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Payton Says Saints are Going "Full Speed Ahead" for Sunday

Payton announces transactions, updates injury report and talks about the team's plan for Sunday

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New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Media Availability
Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opening Statement:
"LB Jon Vilma (left knee) did not practice, WR Lance Moore (left hamstring) did not practice, TE John Gilmore, (right toe) did not practice, S Malcolm Jenkins (neck) did not practice, RB Mark Ingram (right toe) was limited, CB Patrick Robinson (right hip) was full, and LB Jonathan Casillas (right knee) was full.  Practice squad transactions: we signed WR Andy Tanner and Chris Taylor.  We released QB Sean Canfield and RB Joique Bell signed with the Detroit Lions.  On our active roster, we released T William Robinson and in his place we signed TE Tory Humphrey.  He'll be in number 84.  The schedule is a little bit altered, but nonetheless it's still what is our first and second down day.  We'll slowly transition into what we're normally used to.  We'll start a little bit later tomorrow and try to catch up here."

What's you plan for Sunday's game with scoreboard watching?
"We talked about it at length.  Our approach is going to be much like it has been.  We're going to play all of our guys.  There's still seeding at stake.  I know it's similar to a year ago.  I think we're getting better as a team week to week right now, and there's a value in that and that progress might be something we need going into this postseason.  I'd like to think it's something we need.  We're getting better defensively, we're getting better in the kicking game, our return game and offensively the same way.  I feel like we're rested.  Our bye came later in the season and we were able to take three days off last week prior to the Atlanta game.  We're going into it full speed ahead.  I said that earlier to the Carolina media.  I really don't plan on paying attention to the other game going on.  It's similar to a season ago, but I think our approach in this season with this team is that we are making progress and I think that's going to be valuable for us before we get into the postseason."

When you look back at your decision to play the starters last season, do you feel like you made the right decision?
"There was still seeding involved.  These are always tough decisions.  In '06 it was an easier decision.  In '09 it was an easier decision because we were really locked into the seed we had, but I go back to the progress we've been making.  I think we've been playing some of our best football here later in the year and I think there's a value to that.  We talked about it as a team today, just the importance of making that progress and making sure we win this week, the week in practice and making sure we get better with today's work and tomorrow's work leading up to this game.  We're going to see a real good football team, a team that's playing well.  We're going to see an explosive offense and a team that is playing with a lot of confidence and we recognize that it's going to be a real good test for us."

Do you think there are a lot more interesting things going on in Carolina this time around compared to the first time you played them?
"There's a lot of improvement statistically.  We try to do a PowerPoint every Wednesday on the things we see with the opponent and statistically there are a ton of areas that they're playing better than they were the last time we played them.  The last time we played them I think we were only three or four games into the season.  There's some uniqueness to what they do offensively, certainly it starts with the quarterback and his ability to hurt you with his arm and hurt you with his legs.  He's very talented.  The players around him are playing exceptionally well.  They're doing a better job with the football, so there are a lot of areas where they've improved in and it showed up when you look at their recent games.  I think it's a big test for us."

As an offensive coach, do you like what you've been seeing from Cam Newton?
"Absolutely.  The last time we played them, in pregame I walked up to the 50 yard line and was watching him throw to the wide receivers and you don't realize how big he is.  He has a real good delivery and good arm strength.  He's explosive.  What I like is when you watch him play or you see highlights, you see a smile and you see the competitive nature he has and I think that's very contagious with his teammates.  If a play isn't there, he can create a play and that's dangerous and it's hard to simulate at practice.  You try to, but it's hard to simulate some of those things.  He's had a tremendous rookie season, considering the uniqueness of the lockout and the time that rookies didn't have to develop.  When you see a player like Cam or a player at quarterback like Andy Dalton who's ahead of what's the norm in our league for a rookie, but specifically with Cam – he's been everything that was advertised and more and was a great choice for Carolina.  Unfortunately he's in our division and is going to be around a while.  You can see that he has that 'it' factor that's necessary to win.  Certainly he did in college and he's doing a great job now in our league.  I would say there's a good chance he's going to be Rookie of the Year and deservedly so."

Do you think quarterbacks are coming into the league more prepared?
"I think each year it's different.  It depends on the player.  Certainly they're very well-coached in college.  The college game is one in which they're doing more and throwing more, so I would say in general you see players at the college level often times that are going to be evaluated and drafted in situations that you would be in during a NFL game.  I think it's easier to evaluate the offensive linemen now and maybe a little trickier to find the tight ends or the linebackers than maybe you saw in conventional offenses ten years ago.  Specifically with (Cam Newton), he provides a number of different challenges and the trick is trying to simulate a lot of the things you see on film."

Did you think Jermon Bushrod had a good shot at making the Pro Bowl?
"Every year you don't know.  I'm thrilled for him because four or five weeks ago, his name came up in here and we were discussing his progress and I've always said that no news is good news for a left tackle.  Quietly he's been a guy that has just done his job and each year has improved.  When a player like that can get recognized in a manner of the Pro Bowl, which there are so many people tied to that vote aside from the fan balloting – coaches and players – that's why I think it's such a great honor and sense of accomplishment for a player because he knows that his peers and people in the industry and it really speaks volumes.  I think as a coach you wait for that day and you're always curious to see how players will fair.  You're disappointed for some players and you're excited for others and that's typically what happens at this time of the year.  There were a handful of players I was disappointed for.  I think what's most important is it comes with winning and hopefully none of these guys will have a chance to play in that game."

