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Payton Understands the Challenges of Playing in NFL Opener

Coach talks about the team's transactions to make the 53-man roster and facing Green Bay's defense.


New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Post-Practice Press Conference
Sunday, September 04, 2011

Opening Statement: Linebacker Nate Bussey, Quarterback Sean Canfield, Tight End Mike Higgins, Cornerback Terrail Lambert, Defensive Tackle Swanson Miller, Long Snapper/Tight End Kyle Nelson, Center Cecil Newton and Wide Receiver Andy Tanner were signed to our practice squad today. That puts us at 53 and 8 with the 54th spot being Will Smith. Today was a Wednesday for us in regards to our practice plans. It was pushed back a little bit in order to fill out the roster. We will be on a normal schedule tomorrow, working on bickel.

It was reported that the team signed a new tight end, does the team need to drop someone to complete that transaction?

We will have to. That technically won't be a transaction until tomorrow. That is accurate. He is not here yet, he is not signed yet. It will be a transaction that we do tomorrow with his signing.

So you have not made a decision on who will be released?


When you look back on this game last year, how did you deal with attention surrounding the game as Superbowl champs?

You have to start with your team. You have to go back a little bit to when you are in the early parts of your program and you don't have to deal with any of the hoopla. You aren't dealing with the hoopla because there isn't that same interest in your program. Certainly, you look to become one of those teams that is having success. You understand and appreciate that with that comes Thursday night, Monday night, Sunday night, NFL Network Saturday night, and Thanksgiving games. That comes when you are playing well. When you start getting a bunch of 12:00 or 1:00 games throughout the course of the season, then that's a bigger challenge. I think that you start with that. Then, you begin to talk about some of the challenges with the schedule. Some of the challenges of playing a game like this on the road, the challenges that you have when you play a game like this at home. They vary. That comes with having success.

What are the non-schedule related challenges that you learned from being the defending champion? How can that be applied to this season?

When you are able to win, and you win a Super Bowl, each week you are playing a team that has a chance to measure themselves in a way that they don't, every week, get to do. Some of the challenges we have talked about before. The offseason challenges of handling the roster and coaching staff as it pertains to contracts and money and all of the things that go with success. Those are a number of things. I think, to some degree because of the lockout, you almost feel that Green Bay didn't have the same opportunity to celebrate the championship. Soon after the Super Bowl, the discussion for months was lockout related news as opposed to the team that won its last six games to win a world championship on the road, with the last four of them being on the road: at Philly, at Atlanta, at Chicago and then the Super Bowl. The off-season this year was uniquely different. Those would be some of the ones that come to mind.

What was your thought process on cutting some veteran special teams guys?

Those are always difficult decisions because we have a history with the players, whether it's a Pierson Prioleau or Chris Reis. It's easy to say we are going to try to get younger. What's important is that in that process you better be improving. There are some younger players that stood out on special teams and did real good job for us in this camp. I think this is the case with most teams, in the first couple of weeks of the regular season, there is still a fluidness to rosters and practice squads that usually would settle down after a week or two. We talked about a tight end we just brought in. There will be a couple of those transactions, not just with the Saints but with other teams around the league and then it will get to a little more normal in-season list. It's tough when you have experienced guys that have played well for you and you have to release them.

Did you talk to your team last year that the defending champions have never lost this first game? Did you tell your team to make it the first time this year?

We go through the history of the game. The very first game, I believe, was 2002 and at that time the league opened on a Thursday night with the 49ers in New York. It was a kick-off. The difference was that the previous Super Bowl champion was not hosting that game. It was a year or two later that they started putting the Super Bowl champion in that spot. The very first time the league kicked off the season with a Thursday night concert series and all the things that go around it was in the early 2000s. That being said, you do study the challenges. The challenges are going into a venue with added excitement because there is going to be a recognition of last year's championship. We have played in this. This will be our third one in four years. 2007 at Indianapolis, last year at home, and this year going to Green Bay. The team is different. One of the things that we just finished talking about is when you go in to an environment, especially a place like Lambeau Field, it's without a doubt the most historic stadium in our league. You take a new team into that environment, you learn about your team, and it's a tremendous challenge. When we watch the tape, we see a lot of reasons why they won the Superbowl a year ago.

