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Payton: "Ready To Roll"


Opening Statement:

"We met with our players this morning and just recently finished up the conditioning test on the lower field. The only items of business to report that would affect players reporting are that we placed Josh Bullocks and Mike McKenzie on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform), which is a day-to-day thing. Josh is probably a couple of days away from being full-go and ready to practice, so we started him on PUP. Mike is the same way, maybe a few more practices away than Josh, but we'll take it day-by-day and as soon as they are able to get out on the field, they'll be ready. They're close right now and it's probably a little bit of a conservative approach, but nonetheless, that's where they start. Eric Johnson is in a similar situation, only he's considered on the Non-Football Injury list. The injury he sustained in February was non-football related. It's much like PUP in that as he rehabs and gets closer to being able to participate, he'll work back into it. Jerametrius Butler did not report to training camp, so our number really is 79 as we sit here right now. Those are the four things that I had of note.

"Again in Josh and Mike's case, they're probably a little further along than Eric is now. I would anticipate Josh being ready in the next day or so and Mike in the next three or four days. We'll see what the timeframe is. Their progress has been good and there haven't been any setbacks. In Eric's case, it's been a little slower and we'll take that day-by-day and keep you guys posted as best I can.

"As far as the weigh-ins and the conditioning test, I was very pleased. Every player made his weight except for one and I don't want to get into the specifics, but it wasn't a lineman. That's a first for me and equally as exciting is that they ran well. The weather cooled off a little bit and they handled it well. The conditioning test went well and here we are."

Do you have any news on a contract extension for Marques Colston?

"Mickey (Loomis) is going to be up here after me and what I would tell you is that he and Marques and Marques' agent right now are finalizing some things, so I would probably be about 15 minutes premature if I said anything. I think Mickey will be able to shed more light on it and I would also say that it looks positive and that's good news."

Are Sedrick Ellis and Tracy Porter the only rookies not in camp?

"Those are the only two. It's been kind of slow at the top of the first and second rounds and that makes it a little bit more challenging because you're trying to get these players in camp on time. Those are the only two players, aside from Butler, that are not here."

What advantage do you feel like you get from coming to Jackson as opposed to training at home?

"We're here for three weeks this year and it's a little bit shorter than our first year here. If you remember in '06, we weren't ready to play the preseason games in the Superdome so we were a little bit longer here and played our preseason games in Shreveport and right here in Jackson. There's an environment for a period time – whether it's three, four, of five weeks – where you have the keys to your dorm, the walkway to and from the meetings and meals and practice facility and you're able to eliminate some distraction. I've always liked training camp being somewhere away, whether it was two hours away or 15 hours away, once you get away you seem to eliminate some distractions and I think that's one of the benefits. There are also challenges when you do that in regards to facilities and fields and the logistics of moving equipment. You take all that into account and you try to put your organization in the best position. Mainly eliminating distractions and getting into an environment where it's really all football and rest and is the benefit."

You have a history with Jeremy Shockey. Did some of his previous behavior give you pause when it came to acquiring him?

"I can only go by what I know and I had the chance to work with Jeremy in his rookie season. I think he's extremely competitive and is a player that wears his emotions on his sleeve. When you talk to his teammates and guys that have worked with him and coaches that have worked with him, the opinion is fairly unanimous in that he has been a real good teammate. He's been a guy that has been well-liked in the locker room; he's been a guy that is coachable and wants to win and has been a part of winning teams. From my experience in the time that I've spent with him and from the people that have worked with him that I know real well, that facet of his game has been real good. I think he's someone that is excited to play football. He brings some excitement and brings some emotion to the game. It is a game played with emotion, so we welcome that and look forward to it. We're excited to see what he's able to do. I think he's close to being 100% healthy. I wouldn't say he's 100% right now, but he passed his physical and everything looked clean our medical check-up and it's just a matter of transitioning him back to football playing shape and playing speed."

What is the status of Eric Johnson?

