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Sean Payton Discusses Rookie Camp and More

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

Rookie Minicamp – Saturday, May 10, 2008

Opening Statement:

"We're three practices in to this rookie camp, having gone two yesterday. We still have a practice this afternoon and then one tomorrow morning. I would say that both of the morning practices that we've had were pretty sharp. We have a little bit larger number than we had a year ago; when you start counting bodies, we're a little bit above 60. There are quite a few guys that are here on a three-day tryout basis. If you look at the total group of players and you want to categorize who all is here, certainly our draft picks are here, the free agents that we signed after the draft are here, there are some of our current players that don't have a league year accrued that are on our roster that are here, and then there are the guys that are here on a three-day workout. There are about four or five of our own guys that have been going through our offseason that are allowed to be here, and that's the makeup of who's here. I think both morning practices have been pretty good. Yesterday's afternoon practice was a little bit sluggish – I think the heat got to them a little bit and they hit a wall. But this afternoon we're going to go inside and get some work indoors."

Where do you see this draft class in comparison with those of years past at this stage?

"It's early. The first thing you look for is looking to find out if they're in shape and if they are picking things up pretty quickly. Usually you get a pretty good indication of that after the first or second day. From that standpoint, I've been pleased. I think they're in good shape by and large, I think they're working at it and they're pretty conscientious. I like their approach so far, and that has been good. The key for them – and we talked about this in the meeting two nights ago – is that they're really 32 workouts behind. Our players that have been here in the offseason program have finished eight weeks of four days a week, so they have to find a way to slowly catch up and get acclimated to what we're doing and get in shape and up to speed with their peers so that they have a chance to compete in the fall and push for playing time. But the encouraging thing just after a day and a half is that they are in shape and I think they've been working hard. This second day's afternoon practice is always a tough one, and we'll see how they respond to it. I think they've handled it pretty well."

Have there been any players that have really turned some heads out there?

"It's hard to tell because you have such a mixed group. You have to mindful of who (Tracy) Porter is covering, or who (Sedrick) Ellis is beating on a double-team or who (Carl) Nicks is blocking. I think you get a better indication of more specifically how they're doing when they're with the veteran players, but overall I've been encouraged with what I've seen from the class in general. Nicks has done a good job of stepping in and when you look at Ellis, he's been a pain in the rear for a couple days now with splitting some double-teams and getting in the backfield. Porter has showed some of the cover skills that we were anticipating that we'd see and (Adrian) Arrington has done a good job of handling the assignments. He's a pretty sharp kid. Overall, I've been encouraged."

Was the kicker Taylor Mehlhaff so good that he merited a draft choice, or were you afraid that someone else was going to take him?

"The last thing we did a week before the draft was that we went back and worked out the two guys that we felt like were the best kickers in this draft. We went and worked out our guy at Wisconsin and the guy at Georgia, and after we came back and made some decisions, Mickey and I felt like if we got into the later rounds that it would be wise for us to identify if there was a kicker worthy of a draft selection. When Greg McMahon and Mike Mallory came back from the workouts, they felt that there was a gap and a clear separation. Interestingly, Coach Chuck Preifer – who has been in this league a long time – was at practice yesterday, and he made a comment about how impressed he was with his leg strength. He has good technique, we saw him at the combine, and our plan was that it would be nice to come out of the second day having drafted a kicker. What you start doing then is you start doing some research about each year what kickers have been drafted and when they have gone, and you start seeing that maybe fifth round or sixth or seventh round, and it assures an opportunity to have one. The key is not just creating that. We were prepared to go the route of signing a free agent if we needed to, but I'm glad it worked out that way. He's doing well and he kicked well yesterday. He's a lefty, so now we have left-handed quarterbacks and left-footed kickers."

What have your first impressions of Sedrick Ellis been?

"In this process, you become familiar with players in going through the evaluations; you see them at the combine, you bring them in on visits and you go to their workouts. Certainly when you talk about the players that are in those first or second rounds, you might become a little bit more familiar with them than guys that are taken later in the draft. I think he has a lot of the things that we're looking for. He's an explosive player. I think he has a "want-to". He's been a part of a winning program. I like him and I like what I've seen. He's another player that you'll be impressed with off the field and just as important as that is how he plays. I think it's important to him and I think he'll bring a presence to us. He'll have to work and earn his spot and earn his reps as all these guys will, but I think it won't be too big for him."

