New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Media Availability Following Conclusion of OTAs
Thursday, June 9, 2016
“Today’s last OTA, the emphasis was (on) two-minute (drill). We got some red zone work in. When we start back up again Tuesday, (though it will be) a minicamp itinerary, the practice format is fairly similar in regards to the gear and the way we practice. So we’ll continue on the two-minute install.”
Roman (Harper) is back. What do you feel he’ll bring and add?
“I think with Roman—he has been two years away (from the Saints). There is just a presence with him. We had a good visit when he came in. The key was creating the role and understanding ‘what are his strengths?’ It is one thing to say we’re just going to bring a player back because he is a good leader, but at some point a veteran player needs to have a role (in) playing. So we will have that. Dennis (Allen) and I talked for a while about it. It is great to have him back though. If you go through his career, ’06, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’13, ’14 (in Carolina), and ’15 (in Carolina)—those are all playoff teams. For a guy that’s played in the league for 10 years, that’s pretty impressive.”
What is (Harper’s) role?
“He’ll be a guy in the three-safety package. He’ll be a guy closer to the ball rather than deeper off the ball. He’s still a really good force player. He’s extremely smart. There’s a calming influence he has when he’s in there. But (he’ll be) closer to the ball and in some of the three-safety packages, and he’s certainly a guy that can play in the two-safety package defense. But it was really about a fit before we did something like this. Obviously, I have too much respect for Roman to go through the mechanics of this and then, all of a sudden, he’s going to play until training camp ends and then (we) make a decision to release him. So to bring in someone like that who has meant as much as he has to our program—there was a lot of thought given to what kind of snaps (he will receive).”
Does special teams loom large for (Harper)?
“Yes. Special teams will be a part of it. He brought that up during the visit. A guy like him that knows who he is, and Bill (Parcells) used to say this all the time, can play a long time in this league. What keeps guys from playing a long time oftentimes is (that) they never adjust their own vision. So, that was something he brought up. If you’re going (in)to the game, you don’t have the luxury to carry an extra safety to play 20 to 25 snaps and not on special teams. So yes, that’s something that he can do.”
Is the vision for the defense this year, will it be more like it was back in the ’08 and ’09 days, when Dennis (Allen) was here before and when Roman (Harper) was here?
“There will be parts of it that will look familiar if you’re looking at terminology. There will be parts of it that have been tweaked since then, just with the nature of the way our game’s changed. The key is really your personnel and what suits them best. It’s no different than on offense or what we’re trying to do on any phase.”
Looking at the safety position and Erik Harris, talk about his progression.
“He has been a pleasant surprise. When you get a player from Canada, it is really a free agent signing, so you have not had to use a draft pick. We had success with (Delvin) Breaux. Delvin felt really strongly about the player. He was someone that all the teams were looking at on tape, so we brought him in. He ran well, and has good instincts. He’s receiving work at the free (safety position). He can play the strong (safety position). He’s versatile. That’s been a good add for us.”
Has the team missed Harper’s leadership these past couple of years?
“Yes. Absolutely, we talked about that year after 2013. When you have a Will Smith and a Jon Vilma and a Jabari Greer, and you take Roman (Harper) and Malcolm (Jenkins)—there was a lot of good football, not only leadership but also football IQ, that left the building for different reasons. And yet, that’s something that you’re looking to build with your younger players but also with your veteran players, (such as) a guy like (James) Laurinaitis, even some of these other guys that have come in. You can’t force leadership; it kind of evolves. Some guys have that trait in them.”
Is it possible to be very multiple on defense without getting too complex?
“That’s the six million dollar question. The art to teaching is repetition and knowing what to do. In today’s game, you have got to have enough (complexity) to where, offensively, they just cannot hone in on one, two, or three things, and yet you have to be able to function, execute, get aligned, and do some of the fundamental things and play with confidence. Confidence comes with your demonstrated ability to do something, having done it, then more importantly, knowing what to do. There’s a balance there that you look at.”
Speaking of confidence, seeing the plays they are making out there, can you talk about Michael Thomas and Vonn Bell and their progression?
“Both of those guys are doing well. They are both working hard. Guys are focused in and they are doing a good job not only out here but also in the weight room. Michael made a play in the red zone. He’s kind of done that each day. He has strong hands, he’s learning. There are a handful of things he has to work on and yet you can see the confidence with a play like that and the confidence that Drew (Brees) has to give him an opportunity like that. They are both young players, and you can tell they both come from a very competitive program. You can see it. The first week they were here you could see it.”
What are you and Dennis (Allen) seeing from Nate Stupar over these first couple of weeks
“We know this. Before we signed him, we knew he was one of the better special teams players. He has versatility, we’re familiar with him from the division, he’s played in games, he’s a guy that can (do) a handful of things, he’s a four core guy and yet he’s guy that has to ready to go into the outside linebacker position, either one. Both he and (Craig) Robertson give you versatility and they’re younger players.”
Is there any particular area that you’ve been pleased with over the last three weeks to see the growth from start to finish?
“It’s harder to measure the fronts, your offensive and defensive lines, without pads on. I don’t know if there is one specific group. Each day has been a little something different, there have been some days where defensively we may have been better than we had offensively or there will be a play or two. It would be hard right now to say one group’s stood out. Obviously, there’s a lot of competition but more importantly a lot of learning and corrections.”
When you talk about creating turnovers, we witnessed three practices and Vonn Bell finally came up with an interception. In another practice, the defense was making more plays on the ball. Not just pass defending but actually intercepting passes?
“Listen, I know it’s something that’s been a big point of emphasis for Dennis (Allen) and our staff and all of us. Without the pads we haven’t gotten into some of the turnover drills and yet there are a few of them next week that we will begin to incorporate. Every year we say it, when you change your possession in a game like that you add one to one team, you take one away. It is pretty simple math so that’s an area that obviously we need to improve on and it’s an area that really falls on all of us. It starts with me.”
Are you anxious to see how much progress you can make as a run defense with the pads on?
“I am anxious to get pads on because these guys are in good shape and they’ve been training. We’ve got one more week here and then there’s that break and we get started and that will be here before you know it. I’m anxious to see that, I’m anxious to see how we start doing offensively running the football. I think we can be better in both areas. Both fronts can be better and I think we have a chance to.”
How do you envision Roman (Harper) as a coach? Does he have all the makeup to do that?
“I don’t know. He’s a guy that’s been really sharp, I’m sure, with his money and I know that he wants to be involved with the game but there could be a handful of roles that wouldn’t necessarily have to be coaching. It could be personnel, it could be in other areas but certainly you know he has a passion for the game and I’m quite sure whenever it’s time and whenever he’s done playing he’ll probably still be involved in football.”
The tight end from Air Force, Garrett Griffin, have you guys received any indication that he will be cleared to play without their being a conflict with his service commitment?
“I don’t want to say, the rules have gotten a little bit more relaxed. That’s not the right term but, if a player like him has an opportunity they’re going to work with him where maybe 20 years ago it may have been a little bit different. I know in his case, he won’t miss anything. We like him as a young prospect and because of graduation he was one of the guys that got here a little late but that was really more of the graduation rules. Fortunately for us he will be involved with everything we do.”