July 29 marked the opening of training camp for the New Orleans Saints. The team met for an operational meeting and then took part in a conditioning test. The players and coaches will have their first team meeting this evening. Following the conditioning test Executive Vice-President/General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton met with the media to discuss topics such as transactions, negotiations with first round draft pick Patrick Robinson, objectives for camp as well as an initial injury report. Below is a transcript of Loomis' and Payton's press conferences.
Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis
* *"We're excited to get started. I have a few roster announcements to make here before I open it up to questions. We terminated Jason McKie and we waived Earl Heyman in order to get to the 80-man roster. Later today we're going to put Darren Sharper, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston and Clint Ingram on active PUP. Obviously we have a first round pick (Patrick Robinson) that is unsigned, but I think that talks are going well. I'd be surprised if he's not signed before the weekend's out. Matt Tennant has been excused from practices this weekend due to the passing of his mother. He'll return on Monday."
What is the progress on long-term negotiations with Pierre Thomas?
* *"He's here. He's under contract. He signed the one-year tender offer. We had some discussions with he and his agent and I don't know how to characterize those other than to say that I think they've been cordial. We'll see what happens."
Do you expect to sign him to a long term deal before the beginning of the regular season?
* *"I don't have an expectation either way. All I can say is that we've had some discussions. We've had difference of opinion. We're still talking."
Can you discuss your thoughts of bringing Patrick Ramsey in and if you hope he wins that number two job?
* *"Patrick Ramsey was our target. We just weren't able to sign him until recently due to the rules that apply to the final four teams. We're excited to have Patrick. I know he's excited to come home basically and be on the New Orleans Saints team. I know he's in great shape. He did well in the conditioning test this morning and I know he's looking forward to getting into the playbook"
What do you like about Patrick Ramsey?
* *"We like his experience. At the same time he's younger than Mark (Brunell). A lot of what we like we're just going to have to wait and see what happens on the field for our team. If a guy's available, a veteran player he was the guy that seemed to fit us the best."
Can you explain the active PUP list?
"The active PUP list means that they count on the 80-man roster and that they can be activated onto the regular roster and be able to practice at any time. What it means is that they weren't able to pass the physical today. They have a little time left in their rehab before they can be full go at practice. I would expect all four of these guys to be all full go and be activated within the next two weeks. I think Marques (Colston) for example will be early next week and I wouldn't be surprised if Clint Ingram's on the same timeframe. I think Darren (Sharper) and Robert (Meachem) might take a week longer. We expect all of these guys to be participating in practice full go prior to the first preseason game."
What can they do as a member of the active PUP list?
They can't participate in drills. They can work with the trainer and they can go to meetings. They can really do everything but the on-field work with the team. That's what they'll do."
What are your expectations as far as an extension for Drew Brees this season?
"That hasn't been a topic that we've talked about. I don't really have any expectations at this point."
Are you close to reaching agreement with Patrick Robinson and his agent?
"Yes, I think we're close and I would be surprised if it's not done before the weekend's out, hopefully sooner than that."
How is the labor situation affecting the way you do business?
"For us specifically I don't know that it's affected us dramatically. There's uncertainty about what the system will look like next year if there's a salary cap. What's it going to look like. So, we have to pay attention to the details going forward, but I don't know that it's dramatically affected the decisions we're making. We're still trying to put the best team on the field that we can and yet also make sure we're not making any mistakes in terms of the way we do our contracts. I don't think it's dramatically affected us."
Are there players that you might be signing to extensions right now if there was more certainty?
"That's a pretty broad statement. I don't know if I could say that. I don't think that it's dramatically affected us. We have to pay attention to what might happen next year and going forward in terms of the system we're going to be under, but it didn't prevent us from signing Jahri Evans and we haven't gotten some other guys like Roman Harper and Pierre Thomas signed that we maybe would have liked to get signed. It cuts both ways."
Did you feel like you were taking a big risk when you initially released Bobby McCray? Did you anticipate bringing him back all along?
"No, I didn't anticipate bringing him back when we terminated his contract, but some things happened in the course of the last 30 days and I think it made sense for us towards the end. There wasn't a plan to bring him back when we terminated him. That wasn't the plan at all."
What was it that happened?
"Just some conversations we had."
What is the nature of Marques Colston's problem?
"Marques had a little knee issue. He took care of it. It's just not quite ready to go full go. He's close though. I believe he ran the conditioning test yesterday during his rehab and passed it. He's really close, but just not quite ready. I think I expect early in the week next week for him to be ready to go."
Was the situation a surprise?
