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Q&A with New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Monday, January 2, 2017

What do you think was different with this team than the last two?
“I just answered that last night. I’ll answer it again. I think that clearly we’re younger. Just going through a few notes, we played in the second-most one-possession games this year (in the NFL). Detroit played in the most one-possession games. We have to be better in that area. We finished 5-7, games (decided by) eight points or less and that was one thing we discussed. We talked about a fast start. We weren’t able to accomplish that. We talked about our margin for error in close games. We can go through specifically each game, but I think there’s a certain amount of toughness and grit with this team. Obviously we need to have a good offseason with regards to the personnel (area). We have to be better as coaches, especially when it comes to those games (that are close). Every weekend (in the NFL) we’re seeing it.”

What did you think of the job that the offensive line did to help the offense as a whole?
“I think there were a lot of positives from the standpoint of Jahri (Evans) coming in relatively (after) not having had an offseason and training camp. Andrus (Peat) playing a handful of spots. I thought we settled in and I thought we ran the ball better than a year ago. I think that’s something we will clearly see when we look at the cut-ups.”

Do you want to take a minute to address the rumors of mutual interest between yourself and the Los Angeles Rams?
“Here’s the thing. I was reading the comments players made and I was real fired up, because what they said is the same thing our organization has said, which is correct. We’re not going to address rumors, reports. If we answer to those every time, it would be silly and so I didn’t answer it yesterday and I won’t answer it on this conference call, because I’ve already read Larry’s (Holder) report for instance about Mickey (Loomis) and I meeting, which was completely false. Mickey and I for the last 11 years, share the same locker room after every game. We come in, we have a Gatorade and the first thing I ask Mickey every game (for example) is was the (Coby) Fleener catch…did he hold on to it? Was the overturn (of the call correct)? Then we get a cheeseburger and then we get on the plane. But if I’m going to answer questions to a report like that which is inaccurate like that, then we’ll only just be churning the rumor mill. I won’t and that’s just the way it is and it’s tough”

Don’t you think you are speaking for the players, fans?
“You don’t speak for the fans. You think you do, but you don’t. The fans actually get tired of reports like that that aren’t accurate. Do we have any other questions about the game we played last night or the end of the season?”

What did you think of the job Nick Fairley did and how much would you like to have him back?
“I think he played well. I think there were spurts. Obviously he gives us some pass rush. I think this is a place (where) he feels
comfortable. It was a tough year with the death of his mother. But I know this, there’s a lot different feeling about that player and that person having been with him a year. I think he clearly has good football in him. If you look at his age and saw where he’s at, he’s been relatively healthy and despite the challenge with his mother (her death), he’s played well.”

How challenging was it dealing with depth at tight end with the season-ending injuries to Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui?
“They’re two different type players, but nonetheless, they’re veteran players at that position. We were fortunate enough to sign John Phillips when we had the opportunity and I think Hooman’s one of those guys that when the season ends and you watch the film and you’re like holy cow, he’s tough at the point of attack. John gave us some of that as well. I think it’s not unusual that a certain position group like that on your team can get hit with the injuries. Fortunately we were able to fill in a few names there and get some guys going. I’m glad we signed John Phillips and we were able to acquire him. I think sometimes it forces you to be in a jumbo package with an extra offensive lineman.”

You mentioned John Phillips? Who are other players who had under the radar seasons, maybe midstream acquisitions?
“Similar guys to John, would be like Sterling (Moore) and all of a sudden he’s in a starting position. B.W. Webb is a guy who was thrust into that role a little bit. So there were a few players that all of a sudden were playing earlier than anyone expected because of an injury and again, it happened at corner quite a bit early in the year.”

How much of a jump do you have to make personnel-wise to be a playoff team next year?
“You can look at two things – to be a playoff team, clearly the team we played last night is a team that has to be caught in our division. Dan (Quinn) and those guys have done a great job. That’s an explosive offense. To some degree, those of you that have been here for a while, it was almost like full circle in 2011 when we were in that position towards the end of the year probably (with) one of our better offenses and playing Atlanta (in Week 16). I don’t know that a seeding was at stake in 2011 when we played them but the point I am making is you felt that we could score on any possession and I am sure that they felt the same way last night. Making the playoffs is one thing though. Winning your division and feeling like you have a team that can make a run and push for a championship is another. This offseason’s going to be important. To try to measure it in regards to years, I think, is difficult to do, especially the day after the season.”

How has Garrett Grayson developed, leading into year two?
“I know (quarterbacks coach) Joe (Lombardi) has spent a lot of extra time with him. Typically, this next year will be an important ‘here we go’ (year). I think, from an offense standpoint, I think his ability to spit out what we are doing – I think he’s got a great grasp of the system itself. I think he is someone that moves well and throws the ball well on the run. I expect him to receive plenty of work here in the offseason heading into camp.”

What did you think of the way Tyeler Davison was able to play with pain throughout the year?
“He’s a tough, hardnosed player who obviously has a tremendous amount of respect of the players downstairs. He’s just one of those guys that as a coach you really appreciate. He has improved quite a bit from last year to this year. When you play that position, it is hard to get noticed in regards to how you play. You probably only get noticed if you’re playing well as an overall defense. I think he’s a good football player.”

