<span> <span style="">New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton</span> <span style="">Wednesday, December 30, 2009</span>
<span style="">Opening Statement:</span>
"Just hitting on the injury report real quick, Sedrick Ellis (knee) was limited; Darnell Dinkins (foot) was limited; Jabari Greer (groin) was limited; Jason Kyle (back) was limited; Darren Sharper (knee) did not practice today; Jeremy Shockey (toe) was limited; Scott Shanle (concussion) was limited; Lynell Hamilton (shoulder) was limited; Jonathan Vilma (knee) did not practice; Jahri Evans (foot) was limited; Jermon Bushrod (wrist) was limited; Randall Gay (concussion) was limited; Bobby McCray (back) did not practice; Lance Moore (ankle) did not practice; Usama Young (abdomen) did not practice; Pierre Thomas (rib) did not practice; David Thomas (calf) did not practice. From a roster standpoint, we waived cornerback Greg Fassitt and he has since been re-signed to the practice squad. Herana-Daze Jones was waived. In their two spots, we signed tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive tackle Jermon Bushrod/Rodney Leisle.aspx">Rodney Leisle. Most of today's work – like all Wednesdays – was spent on first and second down in the base. Tomorrow we'll move on to the nickel and we'll go from there."
Have your plans changed for Sunday's game since Minnesota lost the other night?
"Our focus – and I said this in the team meeting – is to have a real good week of practice in preparation for this game. Certainly there are a few guys that are nicked that we're going to be mindful of going in, and yet that's going to be our approach. It's really more than anything else about paying attention to our guys who could be hurt more from an injury standpoint that we just have to look at. That being said, the focus is going in and playing a team that's playing well right now."
Is there still the possibility that if you like the way the team starts that you might take starters out?
"That exists at any time, especially where we're at right now. There may be a guy or two that we elect not to play, but what's most important is the process here this week as we get ready. Today we had the pads on and had a good practice with energy."
At the same time, with someone like Mark Brunell who hasn't gotten many snaps, do you weigh wanting to make sure that he's ready in case he has to play?
"That would be one example. You always hope that that one player doesn't have to play during the course of a season, but the challenge with the quarterback position is that unlike in training camp, there's a protocol with the one, the two and the three and that three can't come in the game, if in fact there was a three. If it's just Brees and Brunell, like we have currently, then we don't have that same issue. We'll study that closely and one of the things that a guy like Mark has to do each week is to prepare like it's going to be a game that he plays in and he has done that for quite some time."
How important is it to you to finish the regular season with some momentum heading into the playoffs?
"Each week you want to play well and you want to show improvement and you want to clean up and correct. This week would be no different. Obviously there's a layoff that's a little longer with the bye, but that being said, in '06 I thought we handled that process pretty well and played well in a Divisional game at home here against Philadelphia. There are pros and cons in regards to making sure that the guys are healthy and ready for the divisional game, and yet you're still able to come out and put a good plan together and play well."
Do you ponder disciplining Bobby McCray?
"First off, there's a league protocol and it shifts to the league and we'll follow the process and gather the information. I know Greg Bensel has released a statement and that's really about it."
What is the league's protocol?
"They go through the process of first going through the judicial process and gathering all the facts and the information. Given that we're just two days removed from it, there are still a number of steps to be taken."
There is a report that Jeremy Shockey hurt his toe kicking a vending machine and there was a squabble between the two of you before the Tampa Bay game. Is there any truth to the report?
"Zero. There is absolutely none. Number one, his toe was injured in a game. We went through a workout prior to the game against Tampa and there's absolutely zero truth to that. He was completely on the same page with where we were at heading into that game. We went through the workout process and Scottie (Patton), myself and Terry Malone gathered after the workout and decided that we were better off waiting. He was close enough to where he could have played and yet I didn't want any further setback. The injury happened in a game. There was never any argument. That couldn't be further from the truth."
What do you need to see from guys who have been injured like Shockey and Jabari Greer? Do they need reps in this game?
"Jeremy hasn't been out for so long really. I think the main thing is making sure that they're in shape and their conditioning level…he's practicing and working. In his case, he's close to 100 percent now. The pain each week gets better. It wasn't a typical turf toe. It was on top of the toe that he has been battling. We'll keep getting him work and make sure that he's ready. In Jabari's case, it's a much longer timeframe. Last week he had a good week of work and we still held him out. We're hopeful that he's going to be able to play this week. In those two cases, they're different. In Jabari's case, because of the time that he's been out, I think it will be important work."
Do you feel like your team needs to gain a swagger back in this last game of the regular season?
"I think this is a confident team. We'll be ready when it comes time for the Divisional round. That being said, our focus right now is on this game and our assignments and the team we're playing and the things that they do well. There's still really just this week before we get into the postseason. Our focus is this week. We want to make sure that we're playing better and looking at our practices and paying close attention to all that, but this is a pretty confident group."