Is there an injury report today?

No, not today. The first report is tomorrow.

Can you saying anything about your hopes of getting Aubrayo Franklin back?

We did this at the end of last year, but I will just read the reports. Tomorrow will be the first one. That will be a little bit more efficient. Tomorrow, we will have a practice report.

Has this weather complicated your preparations?

I don't think it has. We have the indoor facility. Most of the guys that cover us on a regular basis know that it is like pulling teeth for us to go outside. The indoor facility that we have is outstanding. It would be really difficult if we didn't have the facility. Then, all of sudden, you get into bus trips to the dome or whatever plan B would be.

What are your thoughts on the suspension of Will Smith and the depth that you have at that position?

We have some young guys at that position. Some young guys that will get to play early. My thoughts on it really don't matter. I don't want to start the season off on a bad foot. It has been something that seems like has gone on forever. The first I can remember was when we were in London and Jim Henderson had a microphone in my face right outside the ballroom on our arrival to play San Diego. I think everyone is glad to see that it is over with. Certainly, I recognize the players' frustration not only from a playing standpoint but financially. It's difficult whenever you lose a player like Will. The next two weeks, he can't be at the facility and some of these younger players will step up.

When you guys released Alex Brown, did you continue to think it was a possibility that Will Smith would be suspended?

"No.  The Alex Brown decision really had nothing to do with whether Will Smith would or wouldn't be suspended at all.  That was made separately.  I don't know that any one of us thought there was never going to be a suspension.  I think we were all just kind of waiting to find out when, what, how much and we got that the other day.  In Alex's case, it was separate."          

Do you have much experience with Don Capers and what are the characteristics of his defense?

"Looking at this team on film, there's certainly flexibility.  The one thing you've seen Dom do is adjust some to their personnel.  They play a 3-4 front and yet they get into this nickel package and play it as often as their 3-4 defense with (Charles) Woodson coming inside to play the Sam or the Will linebacker and someone who's very involved in pressure from that position.  You see the skill on the back end, they run very well.  You're going to get a lot of man coverage.  They do a great job at the line of scrimmage with their hands and bump-and-run coverage.  They're very physical up front.  They rush the passer extremely well.  They're a combination of a good pass defense along with, I think they were second in the league in sacks.  You see the stress put on offenses with pressuring the quarterback, not necessarily being in a blitz defense to do that, and then playing in a man-to-man coverage and mixing it up with some of their zones.  They're very sound and they're very god at what they do.  When you look at the makeup of just their defense, there are a lot of young players in it, young drafted players, there are some guys that they've acquired and they play with great effort.  I think Dom's reputation in this league has always been outstanding, and yet there are some things they're doing now that maybe he wouldn't have done three or four years ago with a different team, but he's certainly built a defense that features the skill set of their players."

Have you been able to look at tape to see what happened with John Kasay's kicks against Tennessee?

"The one thing about John right away was he felt like he pushed the first one and we felt the holds were clean.  Like I said after the game, that third kick was important for him and important for all of us to see.  Now we just continue to give him reps and continue to work the amount of snaps we give the holders since they're operating on the other side and dealing with a left-footed kicker.  We have a lot of work to do in that process but he kicked well today.  There was nothing that we could say – hey, the snap was high or the hold was late or anything like that – I think it's just getting him back into practice mode and getting him the repetitions he needs to feel comfortable."

Before the cuts we talked about making some projections of some guys.  Who were some guys that you made some projections on and kept on this roster?

