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Saints Transcripts: James Hurst, P.J. Williams, Taysom Hill and Kwon Alexander  Media Availability | Thursday, Dec. 30

Players look ahead to Week 17 against Carolina

New Orleans Saints Offensive Lineman James Hurst 
Virtual Availability with Local Media
Thursday, December 30, 2021

How difficult was it playing with so many offensive lineman out last week?
"Yeah, it was tough. It was very unique situation, it seemed like every day we had a few guys here, if you guys there test positive and missed the game, so it made it tough. It is very fluid, very day to day situation. Just get on the same page, and trying to communicate and trying to figure out who's going to be where? How they fit into the game plan and so there's a lot of moving parts. Yeah, it was what it was, you know, hopefully don't have that situation again."

Miami disguising their rush, was that similar to what Carolina had done in that second game of the year?
"Yeah, there are definitely some similarities. Miami did a pretty unique kind of pressure package and we had seen some of that on film for sure. I think we should have done a better job picking it up at times. I think we had a good plan and there we're some miscommunications, some poor execution. So just a few mishaps for sure, picking that up and then obviously, week two against Carolina, you know, the last time they definitely hit us hard on some pressures and got some free runners. Things we know that we have to correct and we're working hard to do that. So there are definitely some similarities. I think, just the pressure in general, kind of got through a few too many times and, yeah, we're trying to correct it and prepare for Carolina, who does some different things as well. So just, yeah, understanding what they're going to bring and what our rules are, who is responsible for what and making sure that we're on top of that, to keep our quarterback upright and give him time to throw to who he needs to throw too."

What happened giving up eight sacks last week?
"Unfortunately, watching it was exactly kind of what it felt like while it was happening. It was bad, it was not up to our standard. We definitely have a standard here and we have high expectations for ourselves, particularly as an offensive line of keeping the quarterback safe. Giving him plenty of time to go through his progressions and we failed to do that several times in the game Monday night, so that was unfortunate. That is definitely a challenge for us this week, you know, we got some practices here and there are definitely things that we've got to correct as a unit and also individually. Just making sure our techniques solid. So, yeah, it's a direct challenge to us. You're not going to win many games, playing the way that we did as an offensive line and we know that, so we're going to step up and do a better job this week."

How tough was it to lose practice time for the offensive line last week?
"Yeah, it's very tough, it's not ideal at all. I think our coaches did as good a job as they could've, under the circumstances, making sure guys were safe and making sure that we were ready to roll. And I think, at the end of the day, as players, we just take it on our shoulders. We were doing what we could walking through practicing, getting in as much as we possibly could get in while being safe. So that was a tough situation and we just got to learn from it. We got to know, hey, if we can't get a practice, we got to make sure we're watching film, over communicating while we're out there and trying to do those things to kind of help solve some of those problems that we had just losing practices and losing reps throughout the week."

Do communication problems just naturally work themselves out and part of that is new guys playing together for the first time?
"Yeah, that's definitely part of it, the more moving pieces, the more you have to communicate and that's something that we could have done a better job of, I think during the game is, communicating with the guy next to you and making sure we're all on the same page, particularly against that opponent that brought a kind of variety of pressures and really hurt us with it. I think that we've got to understand, hey, if I haven't played next to this guy, or if I've got limited reps next to this guy, we've got to over communicate and make sure that we are on the same page. Because if you do not know who you are blocking the play is not going to be successful. Usually in the NFL, the hard part isn't knowing who to block, but it's actually blocking that guy crossing you. So, yeah, we just got to do better. We got to understand the situation that we're in, we got to understand who's available, who's going to be playing, and just making sure that you and the guys next to you are on the same page."

How frustrating has it been losing games at home this year?
"Yeah, that's tough. It's tough for our fans. We want them to come out and support us and be loud and we got to make sure we're giving them reasons to do that. Definitely a few home games have been massive disappointments for us. I think, you know, trying to put a finger on something. It's been tough. We've lost those games in kind of a lot of different ways. If that makes sense. So it's hard to necessarily say that there's one reason for losing those games at home. But yeah, it's super frustrating, home field is an advantage, particularly for us playing in the (Caesars) Superdome. So yeah, obviously, we're super excited to play at home and we just got to do better. We got to step up to the challenge and give our fans something to cheer about."

Have you ever seen an offensive line with so many changes throughout the season for different reasons?
"Yeah, (I) definitely have not been a part of anything quite like this. I think that is just the unique circumstance that we're in. But not only us, it's happening across the league. It is happening across the nation outside of sports, you know, there's so many things in life that have just been day to day and changing so constantly and so fluid. So, like I said earlier, hopefully we don't have to deal with that anymore. Hopefully, we've kind of seen the worst of it, if you will. Hopefully, we're staying as safe as we possibly can. But it's just a matter of rising to the challenge and it is a challenge for sure. Getting new guys in there that, maybe haven't played a lot of football, but also maybe haven't played next a few guys. So that's a big challenge and I think we can do a better job than we did last week for sure about answering that call. And I think we're looking forward to getting back out there on Sunday so we can put a better product out there on Sunday. We can put a better product out there."