Did it become more of a balancing act when Minnesota lost?
"The way that it's set up each year, each week things take place that cement certain teams into certain positions or eliminate teams. Obviously it affords us a luxury because we are the one-seed. That was one of the goals of this team when the season started; win the division, play in the postseason, secure the one-seed and win a championship. That being said, it is different than if we were playing this game with the one-seed still on the line."
Do you worry that the mentality is going to be different?
"I think our players understand that there's really only one way to play a game. You can't go in half-in. It may vary who goes in, but there's only one way to approach this game. It's physical; the team we're playing is physical; and the challenge we're facing this week is to prepare with the best plan and go on the road and play Carolina who is playing well."
Could the results of Monday night possibly make coaching this game easier for you?
"I don't know if it makes it easier. It allows you to pay closer to a handful of players who may or may not have played otherwise because of an injury. That's the one thing that I think you're afforded a little bit."
Are you surprised that Will Smith didn't make the Pro Bowl?
"Yes; and disappointed. He has played extremely well. One of the challenges every December is the Pro Bowl. All of us as coaches are biased towards our own players, but in his case with his numbers and the season that he's having, you try to look at it objectively but... It was released yesterday and we're able to gather the information first in regards to our own players, so there were five phone calls to make congratulating the players who have achieved this goal – because it is important to the players. The harder phone call to make was the call to Will. He's someone that is driven by more than that though. The respect for a player like him in this league is real strong. I'm proud of the way he's played this year. Our plan is to not have any of these guys playing in that game."
What level of alternate was Will?
"He was a first."
Did you have other alternates?
"There was a group of them. I don't have the list of them in front of me here. The alternates are never announced but we had a significant amount of alternates. Rather than try to give them to you now, I'll have Greg give them to you guys."
How concerned are you about your run defense now?
"We're just focused on getting better in that area. Certainly we think that by the time we're getting ready for the Divisional game, we'll be ready in regards to run defense, run offense and those areas. I think as coaches you're always worried. After big wins, after tough losses, our job is to clean up, prepare and correct and so that's what we're doing now. I think those guys will be ready."
How is Matt Moore playing now? How significant will it be for them not to have Steve Smith?
"The quarterback has come in and one of the things that they have done very well of late is protect the football. He's making good decisions. They have moved the football and it hasn't just been on the ground. He has made some big plays and he has shown poise and really taken advantage of his opportunity. Going on the road to New York is a tough spot for any quarterback and playing against the Vikings is a tough spot, so it has come in really good competition and he has handled that opportunity well. Certainly you hate to see a player like Steve get injured. He's such a competitor and even on the play he was injured he made an amazing catch and scored. We have a ton of respect for a guy like him. You hate to lose a starter like that as a team if you're Carolina, just like we would to lose a player of his stature. I'm sure he'll be able to rehab it and come back strong. He's an amazing player."
What are some of the reasons that the offense hasn't been as productive over the past two and a half games?
"I don't want to lump games together because I don't think that's the right thing to do. Looking at Tampa Bay, we played just how we wanted to play in the first half. In the second half we struggled on third down. Those are the things that we'll work to clean up. Any time you put the tape on, it's interesting. After a big win, it's never as clean or as good as you would've thought and then after a tough loss it's never as bad as you thought. It kind of brings you back to the middle. Early on, there were some things that I was pleased with. I think the quarterback is playing at a high level. We'll continue to work on the balance. I thought Pierre Thomas ran well early before he hurt his ribs. I thought we protected pretty well. We'll work on those specifics. I think the third down number is always a big number. Separate from the turnover number, it's the one statistic that allows you to stay on the field and it's the one statistic that can allow you to get off the field or not. That's one area that when we get to tomorrow's practice in the nickel we'll pay attention to closely, just as we have with the film study. We'll keep working on those areas to improve."
Why might it be unfair to call this a glorified preseason game?
"It's just so different. In preseason you're sitting there with 70 or however many players and it's impossible to compare the two because of the depth you have in the preseason and the amount of players that you have going in. This is different."
What has Carolina done better in these last few games?
"I mentioned the turnovers. They're taking it away on defense real well. (Julius) Peppers is playing extremely well and you've seen that because of the nature of his position, but this inside linebacker (Jon) Beason has been outstanding. There's not a lot of leaky yardage. They've created turnovers, be it through fumbles or strip plays – they came up with some big ones against New York – or from interceptions. They're playing with good team speed defensively. Offensively, they're a team that has always been able to run the ball well and they're doing that now and getting big plays from the quarterback and getting efficient play from him. Regardless of where their record is at now, this is a team that clearly when you watch them is playing with a lot of confidence. You guys know that I have a good relationship with and have known John Fox for a long time, and this might be one of his best coaching jobs since he's been there when you watch what they've gone through and where they're at and how they're playing right now. Despite the injuries, they have done a great job."