"He's on the Non-Football Injury list. It's very similar to PUP. We just have to rehab him and get him ready. Much like the other two players, when he's able to practice we'll remove him from that list."

Does he count against the roster right now?

"All three of them do. By placing a player on PUP, it's not like you gain a spot. Right now, the players are on PUP, but in two days I could be telling you that we moved Josh Bullocks back over and he's practicing, but that's where they're at right now."

Do you have a timetable on Eric Johnson?

"I think I'll know more once we get out there and he starts running around on the field. The last couple of weeks, he's tried to back off and rest it some with a boot, but we'll see. Talking with him today, he has felt a little bit better this week, but I'll keep you posted on his condition."

Are you ready to let Jonathan Vilma go at 100%?

"I think he's at that point where there's no governor at this point. We just have to be smart with the reps on some of these guys. Guys like Vilma or Brian Young or Aaron Stecker – there are a few of these guys that have some nicks that we just have to be mindful of, but that being said, he's listed as full-go."

How did Deuce McAllister look today?

"Deuce looked good. His weight is down and that's very encouraging. He looks as trim as he has in a while. I was encouraged by the way he came in in good shape; I think he weighed 227 pounds, and for him that's real good."

Did he run today?

"No, there are about five or six guys that I didn't run and with him I didn't do it. But he'll be ready to go. We'll be smart with how we practice him, much like we did two years ago. You might see him just in the morning practices building his way up to two practices a day, but he looks to be in pretty good shape."

Will Jeremy Shockey be full-go in practice?

"He'll be limited, and what that means is that you'll see him out there practicing but we just have to be careful as far as what we're doing here in this first week, probably not unlike Deuce. He'll have pads on and practicing; he's not going to be wearing a hat and sitting and watching. We just have to be smart about what drills and understanding where he's at in his rehab. He's very close. What I don't want with a player that's had a broken bone now all of a sudden having a hamstring injury coming up because he hasn't been through the minicamps and the OTAs; it's just a matter of bringing him up to speed. From an injury report standpoint, he's listed as limited and soon will be full-speed."

How much does a potential holdout with Tracy Porter and Sedrick Ellis make a difference for a cornerback or a defensive tackle in missing time?

"I'd like them both here as fast as possible. Often I think it might depend on the player and I think both of them fortunately tend to pick things up fairly quickly, which is a good thing. It's hard for rookies to miss time, period. It happens, it's part of the business, and you move forward. But it's difficult because they're competing against guys that already had 25 or 30 more opportunities in the offseason program before they got drafted. They're already behind the eight-ball and when it comes to their rookie season, it's more challenging. Hopefully they'll be in sooner than later."

Did the team's persistence in pursuing Shockey stem from the fact that the deal made so much sense?

"You never know if something for sure is going to happen. We had an interest prior to the draft and you kind of think that something might happen and then all of a sudden after the first day of the draft it didn't happen and there's some disappointment and you move on. You never get married or fall in love with a certain trade, you just push forward. Fortunately for both sides – the Giants and the Saints – we had a chance to visit with them on Monday and there was some progress made. When it comes to the organization, New York is a place that I'm very familiar with having worked there for four years and I have real good relationships with ownership, coaches and players back there. I don't know if that helped, but I think the process that both teams went through was fairly clean. You didn't read a lot of unnamed sources, it was professional and when it came down to it at the very end, we were able to make the trade. Hopefully it benefits both sides."

Have you gotten Drew Brees' reaction to the trade?

"I think he was excited. The players in our league have a fair amount of respect for their peers and have an appreciation for the guys that play well and compete, and I think that Jeremy is one of those players. All of us that are a part of it – be it in management or coaching or playing – when something like this happens, you get a lot of feedback and I know that when I spoke to Drew right after the trade was done, he was extremely excited. And I think if you're a player on this team, or if you're a member of this organization, you're always encouraged if you feel as if you've helped yourself get better. We're trying to as best we can find the best 53 players for this team in 2008 to help us win a championship. There's always that level of excitement when you feel like you've been able to take one of those steps. I think not only for Drew Brees, but really for any of our players, including the other tight ends on the roster and certainly there's more competition at position when you add a player of Jeremy's stature, I think you understand that the team has improved itself and that's the number one thing."

