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Saints transcripts: J.T. Gray, Nick Vannett, Marshon Lattimore and Brett Maher Media Availability | Thursday, Dec. 23

Saints players on Week 16 matchup against Miami

New Orleans Saints Defensive Back J.T. Gray
Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, December 23, 2021

Congrats on making the Pro Bowl, I guess when did you find out and what was your reaction and what have people I guess said to you in the 12 ish hours or probably like 16, 18 now since then?
"First of all, I want to say thank you and I found out on my way home leaving the facility. Coach (Sean) Payton called me and told me congratulations, that I've been selected as the first team special teamer. I couldn't even describe the emotions that went through (me) at that moment because of how much hard work and blood, sweat and tears I put in, and it's showing off, it's paying off right now. It's a blessing to have those accolades."

You've been All-Pro in 2019 and now you're a Pro Bowler. What does it mean to you to be a Pro Bowler? Is it a different feeling than All-Pro? What's the feeling?
"The feeling just knowing that I am getting recognition with the fans now. I was pretty well known throughout the league, but now it's just expanding throughout outside of the NFL now."

Obviously, today's a little weird. Can't exactly celebrate the way that you would want to, I guess with your teammates. How has today been? Are y'all like doing virtual meetings? Like how was practice, did you even have practice? Like how has this weird day been for all y'all?
"Yeah, it's pretty weird. Today we did virtual meetings just for extra precaution."

Just kind of going back to the Pro Bowl. Just as a kid growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi would you have ever imagined that this is where your football career would take you?
"To be honest, I dreamed about this ever since I was young. Ever since I was in high school, I used to watch some of the greatest players do their thing. Going through college and sticking to my routine and now that I'm here, I'm just doing it at a higher level. And now that it's happened, like, it's just amazing. At first I couldn't believe it, but I'm here."

In that vein, you're an undrafted guy who had an interesting start to his career and is finally made it, captain this year. Just how have you reflected on that moment just knowing how far you've come since coming from Mississippi and being an undrafted guy?
"Yeah, I've reflected plenty of times and I always tell myself that it doesn't matter the situation and where you come from, but it always depends on your reaction and how you go about your daily habits each and every day. We're going to take Ls and Ls are just a part of the process of success."

Is there anybody around the league that you study or like is like a major inspiration for what you do? Like I know Matt Slater's guy a lot of people that play gunner look at, is there anybody like that that you kind of like really look at?
"I definitely watch Matthew Slater. When I first got to the league, I was studying Justin Hardee hard. He was a special team ace here when I was a rookie and just watching film on those guys and seeing how they do things and just adding that to my toolbox and utilizing out on the field."

What did you pick up off of Justin Hardee just kind of early on when you were watching him?
"His gunner reps, like, just being a dynamic gunner on the outside and just studying his releases and how he finishes on the ball, his alignment and how he goes about his assignments and his attention to detail to the game."

How much better do you think you can get? Is there still room for growth as far as what you're doing?
"There's always room for improvement. Nobody's perfect. We can try to reach perfection but on the way we can catch excellence. So there's always room for improvement."

I think I've asked you this before, but what do you feel makes you the best in the league at what you do?
"I feel like my attention to detail. Once I'm out there in the field, I go out there execute those attention to details and do it at a high level with a high motor."

What does your offseason look like? A lot of guys that are position specific you can kind of imagine that, I used to cover the Patriots so, like, Matt Slater every practice would just do gunner stuff like three hours straight, nonstop. What do your practice sessions kind of look like when you're practicing that stuff?
"Are you talking about during the season or the offseason?"

Offseason. Just kind of what does it look like when you're kind of working on the gunner stuff?
"I'll go back and look at the film and dissect and see my strengths and my weaknesses and I'll go and try to find the weaknesses and try to strip those in an offseason. It depends, like, I workout before I actually hit the field and figure out what I need to do out there on the field. It's basically dissecting. Mondays, I'll do something this way. Tuesday, I'll do something totally different. Rest on Wednesday. Thursday, get back into the same routine was Monday and Friday do the same thing as Tuesday."

And during the season, is it more safety specific or is it more special teams specific?
"It's still mixed and matched. I still carry both of those skillsets throughout every day."