"I think that the consensus of our group is that there are a lot of good players in this draft. Whether it's deep or not, is going to be determined three years from now, but our perception is that there are good players in this draft."
Did he have surgery?
Is Jimmy Wilkerson a full go at practice?
"Yes he is and that's a little bit of a surprise. When we signed him we kind of thought it would be two or three weeks into training camp. He's a lot further along than we expected. I think Clint Ingram is further along than we expected also. We've been real pleased with the results of their rehabs.'"
Is Wilkerson's versatility similar to that of Anthony Hargrove where he can play either end or tackle?
"He has some flexibility there. I think we see more as a defensive end. We'll see how that develops in the course of training camp. We really envision him as a defensive end. Anthony we envision as a defensive tackle even though he can move out to end, so that's probably the way I'd describe both of them. It's nice to have two guys with that kind of flexibility though."
Can you talk about how you got a little younger in the front seven?
"I think one of our goals in this last offseason was to improve our depth on the defensive line. Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson give us two veteran guys who have proven they can play in the NFL and are good players to add to the mix. Jimmy is a stouter defensive end. That's probably how I'd describe him, probably stronger against the run than his pass rush ability. I think Alex Brown has the ability to both rush the passer as well as stop the run. Those have been two good additions for us. I think in a perfect world we would have liked to have added another defensive tackle. That opportunity didn't present itself. We were a little hamstrung with the final eight rules this offseason. We've been pleased with what we were able to add. The linebacker circumstances, we would have liked to have re-signed Scott Fujita and stayed with that group, but at the same time we like some of these young guys that we have. We're looking forward to seeing Stanley Arnoux and Jonathan Casella's and their development. Jo-Lonn Dunbar has done a good job for us and Anthony Waters as well. We have some guys on our team on our roster that we like and that we think can develop into pretty good players."
What are some of the things you are looking for out of training camp?
"I think more than anything else I'm looking to see how we handle success and what's our work ethic? What's the level of intensity at this training camp as opposed to last training camp. Last year I felt the intensity during training camp and the offseason program a year ago was as high as I've ever seen for a team that I've been with."
Have you talked to any other executives or coaches to discuss the pitfalls of defending a title?
"I haven't. I know Sean (Payton) has with a couple of coaches he's familiar with who have been in this circumstance, but I haven't."
In what ways can this team be better than the one in 2009?
"I think that you can always improve. That's a good question. Obviously their defense did a good job with takeaways a year ago and it will be interesting to see if we can maintain that pace defensively. On the other hand I think we can do a better job defending the run, giving up fewer yards, creating more three and outs. I think that the face that we'll be year two under Gregg Williams, our coaching staff will lend itself to an improvement in those areas. Offensively, I thought we had great balance. We need to make sure we can continue that. We've been number one in the league in offense three of the last four years, so it's hard to say where you're going to improve. We didn't score a touchdown everytime we had the opportunity in the red zone. We can improve in that area. I think that's a good question for Sean (Payton) in the next five minutes or so."
What is Robert Meachem's timetable to be on the practice field?
"I think Robert's progressing very well. I would expect him to be full go, probably not next week, but the week after I guess."
Who lines up at free safety to start camp?
"That will be Malcolm (Jenkins) and Usama (Young)."
Will they flip flop?
"I think to start with yes."
What are your thoughts on the white house visit?
"We're excited about the White House visit. It's one of the things we talked about after winning the Super Bowl. We had some scheduling issues earlier in the year. That's why it didn't happen. There wasn't a behind the scenes agenda according to the timetable. When we talked about the schedule and it was looking like we weren't going to be able to get a visit scheduled before the end of our offseason program, it was actually Sean's (Payton) suggestion that we marry it with our trip to New England. I think it was a great idea and so we're looking forward to it. I know our team's looking forward to it. Really the only downside is that we're looking forward to a great visit."
Head Coach Sean Payton
"We ran this morning, which would be very normal on this first day back. We will basically have a two-a-day format starting tomorrow, with just kind of a walk through review more than anything else this afternoon. I thought overall, just after watching the conditioning test and coming out of the offseason, we had as many players in the offseason, with 100% attendance – which reduced what they had to run here today – than we've ever had, so I was encouraged with the shape these guys are in. Obviously we are going to have to deal with the heat, especially here in the next three or four days it looks like, and we'll monitor that. Other than that, the start has gone very smooth."
Sean, on your address to the team for the first time, and I assume you have, could you give us sort of the theme to your remarks?
"It would actually be tonight, the morning meeting was operational, which is pretty normal, last night was just getting everyone acclimated. This evening we will cover some topics, many of which I think will be fairly predictable, the challenges that lie ahead, and the challenges specifically per unit, and then the collective challenges for all of us, would be the main theme."