"A good example would be Tom Johnson.  We saw in training camp some real good signs and then that first game some real good signs before that injury.  Jeff Charleston to some degree, and that wouldn't have been as much of a projection.  Johnny Patrick played well early especially in camp and against the San Francisco 49ers prior to his injury.  The unique thing is that in a normal offseason, we're probably just north of a thousand snaps before we get to training camp, we're really looking at the whole offseason, Spring, OTAs, minicamps, rookie camps.  The difference for all the teams this year is every team is less those thousands snaps.  That's a lot of information in some cases, especially with the new or younger players, so now your opportunity to evaluate becomes reduced and all of us have to and those are a few players that probably didn't even play a whole training camp worth of snaps and yet you have to pay attention to the snaps they were playing."

Because of that, do you pay attention more in a season?

"I think this year clubs are keenly aware of the waiver wire and recognize that all 32 of us haven't had the same experience with our team as we would have normally.  I said this early on that the concern was that a guy like Pierre Thomas didn't get out of the building because you didn't have enough snaps on him.  Our worst fear always is that someone who was once here is playing great football somewhere else.  But I do think that you play close attention to those players who aren't here but also those players that are currently here always.

When you look of that combination of lost snaps and rookies, do special teams become an area where there's more opportunity for a breakdown with less experienced guys?

"There's part of you that says – well with special teams it's this and it starts generally with an attitude and an effort, and yet there are some awareness plays.  In other words, if I'm covering a kick and there's no one blocking me as I pass the first line of defense, it's not that you just got lucky and are clear of the runner.  Chances are someone's going to hit you in the right ear or the left ear and you're getting trapped.  So are there ties when a young rookie all of a sudden is going to realize quickly where it's not as easy as it seems?  I'm sure those are coming and those typically come anyway but it's going to be a quick learning curve for them and for every team, the young players that are playing, the Cameron Jordan's, the Mark Ingram's – I told him we're not playing Kent State this weekend, we don't get a couple warm ups.  That's a good thing, to play in a game like this you find out real quickly where you're at especially when you play last year's champion."

Was there a bookkeeping issue with Chris Ivory being put on Injured Reserve?

"No.  If I'm not mistaken, it was reported wrong in the beginning.  The only place he would go after being on the failed physical roster was the P.U.P. (Physically Unable to Perform) which meant he's out six weeks.  I know it was reported and then carried a bunch of different ways, but there wasn't any error from the league office or the news to the league, it's pretty clean."

In your perspective of getting a team ready and Drew Brees' perspective of  recognizing what different Packers defenders are going to do, how unique is the challenge of doing that with Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson?

"It's not unique, it's just challenging because when you watch the tape and you look at some of the things they can force you to do, I think they're not predictable.  A lot of times you're play a game, and if you're not in your base personnel, then you'll see the defense's base personnel.  If you substitute to a nickel, you'll see the defense's nickel, in other words they'll match you.  One of the things they do a very good job with is they kind of choose on their terms when they want to play their nickel.  They'll match it a lot of time to your nickel offense, however they might like to play or will chose to play it versus some of your base sets.  At first, that doesn't sound like a lot, but what it does is it kind of changes some of your angles in your running game and your protections.  One of the great things Charles Woodson does aside from cover out here to our right is when he comes inside he's one of those guys that can disrupt and wreak havoc on your protections.  So we have to know where he's at when he's playing in nickel because he pressures quite a bit.  Then when you look at Matthews, he's a threat with speed, he's a threat with power, he plays with great effort, and he makes as many plays on the back side as he does at the point of attack.  He had an outstanding season last year.  In each game, you'll see two or three disruptive plays that are game-changers, so we have to be smart and recognize the potential challenge we have with him."

So they're not as predictable as most defenses you play against?

"There's a little bit less certainty in regards to their nickel package and it's something that they believe in and they play very well, so they're very comfortable playing that package based on what they think you're going to do.  Whether it's they want to play nickel to your 12 or to your 21, it's just a package that they're comfortable with and that they can choose to play even if you're in your base offense."

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