What are your early thoughts on Carl Nicks?

"Carl was a guy that we saw at the combine and at the Senior Bowl and I'm a little more familiar with his situation. I was at a clinic at Nebraska a year ago and I know his old coach, Bill Callahan, very well. We got into the second day of the draft and there was a graded player that was sitting ahead of a lot of other players. I had a chance to visit with him on the phone a round before we drafted him, and I just wanted to go through some questions with him. I think the key for him is realizing his abilities and having the same vision that we have for him. If he can do that, he'll have a chance because he's big, he has quick feet, he's athletic, and he's strong. I think it was a good selection on our part at that time and we're excited about watching his development. I think it's important that he's coming into a locker room that has good leadership and we have that."

Strictly on talent, did have second-round-type grades?

"I don't want to speak for other clubs, but I'd be surprised if his playing grades weren't that of a second-rounder or better. There are some inconsistencies and there are some questions about why he didn't play at a high level more consistently. He's a guy that has some maturing to do and is going to need to take on some responsibilities. Whether he missed class or showed up at a party – he had some of those incidents in college that concern you and you pay attention to them, but I don't think we're drafting a bad guy. I think we're drafting a guy that needs work and we have to provide him an environment to give him a chance to be successful, and I think he has some of the tools that you look for when you look at his size and athleticism."

What were you looking for out of him in that conversation you had on draft day?

"I was anxious to hear his response and who was coming with him if we drafted him. We had a little visit about that and then I spent some time with his girlfriend and had a chance to visit with her, and I thought it went well."

Most of the talk has been about Sedrick Ellis. Where do you see DeMario Pressley fitting in?

"I think Ellis will start and he's been taking reps at the nose with Pressley taking reps at the three-technique. You have two defensive tackles and to make it real simple, one of them typically lines up tilted or over the center and the other one lines up over the guard. We initially bring them into those positions because that's what they played in college and Ellis is more familiar with the nose and Pressley the three. I think Ellis has flexibility and we'll want to be able to work him over at the three-technique as well. With Pressley, it's just the consistency and staying healthy and some of those things. He's going to be able to get stronger in our program and I think that's going to be important for him. I think he can improve in that area and we talked a little bit about that yesterday. But he has athleticism and some of the twitch that you're looking for. His body of work probably isn't as long as Ellis', but he's a young talent that we're encouraged about and excited to work with."

What specifically have you seen from Tracy Porter?

"He has good ball skills. When a corner doesn't have good ball skills, it's a small league and there's no downside to throwing in the direction of a corner who can't catch the ball real well. It's either going to be complete or incomplete; there's no negative things that can happen. When a corner does have good ball skills, your location has to be a little bit more exact because of the fact that he's capable of picking off a bad throw. I'm encouraged with how he catches the ball; you see him return punts and catch the ball in the punt drills. He gets his hands on a lot of balls and I think that he has good cover skills. He's very comfortable in his backpedal and he has pretty good football awareness, which I think helps especially when you're playing in the secondary. I do like his ball skills and he's very comfortable right now in some of the things that we're asking him to do. We'll see once we get the pads on and these guys get a chance to get more work.* *For him, I think he's one of the guys that I talked about in that when he gets a chance to work against some of the front-line receivers, he'll be challenged more than he has been in the last day and a half."

You have some LSU players in here for this camp. What have you seen out of them?

"They're all working through it right now. Half of this battle for these guys is staying on the track and not being on a pit stop. Each of the first two years here, we'd go through about two or three of these workouts and then there were five or six guys getting IVs and not practicing. For us to evaluate them, we need to be able to see them practice, so I think the numbers that we're at this year – a little bit above 60 – has helped a little bit because in years past with the numbers not quite that high, a guy is going maybe more than you'd want and the next thing you know he can't go anymore. You guys can remember two years ago that Marques Colston was laying on his stomach in that first practice and really couldn't finish. I've been encouraged that that really hasn't been the case in this camp and really it's been as warm, if not warmer than the prior two years, so that's been encouraging.