How much of the team is here?
"Everyone is here. Everyone, except Patrick (Robinson). We didn't have the rookies come early or separate the team that way. Everyone was due in last night, so everyone has gotten their physicals, everyone's gone through that process. They've had the conditioning tests, so everyone's in."
Does Patrick Robinson have a good foundation of what you guys do?
"I think so. I think at corner, the learning curve might not be as steep, but I do think the time he spent during the offseason program and the minicamps he's been involved with, the OTAs, he's got a pretty good grasp. We've worked him, not only outside, but in the nickel as well. I think, just from the conversations I've had with Mickey, and I had a chance to hear Mickey's response, I think it's fairly common, as we sit here in the first press conference. I think we will see him sooner than later."
Patrick Ramsey doesn't have a lot of film from the last couple of years, do you personally have some from the past or do you…
"We tried to look closely at the pool of players available, and then specifically bring in a few players in for a workout, and he was one of those players. We did research those players quite a bit, what really just became the rules in regards to when we could sign the player, that those were a little gray, then cleared up for us, and I think the other four teams, or the other three teams. So he'll have the chance to come in here and compete. He's in good shape, he's in better shape than he was when we worked him out, I know that. I have spoken to coaches that have worked with him specifically and had a lot of good feedback. I've never been on a team with him, but I do remember him coming out of Tulane, specifically that process coming into the draft."
Does Chase Daniel still have a chance to be number two?
"He's going to compete, and I'm sure it's a goal of his, so we'll see once we get ready to start that competition. I couldn't put a percentage on it now, without seeing how those two guys handle our system full speed ahead. We've had a chance to look at Chase now in the offseason more than just a guy running the scout team. That won't be the only position we will have competition like that."
Do you anticipate keeping a backup to the starter and then a third guy?
"Here are the two challenges. Challenge one is that if you choose to bring four to camp, then you're at 80. That 80 number really, maybe four years ago was a World League exemption, now is a firm and so we've gone to camp with just three, but we are going with four this year. That itself is a challenge and the decisions we enter into the season with the final roster, you've seen us with three, you've +seen us with two. So the answer to that is, we'll see. We'll see how these guys do. We've done both and nothing has changed from last year in regards to final roster numbers so that will be a decision four or five weeks from now."
Have there been a couple players that have made some strides in the offseason and really in conditioning and all?
"Are there a few? Yeah, I think like every year, it's always interesting to see the maturation of a guy like Malcolm Jenkins, a guy who was in as a rookie. We saw a guy like Robert Meachem a few years back. We've seen it happen with some of these young linebackers that Mickey alluded to earlier, that maybe some of these guys were in more of a redshirt season, Stanley Arnoux for instance, or Jo-Lonn Dunbar. I think there has been a few references to last year's running back question in comparison to this year's linebacker situation, and I do think that where there is opportunity, you see quick growth and that's where you see somebody step up and that's what we are hopeful for without selecting or identifying any specific player. But you see some of those younger guys really doing a good job competing. I think that defensively there will be some good competition at the end position. I think there is a little more familiarity with the system on that side of the ball offensively. You are going to see some of these younger players compete and challenge some of the veteran players that have had a lot of playing time. But overall, it was a shorter offseason, and yet our attendance was as good as it has been. We'll see where that translates as we go into training camp. The goal of the offseason is to really prepare your players physically and mentally for the competition of where we are at now."
When's your next book coming out?
"In a long time."
It's been an extraordinary offseason, you went from a book signing yesterday to reporting day today, can you just talk a little bit about it?
"It's some of the challenges probably, to some degree, that we have all dealt with. I think back in the playoffs when you are approached with the opportunity like that, with the suggestion, 'Hey if you guys win the Super Bowl, would you have an interest in writing a book.' It's easy to get the guy out of your room and say sure if we win the Super Bowl let's revisit that and sure enough a week after we won the Super Bowl, this guy shows up in my office. I think there's a part in all of us that's familiar with the process, and I say this with all due respect to many of the jobs you have, you think this is going to be seven phone calls and a visit and the book is going to be fantastic. Quickly you realize if you are putting your name on it, you want it to be good, and it takes a lot of time. There's a part of me that says if I knew then what I knew now, it may have never gotten written. But that will be on the shelves for a while before there's ever another one."
