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Q&A with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

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    <span>              <span style="">Opening Statement:</span>                  

"From an injury standpoint in today's practice, Usama Young with a hip and abdomen as well did not practice; Lance Moore (ankle) did not practice; Scott Shanle (concussion) did not practice; Darren Sharper (knee) did not practice; Randall Gay (concussion) did not practice; Sedrick Ellis (knee) was limited; Jon Stinchcomb (knee) was limited; Bobby McCray (back) was limited; Jeremy Shockey (toe) was limited; Scott Fujita (knee) was limited; Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) was limited; Jermon Bushrod (thumb) was limited; Jahri Evans (toe) was limited; Jonathan Vilma (knee) was limited; Reggie Bush (hamstring) was limited; Darnell Dinkins (foot) was limited and Jabari Greer (groin) was limited. We signed fullback Kyle Eckel – he's back in jersey 36 – and we signed safety Herana-Daze Jones, he's in jersey number 29. We waived kicker John Carney and cornerback Marcus McCauley. From a practice squad standpoint, we signed cornerback Darrick Brown – jersey 33 – and released offensive tackle Renardo Foster. All of today was base, first and second down in our preparations for Tampa, as usual on a Wednesday."

When did Scott Shanle have his concussion? Was it in the game?

"Yes. It was in the third quarter."

Did Lance Moore have a setback with his ankle?

"It's the other ankle. It wouldn't be considered a setback since it's the other ankle. It happened on a play on the sideline. A new injury."

Was having Jabari Greer back at practice sooner than you expected?

"He's doing well with the rehab. I'm encouraged with where he's at, both he and Tracy (Porter). Tracy obviously being back and getting reps the other night and Jabari – considering his procedure – he has done real well."

Is the protocol with concussions causing you to handle these injuries a little different now?

"The protocol is clear in regards to the doctors and the specialists. It really falls with the player and the tests that they do, and of course we're following that."

Have you missed Sedrick Ellis a lot on run defense or has that been overblown?

"When you miss a three-technique or a nose – one of your tackles – it certainly doesn't help you when you lose a starter like that. I don't know if it's overstated, but at this time of the year you're playing with a lot of injuries like everyone else. We don't use that as an excuse, and yet you're better served when your starters are in there."

Does he bring a combination of size and ability that's hard to find in this league?

"I think it's hard to find good defensive tackles. When he's playing and playing well, we're a better defense."

Are you concerned about his situation?

"No, I think the good news is that he's getting better so he hasn't plateaued at all. Last week we held him out but he got work today. I'm encouraged with his progress and obviously we'll make sure he's healthy before we play him but I'm encouraged with where he's going."

Is he the kind of guy that might benefit from that bye week in the postseason?

"Once we get to that point of the season, there are a handful of players that would benefit from some rest, and yet with where he's at today, I'm hopeful and optimistic for this week. Our focus really is short-term in that it's this game, this week. We're taking the same approach we have to date in playing the guys we have that are healthy enough to play and being smart with the guys that aren't."

Is it tougher to be more judicious with injuries since you haven't yet clinched homefield?

"There's no judicious about it. We're playing full speed to win. We have a lot to play for still, to give ourselves the best opportunity in the postseason, and that would be to get the one-seed. That's the focus we're taking."

Would an all-around good performance this week go a long way with regaining momentum?

"I think the key is playing well and correcting the mistakes from last week and doing the things necessary to win a game. Turnovers will be critical; mistakes, obviously and field position. This is a real good return team we're playing. They're first in the league in kick returns and they're in the top ten in punt returns. They're very good on special team and they're playing a lot better defensively than when we saw them the first time around. That's the challenge for us, really."

Does being ranked 25th against the pass concern you or is that more a product of being without Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter for so long?

"I think the statistics are one thing, but playing good defense in the base and on third down and in the red area are the things we focus on. At this time of the year, I don't know that our focus rests on the fact that it's 25th or 21st or 18th. The most important thing is getting the guys ready to play and doing a better job than we did a week ago; not just defensively in the secondary, but in all areas. The focus really isn't in the numbers."

So you really don't even look at the numbers?

"Correct."

When do you look for the secondary to be back at full speed?

"We're getting there. I'm encouraged with Jabari's health and I'm certainly encouraged with Tracy's progress in that he was able to play last week."

How do you deal with the lofty expectations of the fans at this point?

