New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Friday, January 5, 2018
What went into the decision on giving Alvin (Kamara) more looks on punt returns the last couple of weeks?
"He has a real good skillset for it and he's one of those guys that's pretty fluid. You're at that stage in the season where you look at impact plays and I think it's just smart thinking. You play running back and at any given play there is that risk of getting tackled or hit and I think it is just the timing of where we are at in the season. I felt real good about it until I saw the replay and I saw the side judge equal to him and then go faster than him so we have to find out who that official was and sign him up."
Is there more risk on a punt return then a kick return?
"I think if we did a study, we could probably say that for the returner, I do not know if there would be. I think to date, I think the kickoff itself, not the return, the kickoff itself would have a tick more injuries from just the space between the collisions if that makes sense. I don't think it would be much different from a returner standpoint but I think from the distance, I think the punt you are engaged and contact is happening immediately. That would be my guess."
Do you have to be careful with using Kamara too much?
"Yes. I think part of the thing is having that balance. The same things exist with a handful of guys. How many snaps is Michael Thomas taking? If you are not careful, he will go out on that Zebra system and we will come in and look at it and see that he traveled eight and a half miles toady and every other receiver traveled five point nine. The workload we measure and look closely at and it would apply with him. I think that balance of marking him work (is important). Sometimes, we have had a few games of late where our snap totals are down and it's not as big of an issue. When you are playing one of those 70 snap games, you have to be careful."
What stood out the most the first time you saw him (Alvin Kamara)?
"His intelligence. We had a workout at Tennessee and our group went there. We had a private workout and they had a big group of players. We had dinner with them the night before and they were all, I think great guys to be around. Then the next day, we have linebackers meeting with all the linebackers. Pete Carmichael's meeting with all the quarterbacks and we're meeting with this group of players (just the Saints) and he was watching film with the quarterback (Joshua Dobbs). The quarterback's a rocket science graduate. We say sometimes that it is not rocket science, but for him it is. He is real smart and Alvin quickly in that film room was on top of all the elements to the game. Then out on the field when we went through different routes and defensive looks. He picked it up very quickly. I would say it is a, aside from his physical ability, it is gift."
Could you tell right away that he is perfect person for your system?
"I am going to be honest with you, the vision right away was that joker third down (role), that player that if you put in space and move around. There was not much evidence of his running ability inside and outside because he was splitting carries at Tennessee. I think that the transition here when you come in, and you have a guy like Adrian Peterson, I think for Mark (Ingram) even that was a great room and I really think for young players that enter the league, if they enter behind someone special, I think it can help their careers and sometimes when they enter behind someone that is not, it can set them back. There was a lot of competition and respect with that group. Adrian works extremely hard in the offseason. Mark is in there and Alvin is in there. When you have that in any industry, you perform at your best. I think that was important and you begin to see his confidence grow with some success in the preseason and it carried over."
It sounds like you are going to have a substantial amount of alumni at this game. Is that true?
"I just think guys come back. We have had guys at a handful of these games and obviously when you are playing a playoff game, those guys look forward in getting back and I have not seen any of the guys, but I like that they are coming back. I can remember once, going to a University of Miami pro day and I loved seeing 30-35 former Miami University, former Hurricane players, maybe some in the NFL, but they were all so interested in their team and how those other players were doing. I just found that to be encouraging and I think a part of building a program is embracing those guys that were here prior and I love it when they come back. I'm sure even though our schedule will be busy, I know those guys will enjoy being with each other."
How do you think your coaching staff decisions played out?
"I look more at what we are doing here. This time of the year, you make changes and it happens with personnel, it happens in the front office, it happens in coaching, and it happens with players. I think it is always a challenging time of the season and I think a lot of good football coaches this past Monday were released. You stay here long enough and some day when I put my finger on that little print that opens the door, it won't say open. It won't do anything and I will do it again and again."
What do you like specifically about what Mike Nolan and Ryan Nielsen have brought to the defense?
"Ryan for instance comes from North Carolina State. He's done a good job with the young defensive front. The pass rush, I think he has done a real good job. Mike is on the entirely on the other end of the spectrum. He is someone that has veteran NFL experience. He has been a head coach. I grew up as a young kid in San Francisco and loved the 49ers back when his dad was the head coach and we talk about that. I think it is the collection and I think if you expect your locker room to be close your staff has to be close."
You guys do more pass rush periods in practice now. Do you think that has helped you?
"We're in a passing league. Obviously stopping the run's important but the quarterback who is under more duress makes more mistakes regardless of the talent level. I think you are trying to create that pressure movement. You are trying to create that pressure on the quarterback with blitzes. There are a lot of different ways. That's the benefit of playing at home with the crowd noise. It becomes more challenging for communications. Generally, that quarterback that has to throw it in two Mississippi will be like when we were little instead of four Mississippi. It is harder to make your decisions when that clock in your head is quicker."
After three straight 7-9 seasons, how much did you need a season like this?