You've talked to other coaches about what it's like to win a championship and the challenges there are to repeat…
"Not just other coaches, but people that have been in the venue, whether it be an athlete or a coach that have had the chance to win a second title, regardless of the sport. You hear some of the recurring themes that it starts from within, the challenge of staying hungry, of not assuming that you're going to be back in the postseason. We've seen this, especially in football, we've seen this a lot more in our sport than any other. You try to outline and identify and really look closely at some of those topics, having that same taste of hunger and attention to detail, and not allowing your mind to think that everything will take care of itself by the time of the first game of the season starts. The process has to begin again and it doesn't pick up where you left off. I think identifying those challenges is one thing and that attacking them is another. That's where we start tomorrow."
Who might be in the mix to be the holder?
"You'll see the quarterbacks get work; you'll see the punter get work. Lance Moore is a guy. You try to take the approach that you want to have flexibility in that you'd like the holder to be a player that earned a game day jersey because of his playing ability somewhere else rather than getting a game day jersey because he's the holder. I think you'll see the quarterbacks getting work there; you'll see the punter – Thomas Morstead – getting work there and guys like Lance Moore getting work there and then as we get closer, we'll hone in that list."
You ranked low in punt and kick coverage last season. Was that something that more about scheme or personnel?
"I think you try to at all aspects, and specifically when you're talking about the kicking game, we talk in the offseason about how we improve our depth, how we improve our overall core units – the guys that are going to be playing on all four core special teams. Be it linebackers, safeties, corners, defensive linemen and occasionally a tight end or a running back. In the case of Lynell Hamilton, we began to see him really excel in that area a year ago. Courtney Roby is another guy. So you evaluate and you try to improve your depth to improve your personnel in the core and then you look at your scheme and we're always trying to make sure that we're not doing too much and we're giving these guys the best chance to excel at their position. That's our job as teachers; to try to make sure that these guys are getting 'A's on the test. That certainly will be one of the points of emphasis, along with getting the return units going a little bit earlier. The punt return unit came on for us in the postseason with a big play against Arizona. Those are all the little things, but those things exist defensively for us as well and those challenges exist for us offensively. Offensively, we felt we had too many fumbles a year ago where the ball was on the ground. So our jobs as coaches is really to try to take an unbiased look at ourselves and truly evaluate where we think we can get better. I think that becomes more challenging when you just won a championship; that sell of this is what we need to accomplish here as we move forward."
Who have you talked to about the challenges of coaching a team coming off a championship?
"I'd rather get into specifics because a number of the guys are currently in the league or in other sports, but we try as best we can to surround ourselves with and have coaches or players come in and visit. The more we can surround ourselves with guys that have been successful, the better off we feel that message can be translated to our team. There have been conversations and we'll have some guys come in and speak to our team, no different than we did a year ago and yet that timeframe before we start play in the regular season where we'll have other conversations I'm sure. We have a chance to practice with New England and spend three days up there before we play our first preseason game and we look forward to that and I look forward to the opportunity to visit with Bill Belichick."
You talked about selling a mindset during the offseason. Did players seem to buy into it?
"Yes. I thought our training in the offseason was good. There was a lot of competition in the drills and I've said before that I like the leadership in this locker room right now. They know it's going to be more difficult and more challenging than a year ago and I think they're ready for that challenge."
In years past at these press conferences you've had t-shirts with a motto heading into training camp. Is there a slogan or any key words this season?
"There's no buzz word. We've referred to this timeframe as 'Our Time'. Last year represented a moment in that time and trying to take advantage of our opportunity and our window here and recognize that there's only one team that has a chance to try to repeat. We understand the challenges go with that, so the focus goes all the way back to day one install tomorrow. We now it's going to be hot. I think that this time of the year is a chance to get back to all the specifics and our players and our coaches are ready for this training camp to begin. So here we go."
Mickey said that you guys set some expectations when bringing Bobby McCray back. Was part of that attitude and commitment?
"I listened to the question and had a chance to listen to Mickey's response, and I would agree exactly with what he said. At the time (of his release), there were no plans but then as time unfolded there began some dialogue and I think that specific dialogue would be better off just between us. We're glad he's back; he's in good shape; he ran well and had a good offseason."
So it wasn't about a need at defensive end?
"The first question I would have in your position would be was there a setback to one of our other ends and to answer that, I say no. It wasn't because something happened. It was more about having a chance to spend more time with Bobby."
Have you thought about what you will say to President Obama and will you talk to Coach Belichick about the imitation of him that you did?
"I'd like to visit with Bill just about winning football games. As it pertains to the President, he called right after we won the Super Bowl and we had a chance to visit. I think our players and all of us will look forward to the opportunity and recognize that it's a special opportunity. I've never had a chance to be at the White House. The way the schedule worked out, it did make it a little more convenient for us to stop there on the way to New England rather than to take a trip, come back home and then take another trip. We're looking forward to it."