"We talked about this a few weeks ago, we have talked about the program's goals of raising the expectation levels for this team and I think that we're able to handle that. We're able to handle the pressure each week to win and to want more than just an NFC South championship; to want all those things. Chances are that when that begins to happen, you've begun to change the mindset of a program and I think that's where we're at right now."

Is it safe to assume you like where Garrett Hartley is now to have made the move to waive John Carney?

"Garrett has done well. We were able to benefit a lot from John throughout the weeks that he was active, and then certainly in the weeks that he wasn't active. He's a tremendous leader in his own way and a great influence on a number of guys in that locker room, as well as a number of us coaches. It got to where it became challenging with the roster as we're trying to develop and get ready for a playoff run. But he's a special guy and has kicked amazingly well for a long period of time. I know I'm better as a coach having been around players like John Carney."

How much do you weigh in the fact that there are other teams out there that might be looking for a kicker when you make a move like that?

"You try to really look closely at our team. It's a fair question, but the key is to really look closely at what's best for the Saints. That's the approach that Mickey (Loomis) and I have tried to take when we make tough decisions like this. When it comes to a guy like John, those are tough decisions. It starts really with us."

Were the signings of the tight end (Jermon Bushrod/Tory Humphrey.aspx">Tory Humphrey) or the safety (Herana-Daze Jones) primarily a special teams move?

"The safety is a guy that starts with special teams. In the tight end's case, he's someone that we worked out a couple of months ago. He was still fighting an injury but we had him graded high. Ryan Pace and those guys have done a great job with evaluating talent. We felt like he provided some things, not only in the kicking game, but also as a guy who can block and as a tight end. So they're a little different in that way."

How did Scott Fujita play Saturday and what does his return give you on defense?

"It's another starter back. Scott has been with us now for our fourth year and he understands exactly where we're at. He plays a ton of snaps in the base on first and second down and he's certainly one of the leaders of this team. His presence on the field and being a part of every-down snaps are important to our defense."

Is there one particular area that you've noticed has led to slower starts in recent games?

"I think the one specific area in the last game would be third downs. I thought we struggled converting third downs and keeping some drives going. That was the one area statistically that kept us from putting together any drives, in the first half specifically."

What has changed as of late that has limited your success on early possessions?

"You can point to third downs. It's something that we work on each week and will continue to work to improve on. I don't know that there's one specific thing though. Collectively, it's us doing a better job of coaching those early downs and doing a better job of executing and getting back to the things that have been successful for us."

Late in the year, do you look at what you have to do to recapture momentum from your bigger wins earlier this season or is that not important?

"As you look back early in the season, Buffalo was a tough win for us. You could point to a number of games – the Jets game was a tough game that came down to the fourth quarter. Obviously Washington was a come-from-behind game and Atlanta was a tough win. What's most important is the end result and yet you hope to be getting better with each game. There's an ebb and flow to a season and I think we'll pick ourselves up and get ready to play this week. That's the challenge, really, for all of us as we get ready to play our 15th game."

How much do you look at missed tackles among the things that need to be cleaned up?

"That's all part of it. I think that's one area of being better with not allowing the leaky yardage, being better with protection on offense, being better on third down and being better on our coverage units. Those are all things that we're working on today and we'll do more of tomorrow. Tomorrow is mostly third down and that's certainly one area."

Is that frustrating to watch on the sideline?

"I think any time you lose it's frustrating. It's painful."

But is tackling specifically one area that needs to be tightened up?

"I think that certainly it's an area that we're working to improve on and we'll continue to do that."

Do you think that teams are doing a better job of taking away your downfield throws and putting you in more third down situations?

"That's a good question. Each week we carry 'X' number of plays that go down the field and that's an area that we'll continue to work on and continue to execute. I think Drew (Brees) does a real good job of getting the ball down the field. A couple weeks ago at Washington we had a number of big plays, real big shot opportunities and those ended up helping us win. It's something that we'll look at each week, how we'll get the ball down the field. I think it's important offensively to do that."

Is Sharper's injury to the same knee that he had soreness in before?

"Yes. Same knee."

Is there any worry going into the playoffs with a kicker who has never played in the playoffs before?

"When you go into the postseason, you're going to be playing a number of players – not just at kicker, but you're going to be playing players at receiver, at running back, at defensive back, at defensive line – that have maybe not had the experience, and yet they're battle-tested. With as long as the season is, the rookies aren't rookies anymore. I think Garrett last year kicked in some real tight spots for us and obviously did a real good job finishing the way he did. And certainly at Washington those were some big plays for him. He'll be ready for the challenge."

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