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Payton Discusses First Day of Saints Rookie Mini Camp


Opening Statement:

Payton: "We just finished our first practice. Like always with this camp, with so many new players you're fighting through the conditioning level. These guys have a lot of work to do. We'll go again this afternoon, twice tomorrow and once on Sunday."

Which of these guys pass the eyeball test?

Payton:"All of these guys are eager to get out here and make an impression. There are a number of different groups out here. Obviously we have our draft picks, we have players that we signed after the draft as free agents and then we have a number of guys that are on a three-day tryout. We'll have a chance to look at the tape and begin to evaluate how these guys did."

Was there anyone that stood out and made you look at your roster to note it?

Payton: "I don't know that we did that today."

What do you like about the two draft picks from Wake Forest, Malcolm Jenkins/Chip Vaughn.aspx">Chip Vaughn and Stanley Arnoux?

Payton: "Both of those guys are pretty sharp mentally. They have been well-coached – I said after the draft that those two are guys that came from a program that has really turned the corner and early on we were able to say that they are able to pick things up pretty quickly."

You have three running backs under contract in camp here in Lynell Hamilton, Garrett Hartley/P,-d-,J,-d-, Hill.aspx">P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson. What intrigues you about the three of them?

Payton: "Here's the difference right now: Lynell is a guy that is currently in the building and is eligible for this camp. He's a guy that we've seen a little bit and have some exposure with. In regards to the other two, both of them are free agents that we signed after the draft. Both of them are guys that we had draftable grades on and both of them are guys that we had to compete with some other teams to secure their services. From that point on, we'll see. They are guys that were productive college runners and I think they're smart enough to look at our past and understand that it's an opportunity. Once they're here, we're really not concerned with how they got here. We'll see."

Did it surprise you that Donaldson and Hill both went undrafted?

Payton: "You never can tell and you never really get surprised anymore. You may have a draftable grade and maybe the other teams in the league don't, but the one thing that we do know is that every year there are good football players that don't get drafted and on the other side of that, there are players that get drafted that are going to struggle. You hope to right."

Is defense the focus in this offseason?Payton:"Certainly as we pay attention in the offseason to ways to improve the team, that's one are that we've tried to focus on. There are a number of little things that we're trying to improve on. At this camp, really as much as anything it's bringing this whole group up to speed quickly because they're behind. They're behind five weeks in regards to the lifting and running; they're behind from a system standpoint and knowledge of what we're doing. This is all new to them so today is the day when you see the ball on the ground with the quarterback-center exchange and you see all the mental mistakes that take place in this camp and as a coach it forces you to go back to ground zero with these guys."

What you hope to get out of Malcolm Jenkins?

Payton: "He's a sharp kid. He's a senior and he's going to finish his degree this spring. He is at Ohio State and they're on a quarters system so we're trying to give him as much as possible because we're not going to have him for the next minicamp we have. That being said, I think he's a pretty mature kid who learns quickly and I think that will help him."

Can he make an immediate impact?

Payton: "We'll see. We draft these players and we're hoping that they all can contribute but we'll see."

Is there a certain criteria you have for picking up quality offensive linemen in late rounds and free agency?

Payton: "I think you want to look at some of the pertinent measurables that give a player a chance. If a player is going to be a developmental lineman, the couple of things that we feel like he's going to have to be able to do are work hard in the weight room and be smart. What I mean by that is if a player is smart enough to see that it might be two years away, he has to be able to recognize that. Some guys can grasp that and some guys can't. In regards to these young linemen, do they have the mental wherewithal to pick up everything and are they willing to work are the things – along with the physical measurables."

Is it easier to find a lineman late as opposed to finding a skill position player at those stages?

Payton: "History probably would tell us that they come at all positions."

What did you think after seeing punter Thomas Morstead kick a few balls?

Payton: "Pretty good. Part of the drill was really for the returners so really for him it's just finding his rhythm but you can see that he has a live leg. We're excited about the prospect and when we drafted him we felt the same way. He was a guy that we spent a lot of time researching so we'll see. When the timing goes on and all of a sudden he starts getting a live rush, those are all things that can make his job more difficult. But I thought he did pretty well today."

What can you get from you evaluation of Malcolm here in this setting as opposed to when he will go up against some of your top-line receivers?

Payton: "I think you start with the familiarity of the scheme and how quickly he picks things up from a technique standpoint, his alignment, his ability to diagnose. With just helmets on, there's an aspect that you can't evaluate. You have to first spend as much time as possible making sure that these guys know what to do. I think in his case you can begin to see the quickness, the ability to pick up the scheme and an understanding of what exactly we're asking for on defense."

Knowing that most of these guys won't be back with you for OTAs and the full-team camp, how do you go about teaching these 65 guys?

Payton: "The main thing is that when you look at it, it provides us with a two-deep. One of the reasons that number is what we've shot for is that we're not really bogged down if we lose a player. That being said, we go about it with maybe a little bit slower install but nonetheless still the same we would with our team out here."