Do you think that 80 players is enough carry for a successful training camp?

"80 is the number. I don't know that I would say that the number needs to be more. The number is 80 and I'm comfortable with that. That being said, we have to be mindful that it's 80 and practice accordingly and understand that if you're playing four preseason games, the challenge then really lies in staying healthy and making sure that you're not sitting in the second week of practice with 14 guys on bicycles and not really able to accomplish what you need to get accomplished at the start of the preseason. There's a balance there. Starting at 80 is fine. Working our way through these preseason games is the challenge and making sure that proper evaluation takes place with these players. So our number one focus as coaches right now aside from the installation and the teaching process is making sure that we're able to evaluate the right guys for this team. Those are always tough decisions and you hope to have as much information as you can on these players. I think 80 is fine. We've operated with a little bit more, but we just have to be smart as we operate with 80."

How do you see Shockey fitting in to your offense?

"He's a guy that gives you flexibility and versatility. He blocks well in the running game and he can run and catch the ball down the field. When you get a player that's not one-dimensional, you then have the threat of both the run and the pass when he's in there. Much has been said about his receiving skills, but when we watched and studied his film from last year with the Giants' offense, he did an outstanding job of blocking. He has versatility, he's a big target and he has strong hands, he's fairly physical and he brings an emotional part to his game that I think is healthy. He'll give us a lot of things to do and we'll just make sure that we do what suits the player, and that's the approach we have taken with the rest of the guys on the offense as we put in game plans. He's a guy that has balance in what he does."

Do you see yourself using more two-tight end sets with Shockey in the offense?

"You're looking at combinations of either tight end/fullback or two tight ends and maybe one halfback. It would be hard to say right now that we're going to look to be more two-tight end oriented. We think we have some pretty good fullbacks starting with Mike Karney, but what you hope to have is some balance within a personnel grouping where it's not just run and it's not just pass. When you find a player that can do one thing extremely well and the other pretty well, then you have that. It's more challenging when the player can only do one and he can't do the other."

With all the linemen making weight, does that speak well for Hollis Thomas' offseason conditioning?

"That would be accurate. He came in on weight. He looked good. You guys will see him tomorrow. Like I said, all the offensive and defensive linemen made their weight and that's a first for me in 11 years of training camps. That just doesn't happen often and these weren't conservative weights. There are two or three guys that maybe you pay a little bit more attention to when you get here, I was going to ask Dan (Dalrymple) about three guys the minute I saw him this morning and Hollis was one of them and the good news was that he was at his weight. That's a long way from where he started at the end of last season."

Is this the first time he's made his weight since you've been here?

"He was close two years ago, but where he came from at the end of last year, that's a long way."

Are you worried he might go on a binge tonight?

"No, that takes a lot and part of it is these guys educating themselves with the specifics in their diets. Sometimes there is one or two little food groups that they can eliminate and find that has a big impact on the weight they carry. I think for him he's a little bit smarter this year than he has been, not just as it pertains to football weight, but overall well-being in his health."

Is Vilma one of the guys that didn't run today?

"He didn't run. There are about two or three other guys like Brian Young and Aaron Stecker that I wanted to back off on to really keep from anything happening during a conditioning test, so we got the work done on bikes and in individual workouts rather than in the conditioning test."

Is that bottom field ready for use this training camp?

"The bottom field is in great shape. We thought about where we wanted to run today and Terry our field guy said that that field has had a year to rest so we might as well put it to use. Last year we weren't able to practice on it but this year these guys both here at Millsaps and with our crew combined have done a great job of getting the fields ready. It looks great, it's in good shape, and you can tell that it's taken a lot of hard work to get it in the shape that it's in, and that's not easy. We appreciate that and we look to use the lower field as well as these upper fields and occasionally go across the street."

