-tune a little bit, which I like."
Do you plan out your post-practice work with perimeter players or is it a reaction to something you see in practice?
"Even if we completed every ball in practice and every route was run perfectly we'd still go and get extra work afterwards. There's really no time limit on it other than that I only want to walk off the field when I feel good about the day's work. If there are things still left to be done, whether it wasn't as crisp as we wanted it, whether it was my drop, or just the timing of the route, the way I threw it in practice or whatever, because what you need to have happen is when you get in the game it needs to be second nature and it has to just be a reaction as opposed to thinking about your footwork, arm angle or any of that stuff. You just have to see, feel, trust react. That what you gain after getting in all that extra work afterwards.