New Orleans Saints Defensive Back P.J. Williams
Post Practice Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, December 30, 2021

You've kind of become the Taysom Hill of the defense. What's it just sort of been like just having to do all this flipping around and how much has that helped you?"Yeah, man, it's good. I like it. It's helped me just understand more about football, more about the defense, but just playing safety and then getting more reps and just being able to play a whole game that helps out as well. I just feel like I'm getting better and better the more I play. So just being able to play a whole game that helps a lot for me just to understand and get a feel for the game."

Was that something that you embraced right away like playing safety? Or was that something that took a little bit of time because you identified as a cornerback for so long? Like how was that transition for you just kind of mentally coming into that?
"I feel like I embraced it. They knew pretty much I'm fine playing anywhere and they trusted me just to move to safety just really on short notice. And then also last year with COVID and stuff, it was a lot of moving pieces, so they trust me to pretty much play everywhere. But I've for sure embraced it and I feel like this is a position that I can be really good at and continue my career with it. So definitely embraced it."

How have the guys on the team kind of treated your record at home this year? You usually play so well at home and the record just kind of hasn't been there this year.
"I am not sure. I do not feel like we have talked about it as much. We expect to win every week. So it's definitely tough not winning, especially at home because with the crowd as well. But I just feel like we're just moving forward, we're going to make sure we do what we've got to do to get a win this week."

Has it been odd though, just because that is a place that you kind of traditionally play so well?
"It's odd just losing period, I feel like wherever it's just, we're not used to losing. So I just feel like losing period."

Back to your position switch, how do you feel that things have changed for you since then, and how you've kind of come into your own and embracing this new spot and how you've grown?
"Just really understanding the game because when I first moved to safety I was just back there just playing like not reading anything, just making sure nothing got deep and running and making tackles. So just understanding the game a lot more, knowing how to read the quarterback, because I came from just playing cornerback, looking at the man or looking at a couple of things, reading a couple of things. But just learning how to read the quarterback, how to read pulling guards and linemen and stuff and fits and stuff like that. So there was a lot of little stuff that goes in and I am still learning. So just really understanding the game a lot more."

At the beginning of the 2019 season, could you have envisioned this for yourself in terms of a versatile role?
"No, not at all. I did not expect it at all. And when it happened I did not explain it because it was just like, oh, a lot of people were down. And you may have a chance if somebody gets hurt, but you never really expect anybody to get hurt. And it is just like right at that moment, oh, I am at safety. So then it was just saying yeah, man, this could be good for you. So I embraced it."

Have you had a chance to really like just kind of reflect on your career, going back to the beginning, you dealt with some injuries and all that and you look at it now? Do you feel like you're playing your best ball now and just kind of put it all in perspective?
"Yeah, definitely. I feel like I'm definitely playing some of my best football and I just feel like getting better, getting more opportunities and just learning because playing different positions that helps a whole lot. Just understanding football period. So I definitely feel like I'm at the top of my game right now and I had some good years. I feel like I had a lot of good moments, but I feel like right now It's definitely coming together for me."

Just wondering what you thought maybe even just as a fan of the game of the Panthers decision to change quarterbacks from Cam Newton back to Sam Darnold this week? Of course, you guys played him the first time. And how would you say their offense has evolved over the season?
"Yeah, I feel like they haven't been winning so you can understand the quarterback change and also he beat us last time so they might think, oh, he'd have a better chance to beat us, but also their offense I feel like they've been doing a lot of quarterback runs. And that changed the game a whole lot because you've got everybody accounted for and then pulling guards and the free safety has got to get involved in the run game and pretty much to get extra numbers in the run game. But with Sam I feel like he throws the ball down the field a lot. It's more traditional with him, but they've definitely got a pretty good offense for sure."

I'm sure you saw some of the commentary recently just kind of what do you say to people that criticize your tackling technique, the intent behind your tackling technique?
"I try not to really indulge in it but it's part of the game and I never want to see anybody get hurt but it's part of the game. You can't really hit people high anymore without getting flags or fines and stuff like that. I feel like that's one of the best ways to get them down without hurting your team."

Did you reach out to Chris (Godwin)?
"No I didn't talk to him. We've got the same agent so I talked to my agent. He knows it wasn't on purpose. I feel like he talked to him. He said he doesn't think it was a dirty hit."

Has tackling almost become like a no win situation with the way the rules are? I mean, you've just kind of got to do what you're allowed to do?
"Yeah, I'm sure for an offense, or whoever looks at it like that, yes. But I've been hitting the same way since I got in the league and I haven't got any like, problems or people saying I'm a dirty player or anything like that. Until I guess one of their favorite players gets hurt. So I feel like that's when it happens."