So they're learning Saints stuff?

Payton: "No question. They're not learning it all, but they're learning our offense and defense. It's not just a rookie camp plan. It's certainly reduced to some degree but nonetheless, they're learning as best they can what we do."

Do you try to give individual work to your draft picks and the guys that you have a little bit more invested in?

Payton: "I don't know that that's the case. Once they're out here, we feel like we're going to give as much to all of them."

What did you see from quarterback Patrick Cowan? How did you decide to sign him?

Payton: "He's a guy that has arm strength. He was injured this past year but he's a guy that you can see has size and the measurables that you're looking for. It really started with that. We felt like if he wasn't drafted he was going to be a guy that we were going to have interest in. Because of his knee injury and his lack of production his senior year, maybe there wasn't a lot of evidence but we wanted to give him an opportunity."

Is he a guy that could be a fourth quarterback throughout training camp?

Payton: "When you bring a guy like that in, you're vision is that you're always trying to see if he has a chance. Does he have a chance to come in and compete for a position? For him he's competing to make the team as a third, that would be his vision. Right now, he's the guy that we signed as a free agent and the other two guys that are here are trying out."

Do have a number on how many running backs you'd like to carry on the roster this year?

Payton: "It could vary. Part of it does rely on special teams and part of it factors in in regards to how we are at linebacker or tight end. The one thing we try to emphasize with these guys is that it's common for them to start looking at the numbers for their position group, and the fact of the matter is that the fourth runner is competing with the fourth tight end who's competing with the seventh linebacker. Those guys are competing in regards to snap value – can they bring value to the team? Along with that – and you guys have heard me say that before – they're competing with the fourth running back on other rosters that may be released or the seventh linebacker on other rosters that may be released. We try to really emphasize to these guys not to have tunnel vision on trying to sort through what they think may or may not be happening because it's hard for them to understand that. But the number can vary. We've had three; we've had four; we've had a practice squad runner. It's hard to get more than three up for a game when you start looking at your active game day, but it will depend on the players."

How does it work when you're competing to get some of these free agents? Is it almost like recruiting?

Payton: "It is. But it's like you have two hours where with recruiting there's a time frame that exists for months where you can build up a relationship with a player and a coach and a family member. But when the draft ends, you're really selling on the phone for two hours. Hopefully you've been able to make contact with a scout, maybe a prior phone call to build a relationship so when that time comes there is some familiarity with a scout or coach to bring the player to the forefront. I think all the teams are faced with it. It's a very similar process throughout the league. Once the draft is winding down, you're looking at your board and getting on the phone and trying to make sure that you're answering all of their questions. The challenge is that the agent and the player are getting calls from five or six different teams and the challenge is making sure that that's organized."

Is money generally an issue with that?

Payton: "Money can be. Some team might decide to pay a player $15,000 as a bonus as opposed to $5,000 and that might sway a player. The one thing I do think, though – and the agents have done a good job with this – is that they have studied closely the depth charts and tried to find the best place for their client. The additional five, six or seven thousand dollars really is not going to offset the opportunity to make a roster. You've heard me talk about our experience in Dallas with Tony Romo, after the draft as a free agent when he had eight or nine teams calling and he took less money to come to Dallas. I think the decision was good on his part because he looked closely at the depth chart and felt like that was a place where he had a chance to make the team. That should be their number one focus but sometimes money does become a factor."

Is that perhaps what happened with guys like Garrett Hartley/P,-d-,J,-d-, Hill.aspx">P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson?

Payton: "We hope so. You could argue that with Pierre Thomas, when he signed we had just drafted a back and Deuce was here and Reggie was here, we had a contact with him and he came anyway. You're basically selling for a couple of hours. You're on the phone trying to convince a player why this is the best place for him."

Do you sense that with Deuce not being here that might have helped you get these running backs in?

Payton: "I think what happened after the draft with the runners, a lot had been made about us potentially taking a running back in the draft, and then when we didn't take one and we only had four picks, the players that were waiting at the end of the draft could say that we only had four picks and didn't draft a runner and this could be a good place. Sometimes the challenge in signing a free agent is when you're signing one at a position you've already drafted, a lot of times the agent and player might back off. But that came up this year, we drafted Stanley Arnoux and were still able to sign the linebacker out of Wisconsin, Jonathan Casillas. All those things factor into it. The depth chart – the agents and players all have in front of them every team's depth chart and they're well educated."

Is Casillas injured?

Payton: "Yes. He's not going to be able to participate in this camp. We think we'll have him in the minicamp. He's having an MRI done this afternoon on his knee. Coming in, he was a guy that wasn't able to work out at the Combine, wasn't able to work out until a week before the draft. His hamstring wasn't 100%. We'll wait and see what the MRI says and we'll go from there."

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