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Q&A with New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton

Payton talks about Tim Hightower, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

Conference Call with New Orleans Media

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

When you look at Tim Hightower's story how much resonates with his teammates given that he was named the Ed Block award winner?

"His teammates voted on that. I'm going to say (he was) a perfect candidate. He is tremendously respected in the locker room and in all my years coaching I don't know that I've been part of a team with a more worthy Ed Block candidate than Tim Hightower. I mean what he has been through and how he's overcome (adversity) and if you knew all of his story and you heard him speak about his story it's pretty impressive. It didn't make for an easy vote, but it just made so much sense."

What made you guys want to give Tim Hightower a chance from the beginning?

"The player prior to the injury was someone that I think a lot of teams saw something in and then there is an element where you can kind of see where he's at health wise. I remember him coming into camp. I remember coming off the field at the Baltimore Ravens preseason game two years ago. It was at Baltimore and we're heading into the tunnel. The game had just ended and he grabbed my elbow and he said hey thanks for giving me this opportunity and it was just kind of out of the blue and I'm like hey we're still early here you're doing well and he was battling ice, swelling and really trying to stay healthy and if you recall we had to release him right before the Arizona game a year ago to free up a roster spot and we re-signed him and released him again and then there was  a (roster) hiccup a few weeks where we were able to re-sign him again and I would say not many people remember this, but we played the Redskins and it was a game (that we) fell down two (scores) and by the time we got into the fourth quarter it was one of those games that was out of reach and he had three or four running plays in that series and I'm going to say four and a half minutes left in the game, 3:28 something in the fourth quarter and it was not relative to anyone else in the stadium or (for) anybody else (was it) important snaps and yet they were very important for him because those were really his first carries in a regular season game (since 2011). He had work in the preseason games, but his first carries in a regular season game in almost three years and I thought he handled them well and look then with Mark (Ingram) getting nicked up there he was finishing the year (as the starter) and finished extremely well. There was a process to his return and obviously he would be able to tell you more, but it certainly wasn't without bumps and flips and all sorts of adversity."

What did you know about Tim Hightower off the field?

"I knew the makeup was good. Maurice Carthon was a part of the Cardinals and (and a big part of) why he got drafted and so Mo and I were in Dallas together and I knew (Bill) Parcells liked the back in Miami. There was this discussion because Miami wanted to draft him and Bill (Parcells) liked him and Arizona drafted him in the fifth round, but clearly what we know now was not obvious to us or something that we were aware of with all the makeup and toughness. He is just a special guy and I think it was really more about the evaluation of the player's talent and then hey a lot of times the knee takes a second year, maybe he's back to full strength and when you're in the offseason and you're at 90 (players) you can do that with a few players (to give them a chance to participate with the team starting in the offseason and contend for a roster spot)."

Do you think Tampa Bay has rebuilt as well as anyone in your division?

"Well you'd have to look across the roster. I haven't looked at where they're at heading into the offseason with free agents, but look you start with a young quarterback, they have a good young receiver, a good young runner, some young offensive lineman. Yeah, I mean I think they have done a good job in that area. I think you're constantly trying to look as to how do you build and make the most of your draft picks and I think they've done a good job there. Certainly of late."

Is that a fair way to describe how you guys have rebuilt the past couple years?

"I think the last couple of drafts have been good to us and it's going to be that much more important that this upcoming offseason. We have some young players that are receiving a lot of snaps and yet I think this offseason will be critical to continue to hit on the right type of guys that can help us so we're not sitting in this position a year from now."

What is the challenge with a guy like Robert Ayers?

"He's active and strong, he can play on an edge. They do a good job with their defense of getting on the edges and I think they are very quick at the snap. Certainly (Gerald) McCoy is someone we know about, but (Robert) Ayers, those guys make it tough inside. There is a lot of movement."

Where have you seen the improvement in the Buccaneers team this year?

"I think defensively they're taking the ball. I think they are fifth in the NFL in takeaways I think if you really took the season and cut it in half the last eight weeks for them since their Thursday night game. They would be first in the league in (forced) turnovers. There'd be a ton of statistics. We split this up and where did the change take place, but I think defensively they're getting pressure on the quarterbacks. They're in the top five on third down. I think offensively they've done a good job with the big plays. They're patient, I think the quarterback obviously has a lot of confidence in (Mike) Evans and I think you're seeing these takeaways at an alarming rate."

What do you think about not having any Pro Bowl players?

"I just told the team it's the first time I can think of and yet generally it's a byproduct of having success."

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