In the moment, like, can you even think about that? Because the game is moving so fast.
"No, it's just a reaction because that's all defense is, reacting. Even when this game like when Tua (Tagovailoa) was coming, it's like, oh, I can't think about going low or high right now, it's reacting. It could go either way."

New Orleans Saints Quarterback Taysom Hill
Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, December 30, 2021

Can you talk about your experience over the past week and how you consumed Monday night's game?
"I watched the game at the house, I was talking to my wife during the game that this is so abnormal for me in the NFL, this was the fifth game I missed this season not being able to play. It was a tough deal where you want to be available and you want to help your team and it is one of those things where you are stuck at the house watching the game. It's nice to be back and (I'm) excited for these next few weeks."

You've talked several times about patience and perseverance. How far has yours been stretched?
"Yes, it's been a challenging year for a lot of reasons for me, personally and now you fast forward to the end of the season. We talked last week (where) I'm fully aware of the situation and the playoff picture. That gets to the point to where you compete from July until now to get into postseason play and then you have to deal with more things. It is just one of the things that we've had to deal with this season. We're still in the middle of it and we're going to control what we can control. That's kind of the vibe of this season. With what we've had to live by, I feel we've been able to persevere pretty well to where we're still in the hunt to get to the postseason."

Are you at the point where you feel there's nothing else that can happen to you?
"I'm never going to say that. You guys know my history. Football is a game that you can't take for granted, because you never know if it will be your last. That lesson was taught to me several times in college. I'm fully aware this is a brutal league on many accounts, from an injury standpoint, a business standpoint. It's a tough league to make it in and stick around. You need to have that mindset to take advantage of every opportunity you can, control what you can control. If you don't it's a brutal league."

What was last week for you with the moving pieces, Trevor Siemian first going on the COVID-19 list and then it happening to you? Did you feel okay?
"Wednesday I felt fine after practice and Trevor obviously tested positive Wednesday. Trevor came in the facility, tested and was negative, but I had talked to him before we went to practice, and he said he tested negative but these were the symptoms he felt and he progressively got worse. So they tested him again, sent him home and he was positive. I woke up Thursday morning feeling the same way that Trevor described to me Wednesday morning. I obviously didn't want to expose my teammates, came in and was obviously positive."

Being such a physical player, was there any positive or silver lining of getting a week off? Do you feel physically better at all than if you continue to play?
"I would have said the answer was yes in some weeks, now there are some weeks you get banged up over the others. I would say by week 17 everyone's dealing with something, but I would say physically my body has gotten used to the bumps, bruises and the banging, what's asked of me on gameday. Honestly I felt fine. The issues between my finger and foot, those are issues I'll have to deal with the rest of the season, so physically I felt fine last week and I wouldn't say that there's any noticeable difference from last week to this week. But that's not always the case. Maybe some weeks a week off would do you some good."

Obviously we know what team's deal with. With your relationship with Ian Book and how you have mentored him, how difficult was it to see him have struggles in his first start given the situation?
"There is a range of emotions. I was disappointed in not being able to play, but my disappointment in not being able to play was balanced by some excitement for Ian. I dialed in on every zoom call and was part of every meeting we had last week from home and then had multiple conversations with Ian over the phone to support him. I was excited for him. Ian has been a great rookie. He's been fun to have around. He came in here with the right mindset, wanting and willing to work hard and all those things, so when this happened and he was getting this opportunity, I was excited for him. The thing that was most disappointing going back to your question was that I wasn't able to be there on the sideline, to talk him through different things, what they were doing, whatever that conversation would have been on the sideline. I think there's a comfort level from training camp to now. We've been together a long time. I was disappointed I wasn't here for him that way."

Sorry to keep asking you about last week, but you won two games in the role and then that disrupted everything. How do you get back that winning mindset?
"I think the mindset is always the same. I came in here this morning fired up and excited and ready for the next challenge and opportunity Sunday. Last week happened and we lost a tough game, but I think in the scheme of things we're in a good situation. Now it's not ideal because we need some help. My mindset for me personally and where we are at is that we're going to continue to get better, get healthy, get guys back and keep this thing rolling. What happened last Monday night is not going to derail our expectations of ourselves."

Did you and your teammates talk about the league's change in protocols after the fact when it potentially could have helped you guys get players back?
"No, we didn't really say anything. Obviously as you had mentioned it would have been nice to be in place before Monday night, but so many of these things are out of our control and we're aware of that and what we can control. I feel pretty good fortunately today and the rest of the week getting ready for this game."