Are you happy with having training camp at home in comparison to going away as you did previously?
"A lot of people ask that question. When we're away for the summer, I see a lot of people from Mississippi, from Alabama and from Louisiana and we reference the three years we were at Millsaps and those were important years and the things we do here are pretty much the same. The one thing that is always challenging – outside the rain here – is the heat and the indoor facility here gives us a chance to have a second practice but get the guys out of the sun and get them out of the heat of the South. We were able to put a new surface in the indoor facility here this summer so the surface is brand new. It's softer and it's the same surface that we have installed at the Superdome, only it's a little more padded. That indoor facility is important, as is being amongst our fans, as well as from a meeting room standpoint. The one thing that's different and we did this last year and we're doing it again is that with the meetings we set them up at the hotel so we're not driving four times a day rather than just twice a day. Timing-wise, with where we're at as a team, the players like the set-up here. It went smooth last year and we're glad to be training here locally and making it more convenient for our fans here. Which is not to say that our fan base is only here. The unique thing is that with all the SEC football played in the Gulf South, there's just one pro team so as we go into Mississippi or spend time in Alabama and even in Florida, there's such a following there for our team that you want to be able to have a representation there. So at some point down the road, will camp always stay here? It will probably change and I think the change is always good after a couple or three years."
I know that you and the team took very seriously the fact that you were a rallying point for the community following Katrina. Do you feel similarly with the oil spill?
"I certainly think the day we spent down there in light of everything that has gone on, rather than going to Baton Rouge for that luncheon, was a great thought. I was just down there again with our foundation two days ago in Venice and we had seven truckloads of food that went not only to Venice, but to Lafitte and Grand Isle and all throughout the regions that have been affected, partnering with Feed the Children. I think it's certainly something that we all have paid attention to and it's something that still continues to be the first and most important news story so our players and everyone in the organization is mindful of that. This region, when it's dealt those setbacks, has a way of uniquely coming together. I think it's hard to make a comparison to four years ago, but the one thing that we do know is that there's still a lot of unanswered questions in terms of how much and where it's at. I listen to the radio and hear the reports about all the problems that our fishermen are having, and the one thing that's clear is that we're still open for business. You just continue to hope that we can get through this, but this one's a little more gray than Katrina. Katrina, as devastating as it was, you were at least able to measure it. What makes this more challenging is the inability to specifically say, 'here's the damage' and by next September it's going to be clean."
Have you heard the players talking about it as well?
"We wanted to bring the players down there to be supportive of the people, and to be there and have a presence. The way that we can best represent the region is to win games and to give good effort and to excel at our jobs and show the support in the community when we're not involved in football. Our players and our organization do a great job with that. I think the presence that we had down there in the spring brought attention – especially to some of the guys that are new here – that this is different and the relationship that we have with the fans here is different."
With the PUP guys (Marques Colston, Clint Ingram, Robert Meachem, Darren Sharper), why was that the best option for them at this point?
"It's very simple, and you see it around the league, they're unable to perform right now or pass a physical. So it's not a tough decision; it's a very simple one that every team in the league uses. It's something that probably took all of six minutes last night in our staff meeting at as we went through the injury report to look at it and say that right now we have to put them on PUP because they're going to be unable to participate in the team football drills."
Is there anyone new that you're looking at as a kick or punt returner this year?
"I'd like to see Tracy Porter a little bit more. He wouldn't be new but he'd maybe be new in regards to seeing him as a punt returner a little bit more. And we'll see how some of these young receivers do, but that would be one name that would be a guy that we want to look at. And certainly Rod Harper, who's not new, but a guy that shined a little bit there last year."
When specifically did Marques Colston injure his knee?
"There wasn't a play where it got injured. At the end of the offseason, there was soreness as he was continuing to train and we wanted to take a look at it and get it cleaned up. It wasn't an event, rather than a period of time where he was still experiencing soreness."
Is it the same knee as last year?
Have you been to the Superdome and seen the new locker room set-up and the fact that the assistant coaches will be on the 7th level and having to go down two elevators and through the crowd to get down to the locker room?
"I haven't seen it, I've just heard logistically that the locker room has turned out great and I know that the travel from the locker room to where the assistant coaches' booth is different than what it was in years past. What I would like to do at some point prior to the preseason is to take an afternoon or evening practice there so that we can get used to the surface and see if we need to firm it up at all and then secondly, really get a lay of the land with the locker room and how the coaches have to get to the booth and get past you guys in the lunch line and everything else."