"I felt after the first 7-9 season, I needed a year like this. I think you regroup. There is that competitive advantage in you. The draft we had was significant, obviously, with the amount of playing time we have from this class, I think it was extremely important. There are all these things that go on with the postseason, but to be involved in it's exciting and a lot of these guys have been in big games but this is a young team. Today was millennial Friday. They had the music going and the guys did a good job. I like the energy and I like the focus this week."
Going back to your days as an assistant, what do you remember about your first playoff game and how different is it?
"My first playoff game, I was the (offensive) coordinator in New York. It's entirely different. We won the divisional round and beat the Philadelphia Eagles. We had played them twice in the regular season and beat them twice. Jason Sehorn had a big play for an interception. We won that game and hosted the NFC championship. We were the number one seed, we played the Minnesota Vikings. It was Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Cris Carter. A really explosive team that had just beaten the Saints by a lot. Fortunately, the field was frozen there. It was cold, a lot things went right in that game, and we won 41-0. Unfortunately, we're looking at the TV and watching the Ravens beat the Raiders and all of sudden the excitement and joy of winning the NFC Championship quickly shifted to a Super Bowl, but it would have been that stretch. That was my first year as a coordinator there in 2000. It's exciting, it's what you enjoy, the butterflies that go with it. It's what you do it all for, it's what you lift weights for, all the things that happen in the offseason, the process, the people cooking, the administration, everyone is working for this objective. I think it's exciting for the organization."
Your other playoff teams were all part of that Super Bowl core. Does this team feel like, with so many young guys, a new core?
"'06 was different. '06 was not a Super Bowl team. We were a two-seed with 10 wins which is unusual. We sat starters in the last game. That was a tough team, it was an important year. '09 was a Super Bowl team. (There were) A lot of guys from '06, but a (there were) lot of new pieces. '10 was a Wild Card team up in Seattle. '11 might've been our best team and I lose track, but there is turnover in those years. There are guys that were a part of all of them and there are many that were part of one or two of them. '13 was new. We won the Wild Card round on the road. Each team's different. You remember the games though like they were yesterday."
Can you talk about the energy and focus this team had practices with this week?
"I think it's been spot on. Everyone understands, no different from Carolina, you're in a single elimination tournament. There's been a lot of work to get here. Part of it is caring so much that you don't want to let your teammates down and I think that's important. Understanding that I care about you enough that to where I'm going to do my job. When you get a team that's playing together, you have something."
How about the matchup in terms of there's a couple of huge impact players that did not play in these matchups earlier in the year on both sides of the ball?
"I said this: our season, early in the year, your roster is at 53, your practice squad is at 10 and as you travel through the season it evolves. Holy cow, from week three, our first game, there are a lot of different players that were and were not on the field. The next game, I can't even tell you when that one was, but (there are) a lot of different (players). The same thing will apply in this one. I think that's a little bit of the nature of the 16-week season and the attrition sometimes."
How is Greg Olsen able to open up the offense?
"I think it's an important target, but equally as important is his ability to block. When you have someone like that, that's important to your offense. It's important for the quarterback and confidence that they have, and the timing that they have."
Cam Jordan was named a AP first-team All-Pro selection, how long overdue is that recognition?
"I think he's had a great year. I'm happy, I'm proud of him. Generally, when it comes to the Pro Bowl, a player gets in a year late and then there's someone on that backend that gets that bonus year and I always say, 'you're eighth, ninth, tenth and that will be the year you should not get in and some other young guy (will not),' and that is the way it works. I'm happy for him and it's well deserved."
Millennial Friday, is that a term you've used before?
"Today was (the first time)."
Can you talk about what the challenges are facing this Panthers team overall for a third time?
"Each game's different. It's a real good front. A real good defensive front. They communicate well, the backend. Their defensive numbers are fantastic, they've played well in the last six weeks. Offensively, they've done a really good job. (At) the midpoint of the season, you could see the confidence grow with that team and you're talking about a team that, a year and a half ago, was in a Super Bowl. All of that. The prior two games don't matter, it's this one. I think both teams will understand that."
Can you marvel how effective Julius Peppers is at this age?
"It's unbelievable. We were talking about him. John Fox and I were together in New York and I believe that was one of John's first picks (when he was Panthers head coach in 2002). There was a lot of discussion between Joey Harrington and Julius Peppers. I just know there was a lot of pressure from some people in our industry to take the quarterback and I think John and Marty Hurney made the selection and obviously (it worked out). At his age and what he's done, we're watching red zone tape last night, and he's had a great career, and he's still playing at a high level."
How much does Terron Armstead mean to this offensive line and getting him healthy to play?
"I feel like the last two times we played Carolina it was (Andrus) Peat at left tackle, Senio (Kelemete) at left guard. We're fortunate to have some flexibility selecting (Ryan) Ramczyk when we did in that trade. It ended up being a huge plus for us. When you loss (Zach) Strief and you lose Terron (Armstead). There's been a lot of flux with that offensive line and I credit those guys for handling it that week. We'll see how this game goes and presents itself, but we'll have a plan. Terron is a great competitor."