New Orleans Saints Tight End Nick Vannett
Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, December 23, 2021

What's it sort of been like this week I guess with all the different COVID issues and the small tight end room and all that, what's that been like?
"I mean, it's wild I'll be honest, it's really wild. I don't know if you guys remember from last year, but when I was on the Broncos, we played the Saints, we didn't have a quarterback on the roster. Fortunately, we don't have exactly that issue right now. At least we have some time to move some pieces around and figure some things out and to have like, a good game plan going into the game on Monday. So if this is what's going to happen, it's good thing it's happening now, that we'll have time to prepare and plan for it rather than the day before, kind of like how it happened to us last year. But yeah, it's wild. It just means that guy's got to step up. Guys are going to have to assume roles that they normally wouldn't take on. As far as I'm concerned, the games still going to be played, they're still going to keep score and all that stuff. We've got to step up, there's no excuses. So it's a good challenge in front of us."

Does it feel a little weird I guess that you and Ethan Wolf are like the last men standing, at least for now. Like, what was practice, like, with just the two of you?
"There's a lot of reps. Dang near taking every single play in practice, which is good. It's good to get the reps, it's good to get those high speed reps, makes you feel good about everything that's going into the game plan. But yeah, it is weird. I wasn't aware of it until we showed up that day in that team meeting when my coach came up to me and informed me of all this stuff with Adam Trautman and with Juwan Johnson, but like I said, we can't really dwell on it. We've just got to look forward and we've got to work with what we've got right now. I have full confidence in Ethan. I know he's going to go out and do a great job. When he got his opportunity in New York he did a good job with his limited role and now he's going to (need to) have an expanded role. So we're going to do everything we can on our end to prepare for it and we are going to be ready come game time."

Obviously with the news that Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian are in the COVID protocols, the likelihood of Ian Book starting is pretty great. Could you just talk about have you worked with him at all in practice just what you've seen maybe since training camp when he got here and just kind of overall thoughts on a rookie stepping into a pretty difficult situation?
"Yeah, I mean, it's not easy, especially Monday Night. We're the only game being played, all eyes are on us. It's not easy for anyone who's stepping into their first NFL game and taking on that role, especially a quarterback. But with Ian, he's an unbelievable athlete, unbelievable quarterback. If you guys saw the things that he would do against our scout team against our defense, sometimes you just sit back like, Oh my God, how did he pull that off? I would say he's just as mobile as Taysom (Hill) is, he's a dual threat, he can run around and he'll get in there and get some yards scrambling around. I'm not sure if we're going to call any quarterback powers, like we would with Taysom, but I think he's a very good passer in all areas of the field. I think the biggest thing is that we've just got to do a good job of getting him settled into the game. We can't try to put too much on this plate right away, just kind of get settled in and kind of build his confidence up a little bit. And I think once we do that, we'll be fine."

You referenced Denver last year? Do you kind of feel like that makes you uniquely qualified to handle something like this? I mean, when it when it pops up, did you feel a sense of here we go again, or did you feel a sense of okay, I've been through this before, and it was even worse. I mean, how did you feel?
"Yeah, a little bit above, right? I obviously dealt with this last year. I would say the only difference is that we found out Saturday, the day before we played the Saints, that we weren't going to have a quarterback. So it was a little more scrambling around, a little more we had to throw out our previous game plan and come up with something new for our practice squad receiver that we had play quarterback. So thankfully, we're not in that exact situation. But there's still some pieces that need to be moved around and still some guys that need to step up and assume these roles, like I said earlier, and I think our coaches are doing a really good job as far as like, just getting us prepared and getting us ready so we know our roles, so we know exactly what we need to do on each play, and just go and execute. But I think the only thing we need to focus on is just the game and just focus, we can't worry about the situation that we're in. If we worry about that, then, in my mind, we're already losing the game. So I just think that with the guys that we have healthy right now we just need to focus on the game plan and winning the game. All that other stuff, we've got to block it out."

I was wondering if you could just kind of take us through how the schedule has changed since it's all virtual, like, do you all have meetings from home and then you come in just for practice, and then go home and have meetings? I was wondering how it works now?
"Yeah, so today, originally, our first meeting was at 10 o'clock, team meeting, special teams meeting to follow. And then after the special teams meeting we had offense, which was like, we had meetings after post practice yesterday, so we kind of re-watched the practice film from yesterday, then we went over the install for today. And then we were supposed to come in today at three o'clock to have a walkthrough, but DA (Dennis Allen) decided it wasn't a good idea to come into the building, wanted guys to stay at home, stay away from each other. So we did our meetings, we watched some film on Miami, and we just kind of called it a day. I think normally, I would imagine tomorrow we would probably come in tomorrow and have a practice, unlike what we did today. But yeah, we just wake up and we have 9am meeting, all those meetings that follow then at some point, we'll come in, hopefully, we'll be able to come in and get together and kind of run through the game plan and get guys feeling comfortable going into the game."