Is there a comfort level for you coming back here for a third year?

"I think your transition on the first and second day becomes smoother than it was in year one, so the set-up and the tear-down become a little easier just with being more familiar with the campus and the people. The key to the relationship is always the people when it comes to a university and a football organization because there's really not a lot in common there. When you have people that are really looking to work together, then it can be a real good thing. Sometimes it can be a real bad thing, but here it has been a good relationship. We have a ton of respect for the way that they've been able to open their doors to us, we appreciate their hospitality and we don't take it at all for granted. Everyone in our organization really appreciates the way that we're treated here and that's a big plus that overrides fields and dorms and food and those other things – it starts with the people."

Do you see the improved conditioning of the team this offseason as a symbol that the players are disappointed with how last year played out?

"Hopefully that's the case. I think there's a sense of each individual not wanting to let the group down. We have a real competitive locker room and we have a group of guys that care about each other. When you have everyone report and make weight basically and pass the test, that's all real encouraging and it's a good first day. I told the team afterwards that it inspires us as coaches and teachers knowing that they're ready and they've spent a lot of time here in these last four or five weeks even though they've been away from us of maintaining their conditioning level and preparing for this day."

Are you confident in Charles Grant's ability to juggle the off-field distractions?

"I think he'll handle it just fine. As we move forward, we'll keep you abreast of any development. I think he has a great support group and great representation and we'll as a team continue to take the steps we have to date of making sure that everything that he does and we do through this process is communicated to everyone here and we'll go from there. I do think that he'll be able to separate that distraction and keep it separate from what he has to do professionally as a player."

Can you sense more of a level of commitment from Reggie Bush going into this camp coming off of a disappointing season?

"It was disappointing for a lot of us. A lot has been made of it being disappointing for Reggie, but I don't know that there are many players that didn't feel similar disappointment. He maybe is more of a high-profile that gets looked upon with more scrutiny, but I think for him it was being around more in this offseason. I think he has a pretty good grasp of what we're doing. He's someone that is very competitive and wants to please and can take coaching and wants to improve. All those things have been positive and I expect him to play well this year. Part of the disappointment for him a year ago was his injury and missing as many games as he did. But from a statistics standpoint, I think Reggie would say that he's more interested in this team winning than how many yards he rushes for or how many catches he has and I think all of us would start with that same statement. But I think that this offseason has been a good one for him."

Is Deuce in a similar spot to the one he was in two years ago coming off the knee injury?

"I think he's eight or nine pounds lighter at this time than he was two years ago when he was at camp after the first knee surgery and that's encouraging. He's had to battle his weight and it hasn't been easy. When you're a running back and you're carrying the additional pounds, it becomes more challenging. As we get started tomorrow and three or four days from now, those will be good questions to ask because he was working on a limited basis in that camp two years ago coming off of the first knee surgery. I think there's a sense of urgency with Deuce and he understands that it's tough as a running back to recover from a second injury like he's having to, but if it's possible to happen he's the type of guy to do it. He's worked extremely hard to put himself in this position and we'll see."

Where do you anticipate the biggest roster challenges?

"I think we'll have good competition in the secondary. I see some competition taking place at receiver and on the offensive line. I hate to just narrow certain positions, because as I say there's guys to battle in the defensive line. It might not be who's battling for who's starting, but it might be battling for who's going to get the 23 snaps as opposed to who is not going to get the gameday jersey. That varies depending on what you're looking at. It's easy to say that there are certain spots up for grabs, but really it's playing time that's up for grabs. The idea that you just trot your 11 starters out on offense and defense and they play the entire game, it really doesn't happen that way anymore. Those guys are competing for minutes. They're competing for snaps. That competition exists at a lot of spots. It exists at safety. It exists at linebacker, it exists at receiver, it exists at tight end, it exists in the offensive line, it exists at running back and it exists at corner. I think I've hit most of the positions."