We just got word that Erik McCoy joined the COVID-19 list, now all of a sudden you have to work with a new center. What type of adjustment is that for you and what is it like to do it with short notice this late in the season?"We ask a lot of our centers. Erik has been an anchor for us. I know he had that injury for us early in the year. He's been an anchor for us up front. He'll definitely be missed. With that being said I think from an organization standpoint, they've done a great job of preparing these other guys and Will Clapp stepped in and took quite a few reps at center today. I thought he did a really good job. As I look at Will, I have had a lot of reps with Will. My comfort level with him is really high. I am fine with that. I think he's super-capable. There's still a learning curve for he and I as we get more reps together, but I don't see it being (a major issue).

Is it frustrating to be constantly thrown curveballs?
"This whole situation is not an ideal situation, but I think the overall health of our guys, all those things take precedence. The bigger thing is you don't want to take risks on exposing other people. We all have family that we love, so I think it's just another one of those things where it is what it is. The way the organization has handled it (has been great), everyone has been really responsible. We will handle it as it comes. It's not an ideal situation as you get ready for a game knowing people might go down."

Do you have any theory or explanation for the team's struggles in the Caesars Superdome this year?
"You talk about team goals, expectations and stuff, having a good home record is always important, so I think that has been a little frustrating for us as a team that we have not played better at home. I would say we are not looking back, not looking on the past, not about who's going to pop next (COVID-19 positives). Whatever happens is going to happen. As I said earlier, we have a one track mind of winning this football game on Sunday and then winning the next one and then seeing from there. I think that starts Sunday. Our fan base is one of the best in the country. I know they'll show up and we'll take care of every little advantage and all the help we can get and hopefully take care of this."

New Orleans Saints Linebacker Kwon Alexander
Post Practice Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, December 30, 2021

Congratulations on being the Saints Ed Block Courage Award winner. I guess how did you find out that you won? What does that mean to you that your teammates wanted to recognize you for the work that you've put in to get back from your Achilles injury?
"I found out a couple days ago actually and I'm just appreciative of it, thank God for it. I've been working hard my whole life just grinding and just trying to get to it and it's paying off. I just thank my teammates, my coaches and everybody for voting for me to get the award."

Did I see correctly that you like taped like a hype video from your house for this past week's game?
"Oh, yeah. I did it from the crib. Yeah, I was lit in there, man. I was ready to play. So I had to show some kind of energy, try and get out of my teammates and everybody worked up and get them going for the game last Monday."

How weird was that experience? I mean, because you tested positive what on Sunday, and then I mean, you go from being ready to play to going on the list with everybody else just how strange was last week?
"It was just crazy but you know how things go. I had to sit out so I was just watching the game from the crib just cheering everybody on watching the game. Me and Demario (Davis) were keeping a contact just seeing what the young guys were doing, (how) they were doing. Everything paid off and I'm just ready to get ready for this weekend and play this week."

Are you feeling okay like did you feel sick when you tested positive like how did that kind of happen for you?
"I think at the beginning I kind of had like a headache and some chills but I was fine. In a couple days I was back normal, ready. I had a lot of energy, it didn't hit me that bad. I do not know how it hit everybody else but I was fine."

Two things, one is the red hair gone? Am I seeing right?
"No, it's here. It's just tucked back."

On the young guys, how do you feel like Pete Werner played with you and Demario out due to protocols?
"Those guys play with a lot of energy, (and) a lot of passion. You can see it, they were running around, hitting. They work for it though, you see them practice, they know what to do, they know how to handle themselves and they went out there and showed that."

Just considering you guys had kind of turned things around a little bit and had two straight wins before last week and then your last week was what it was like how do you guys just kind of recapture what you had going and just knowing how important these last two weeks are for you to make the playoffs?
"Man, we are trying to get right back on track. We went to practice today, worked hard, communication was legendary, (and) everybody was on top of it like we have not missed a step. So we're just going to keep going and go to practice tomorrow, keep working until Sunday to get the dub."

How would you expect Carolina's offense to change with their quarterback shift? How would you expect them to be different with Sam Darnold starting than with Cam Newton? I know this seems pretty obvious, but how would you expect them to be different with the quarterback change?
"I mean with both of them, they do two different things. Cam likes to run a little bit more, they do a lot of pulling with Cam and all those. Sam, he'll throw the ball a lot more. We're working on both of them. We don't know what's going to happen. So we're just trying to get both of them down pat and we're going to do that."

I know this team's won a ton of games at home in recent years, but this year, it hasn't really been the case. What do you think is kind of behind that? And how do you guys feel about it just knowing that you are typically a very good home football team?
"We've just got to win at home. That's the thing, we've got to win at home. We've got to take care of home. This is our stomping grounds so we've got to make sure we get dubs here. We've got to find a way no. I can't talk about the past now, I'm more worried about the future. We're just trying to find wins, man, we're going to work hard, keep pushing and we're going to get a win this week at home for the last one."

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