What was it like kind of transitioning between Sean Payton calling plays how you're kind of used to Pete (Carmichael) last week? What was the biggest difference?
"To be honest, from my perspective, I do not really notice much of the difference. You would probably have to talk to the quarterbacks to get a legitimate answer on that. But to me, I just kind of focus on what I need to do to get ready for the play and execute. So I get in the huddle, I hear the play call, I line up, I figure out what I need to look for, what I need to do pre snap and I go execute. But as far as from my perspective, everything seemed like it was pretty smooth. Everything seemed like it was fairly normal. So I really didn't notice much of a difference. So I'm sorry I didn't have a better answer for you for that."

New Orleans Saints Cornerback Marshon Lattimore
Zoom Call with Local Media
Thursday, December 23, 2021

Does it kind of feel like it's been one thing after another this season?
"Yes, that's how it's been. It's been Dallas (evacuation), the hurricane, I forgot about all that, but it's been one thing after another if you (also) think about my injury."

Even though you aren't a newcomer to it, what has the Pro Bowl honor been like?
"It's always an honor to be voted by the coaches and players. They think you're one of the best, so it's always an honor being in the Pro Bowl. I don't want to take that for granted. I've gotten in five times and it doesn't mean I can just get in. I still have to work and I still have stuff I feel I need to work on. Hopefully I have a lot more in my future."

You guys have worked defensively against Ian Book with him running scout team, what has some of that experience been like?
"He comes in and does what he has to do for the scout team offense. He's been doing well."

With the COVID list having Malcolm Jenkins it, what does Malcolm bring and what do you guys miss out of him with that veteran experience?
"He's a true vet, leader in all aspects. That's big losing him. We need to keep running. It is what it is. There's leader stuff he always does. We're really going to miss his presence on the field (if he isn't available), but I feel like people are going to step up into that role."

As a cornerback how tough is it not getting reps in on a day like today?
"It's tough, but I've been doing it for a long time. It's been a long season. I feel good resting my legs a little bit. Just as far as the work, it's going to be hard, but we just have to be locked in."

New Orleans Saints Kicker Brett Maher 
Zoom Call with Local Media
Thursday, December 23, 2021

What's your journey been like since you returned as the Saints kicker?
"Yeah, it's been a little bit of a weird year. But it's been a lot of fun as well. I've never had a training camp injury like that, that kind of took me out of the running, out of a competition for a job. So to be able to deal with that, and to keep myself ready and to have a chance to come back here. It's been a lot of fun since I got back, but the road to get back was definitely a grind."

With the covid issues right now are you preparing differently?
"We haven't been in (the facility) since yesterday, and no one has. I wasn't scheduled to kick today anyway, so hasn't really affected me, from that standpoint, there's a ton of distractions, obviously, that everyone's dealing with, and I'm no different and having to deal with those and having to figure out how to navigate and making sure that I can get all my prep work in and be prepared for Monday night. I'm confident that myself and everyone else will be able to do that. And that's kind of the the name of the job that we're in, is you got to be able to adapt, adjust and still be able to perform whenever you're called on."

You're not kicking in your backyard or anything like that?
"No, not at the moment. But we'll see how the week progresses."

Do you feel like you've brought a sense of stability to the kicker position?
"I do not know. I can't really speak to anything that was happening before I was here. But I feel very comfortable with the situation I'm in right now, in terms of the people that are around me and the people that I work with most closely on a week to week basis. And Riz (Darren Rizzi), Phil (Galiano), Zach Wood and Blake Gillikin they've made my job pretty easy to walk into and the operations have been great. And communication between Phil and Rizzi has been fantastic for me. So they've made it as easy as possible for me to come in and have some success and then I think all of us understand and it's my job to come in and come through when the team needs me."

Have you ever scored all the points in a game previously?
"It actually happened once when I was up in Canada and once when I was in high school, believe it or not, so it had happened before. That's three times in 12 years or whatever it's been so it definitely doesn't happen very often. But it's fun to be a part of a win where you feel like you had a big role in helping everyone in that locker room get a win for that week. So that's fun to be a part of and that's why I do what I do. And hopefully we can put a continue to put a little run together as we finish up the year.

Do you remember the score in those two games?
"The CFL game was 18-17 maybe and high school game, man. I don't know. 20-24, 22-24 21 something like that."

I was referring to you scoring all the points in a single game.
"Oh, no. Yeah, that was a first for that one."

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