Do you think what Jermon Bushrod did against Jared Allen carries a little more weight?
"I think the left tackles in our league have to do it against a lot of good players.  I think it's really a sum total of week-in and week-out evaluation of how he's playing.  I said to Joe Vitt who is from Towson, there has been one other Pro Bowler from Towson and it was Dave Meggett.  That's pretty impressive."

Do you know if you had any Pro Bowl alternates?
"Both of our safeties (Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper) are alternates for the game.  Our fullback, Jed Collins, is an alternate.  Thomas Morstead is also an alternate, and they only take one punter so he's the next punter."

How happy are you with the running game and how much has Darren Sproles helped with the game-planning?
"Let's start with Darren.  He's a unique player and his skill set transitioned well for us because he replaced a player that's somewhat similar in that there are specific roles in the running game and the receiving game and as a returner.  The difference is he's a kickoff returner as well as a punt returner.  He's very sharp.  He picked things up very quickly.  I think instinctively one of his great assets is his decision-making that takes place in the first two or three seconds of a football play.  He's someone that has very good football IQ.  I think he's a great teammate.  He's explosive and he's been a big part of our success offensively.  He's a reliable player and a better runner inside than maybe we would have evaluated in the beginning.  He had some big plays for us.  Each week depending on the opponent, there have been play that have really changed the course of the game.  This past weekend was a great example.  At the end of the half, he hits the third down trap play for a first down.  He had a kick return that set us up for a field goal.  He had an explosive run on the draw play.  He can really accelerate and get to top speed in about three or four steps.  I think in regards to the running game, we felt that last year it was an area that we needed to improve on starting with the additions of some players with Darren being one of them and then drafting Mark Ingram.  We've been healthier and Chris (Ivory) has stepped in and done a real good job for us.  I think we put a value on that and I think it helps us in a lot of areas.  It helps us to control games, it helps us with our play-action, and I think it helps us play better defensive football.  I think those things have been part of why we're at 12 wins right now."

Do you think Darren Sproles should have been a Pro Bowl selection?
"It's tough.  I think he's first in all-purpose yards.  He has certainly played at a Pro Bowl level.  There are a handful of guys.  Jabari Greer also is you look statistically.  The thing about a defensive back is it generally involves interceptions, the same way with safeties with the way Malcolm (Jenkins) is playing and Roman (Harper) is playing.  Every year you just hope that more of your players when you're having success are on that roster and are recognized.  As coaches, that's something we want for our players just as they want it.  Again, hopefully we're in a situation where the players we're talking about have been honored and yet can't play in the Pro Bowl game.  I said this before, it's always harder for a young player to get in and typically on the back end they get a year or two.  It was good to see Jimmy Graham, a second year player who is going to start in that game.  It's exciting for those guys and it's one of the few times I'm calling them at home with some good news and it's always a good phone call."

What are your thoughts on your offense breaking the most yards in a season record and maybe being the most prolific offense in the NFL?
"I'm familiar with it.  I'm not really in tuned to yardage or where we're at.  I really think what's most important is we do our best to put in the best game plan to beat Carolina.  I think that the wining aspect still trumps all the things that we're discussing and I think what made Drew's record an accomplishment the other night is that happened during a game in which we were securing the NFC South unlike three years ago where we were chasing Carolina late and we knew it was the last game of the season.  I would say what's most important for us with everything that's at stake is we have a chance still at that two seed and that definite opportunity to improve this week and continue to play well as we have and find ways to get better in some areas that we could all get better in and hopefully the other stuff takes care of itself.  That would not be something that I would be aware of or be paying attention to in this game, maybe a little differently in Drew's case.  I think we can do the right things offensively to give ourselves a chance to win in this game and we can do the right things defensively and the kicking game and kind of go from there."

Is it because you're getting a chance at the second seed that you're playing starters in this game compared to what you did in '09?
"In '09, the seed was locked at one after Chicago had beaten Minnesota on that Monday night.  When that happened, the decision in '09 was that we had just come off a tough loss to Tampa Bay where we were ahead 17 points and the week before we lost to a real good team in Dallas, so the challenge was either rest or play to try to get some momentum back that we felt like we lost.  The difference this year is that I'd hate to make that decision, and our league is one in that each week everyone that lines up to play can win.  A perfect example is the team we're talking about is a team that beat us.  I'd hate to think that that scenario exists where all of a sudden you back off and find that you had an opportunity to have a bye.  The fact that the seed isn't locked is one factor that contributes to it, but just as importantly is I do think we're improving each week and I don't want a week of that to stop and I think we're rested.  I think the bye week helped and I think last week's schedule helped, and we also had another period where we had two or three days.  I think for the most part, we're fairly healthy.  That's kind of the approach we're taking and that was the message to the players.  I think they understand it and recognize that we still have some things that we still need to improve on.  If that means there's a play or two that exists in this game that we get better at that helps us a week later or two weeks later, then I think that's a good thing.  If we score another touchdown defensively or we come up with another big play in the kicking game or we find a way to play well on third down again and then carry that into the postseason, I think that can be beneficial.  I think in '09 we needed rest as much mentally as we did physically because there is a little bit of drain in that week-in and week-out.  Once we got to 13 wins, I felt like our team at that time needed rest."

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