In terms of coaching and scouting staff changes the last couple years, are you more where you want to be organization-wise?
“Like every offseason, we will evaluate all of those positions. Any changes we make, we’ll get the announcements to you guys.”

You referenced yourself as being fired up about the locker room; did you convey anything to them about any of these reports or your feelings about that?
“All I am saying to you is, at the end of the day philosophically, and Mickey (Loomis) and I talked about this before, but I was excited to hear the response of our veteran players to the same questions you are asking me. Those were spit out sources, clear up the story that you claim to have and then we will answer the question. Otherwise, we are not going to answer questions every week based on someone else’s twitter scoop. It’s silly. I know the Saints took that position. I know Greg (Bensel) was asked last week. I saw and listened to the players’ response and mine are the same. It’s hard when some of them – I brought specifically up a couple that are completely inaccurate. There is no accountability there. For instance, (the story said) Mickey (Loomis) and I met for an hour after the game last night. That is completely false. Why would we answer questions about stories that way when they are not accurate to begin with?”

What do you think about how this rookie class has performed and is this maybe the best draft you’ve had since 2006?
“I think they did a number of things well and we’ll have a chance over time to see how they measure up, but you just go one by one through them and I think Mike Thomas had a solid year and is competitive, wants to work hard and certainly (was) ready to play at this level. Vonn Bell we’re going to need to see a little bit more consistency from him and yet he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that. David Onyemata has had a lot of snaps, played more snaps last night because of Sheldon’s (Rankins) ankle and then (Daniel) Lasco is someone who’s going to need to stay healthy and yet we’ve seen enough from him in practice and in preseason to where we feel like (we’re comfortable). There may not be the numbers there, but I am excited about the players and it’s going to be important to continue to build and add more pieces.”

Any evaluation on (Sheldon) Rankins?
“He is doing exceptionally well and I do not think the injury last night is going to be anything significant. He’s just one of the quiet, no nonsense guys. We were fortunate (after losing him) in training camp that we were able to get in him back during the year and get him some work, a half a season of experience.”

The Falcons have two good edge runners, what are your thoughts on having that kind of player?
“I think number one they do a real good job with that landmark on their zone scheme and so really the first thing it forces you to do defensively is move with it to maintain pace with their offensive line. I think their line has gotten better, but when you look at the runners and their ability to take a play like a simple zone scheme and if you don’t pursue with the right angles they can make you pay for it. I think equally as well they’re threats as receiver, those (two) become big challenges.”

How did Thomas Morstead benefit from not kicking off this year and what did you think of how Wil Lutz handled kickoffs?
“I thought Wil had a good year, a good rookie year. I said this to you guys earlier. I think Kevin O’Dea came in and has done a good job working with him on the lift, but man he’s got a strong leg and I think he’s an accurate kicker. He’ll continue to work on the placement of the kickoffs. Whether you’re kicking it deep for a touchback or trying to place it in the corner. When you can take the punter off that kickoff and just knowing Thomas, he’s going to want to do everything and yet there is a certain stress that is involved in your leg when you’re kicking the ball off. I think it’s a positive if (when your punter does not kickoff) especially with a player like Thomas who is where he’s at in his career. It’s a positive when someone other than himself can handle that and I thought by and large I thought we were fine in that way.”

What are your thoughts on Roman Harper and his decision process on possibly continuing to play here in New Orleans?
“He’s obviously extremely close to our program. I think he’s in good shape, he takes care of himself. We’ll have plenty of time here during this offseason to go through the roster and talk about these guys. I’m sure he’ll do the same, but he’s one of our core guys and a guy that really grew up in this program.”

Is it fair to say with Roman (Harper), Jahri (Evans) and Zach (Strief) that when the season ends it’s harder to envision their role for the upcoming season?
“I think it’s extremely fair to say that the day after the season and without the coach, assistant coaches, GM, scouts or anyone having met on these players not once that it would be any insight as to this is the plan or not the plan, barring an exception with a player being injured. Unfortunately, for you the timing of this call, which is required the day after the regular season ends (is prior to these discussions) and we’ll go through evaluations this whole week into next week on every player on the roster.”

Did Drew Brees do things this year that make you guys feel even more comfortable about his ability to keep thriving at his age?
“I think he played well. I would not say anything differently. I think we ran the ball more efficiently. That helps and it gives your play action passing game a little more to it, but I think overall his health is good, focus, his preparation has been outstanding and look the evaluation on any of these players is never easy it’s just tedious. You want to look closely at everything you can and I think that we’ll have a chance to do that with all these guys.”

How do you evaluate Drew’s 5,000 yard seasons?
“I don’t spend as much time looking at 5,000. We spend more time looking at efficiency, location, how we’re doing on third down, how are we doing in the red zone. I think the total yardage number sometimes comes when you’re throwing it more and yet I felt like we ran the ball a little bit more and more effectively this year, so it’s not as much total yardage as it’s some of the other specific things that are involved with playing that position.”

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