"Those guys that come from a program like LSU, they come in with a swagger that they're good enough to make this team and that's a good thing. They've been coached extremely well, they're used to winning and being successful, and when you can bring guys like that in to compete for positions on your team, I think it's important that the player has a vision for himself and it's clear and they know right where they want to go. Generally those guys have the best chance of making it – those guys that have the understanding that there's going to be some bumps in the road, but they have a clear vision as to how they see their career going. It's when that vision gets blurred and the perception from some players is different than reality is when they really run into trouble, but they've been impressive."

Has there been anyone that hasn't been able to make it through the practices?

"No. We didn't have anyone drop out like a year ago. We told the story, so maybe that's why."

Do you have any Billy Miller-types of NFL veterans in for this tryout camp?

"One of the things that we talked about in our meeting, and I think it's important that everyone in the locker room knows that we're truly looking for the best players. The business starts with the acquisition of these players. Some would say there's a skill or an art to it, but at the end of the day, you're trying to acquire these players as best you can through the draft or through free agency. Once that side of it has taken place, it doesn't really matter how you got them, they're here and they're yours, so what's more important now is the evaluation as to what vision do we have for the player and if he can help us. Let's not worry about how he got here; let's worry about where he's going. When you give them that talk, you can just tell them that, but it's important that they can see examples of it like Jamal Jones from a couple years ago or Billy Miller or Tyler Palko or Pierre Thomas, and I could keep going on and on. These are guys that have had that vision and have maybe been able to beat the odds a little bit and they've done it on production. We're rooting for all of these guys to do well and we want them to be successful. One of the things that we told them the first night we gathered was that you start with the video department, the trainers, the P.R. department, the assistant coaches, you can go on and on and all of the people that are employed here are here to help these players get better. We want to see them be successful. What's most important is trust what we're seeing and not get swayed by how they got here. I've been at places where that hasn't always been the case. I think once you establish that with your own players, I think there's some credibility in the locker room in regards to how guys make the team.

"That doesn't ease the pressure of selecting the right 53; that's still a difficult challenge and they're tough decisions, even in this camp with guys that are just here for three days on a workout basis. It's hard for them because they're not in pads, but we're trying to have a tempo and they're doing something to try to catch someone's eye. They're trying to do something in three days that they can put on tape that we would notice and sign them to a contract. That's admirable and I have a lot of those guys that have flown in here with their own shoes and are really ready to work for three days and try to make it."

Could you see yourself backing off of Sedrick Ellis with this current group?

"The good news is that because our numbers are in that 60s range – I've been at rookie camps where you have 33 guys and then he would be in there all the time. We have depth in this camp so you don't have guys that are taking 12 straight plays. They're taking four and then they're out for eight. Yesterday, a few guys cramped up so I backed off some of the workload a little bit, but I think it's important that we're trying to bring them up to speed but we're not trying to completely run them in to the ground."

How was your visit this week with Shaun Alexander?

"It went well. He had a chance to come in here for an afternoon and spend some time with Mickey and myself and then our coaching staff. What you try to do is look at the different options and try to become familiar with more players than what you just see on tape. It was really just that. He's had a long, successful career and he still has some good years ahead of him, so we'll see where it takes him."

Are you intent on bringing in a veteran running back before training camp?

"I think it's just going to depend on who's available and it has to be the right fit. A lot of times what happens between now and the middle of June is that there will be some players waived after teams have had a chance to look at their draft picks and offseason additions, so you try to monitor that and monitor some of the rosters that might be heavy at that position. That's what we do, and it wouldn't just be for running back. But the key is really Deuce's health and where he's at and just making sure that you have all your bases covered there."

How has Adrian Arrington looked so far in camp?

"Terry Malone, our tight ends coach, recruited him when he was at Michigan, so we had a little background on the player. I'm not talking about his ability, I'm talking more about his home life, where he's from, what kind of kid he is, is he a good learner, is he stubborn, is he flexible, does he want to become a good player. The challenge of scouting when you deal with so many players is gathering as much information as you can to improve your odds on making the right decisions.

"He's a guy that we felt had ability. I like his size and he's a guy that we felt comfortable with, character-wise, clearly, so we gave him an opportunity. They've all had a chance to hear me talk about the expectations that we have for our team and what we value and what's important, so they have that opportunity and we go from there."

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