Is there not as much competition at quarterback?

"Not as much at quarterback. There's a lot at kicker, long snapper and punter."

Can you discuss the competition at the center position?

"You have (Jonathan) Goodwin who's there. You have (Matt) Lehr who's there. You have (Jamar) Nesbit who's a swing player."

Will Nesbit take snaps at center?

"He'll be able to swing over and take snaps and you have (Rob) Hunt, who is a player we signed prior to camp."

Can Andy Alleman play center?

"Alleman can, the question is how quickly do we want to take a young player and move over. The very first day we move on the line, all four of those players we just talked about you'll see snapping to the quarterback. I think it's important that there's flexibility. A guy like (Carl) Nicks can play guard, but can he play tackle. A guy like (Jermon) Bushrod, can he move inside? Can Alleman swing to center? If we're not talking about starters, maybe we're talking about linemen six, seven and eight and flexibility is going to be important, no different at linebacker as you see us rotate some of these guys in and no different than who can play nickel at corner."

Where will Jo-Lonn Dunbar line up?

"He'll play an outside spot and more importantly, he'll have to really raise some eyebrows on special teams and you're looking for that. I watched an NFL Network show this offseason and they did a story on Terrell Davis and his first big play was on kick coverage, making a tackle inside the 20 but none of us would remember that. They're looking to make impressions and long before he was a featured running back, he was making an impression on special teams. That part of it is extremely important for the younger player and equally important for the veteran player. It's important that the player knows who he is. Just because he's in year nine, he has to understand exactly what his role is. Some guys in our league do a good job with that and there are some other guys who struggle with that. Understanding what they are is important and really not pretending to be something different."

Did you have any indication that Jerametrius Butler wouldn't show up?

"No, not really. I think he just felt like it was time to retire and that was it. You as the question, 'Is everyone here?' and usually it's yes but every once in a while it's no and he was the only one and you move on."

Did you talk to him?

"I called him up and I wanted to make sure that he felt comfortable with his decision. I didn't want to change his mind; I don't think that would be the right thing to do. I just wanted to make sure that he was convinced that he wanted to retire and we'll sign another player."

Is Carl Nicks one of the 79 active players on the roster?

"Carl Nicks is signed and we had an extra spot. We're sitting here with Butler's spot and then we'll have to create two spots as we sign the first- and second-round picks."

Can you talk about Marques Colston and what he means to the team?

"He's been durable. He's been dependable. He's big. He's physical. I think he's a quick study and a big target for Brees and someone that has the flexibility so that we can move him inside on nickel downs. I think he's someone that works to improve and is pretty steady and consistent. He does his job. Those are some of the things that we saw in that training camp a couple of years ago and they've manifested in the last two seasons to where he's been consistent. As a player that was selected in round seven, he's started off on a good note."

Are you as impressed with his ability to handle the #1 receiver role as you were with what he did in his rookie year?

"I know that the term #1 receiver – typically you have two receivers in your pro sets and then you add the third receiver, but he's the split end and equally as important as his position is the flanker. But he brings a level of consistency and he knows what to do and it's easy for us to move him inside in the slot and he provides a pretty big target. Again, these guys are competing for snaps and also four touches and you're trying to come up with a number of ways to make sure you're getting the ball to a guy like Marques who's big and reliable and carries a high amount of confidence from our quarterbacks when they throw to him and that's a good thing."

What do you expect out of Robert Meachem in this camp?

"He's healthy and this will be an important training camp for him. Last year at this time, I don't think he was 100% and you saw it when he ran. I think he is healthy now and we're anxious to see what he can do. The beauty of these training camps is that not only myself and the coaching staff and all of us in the organization, but really everyone here that's going to watch these practices is that you'll see with your own eyes who is doing well and who's struggling. In Robert's case, we're excited to get a chance to evaluate him now and watch him and grade him. I'm hopeful that he's able to factor in and compete and that will be up to him."

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