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Sean Payton on Monday's Saints training camp practice

Coach Payton met with media members following practice

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
2016 Training Camp – Daily Press Conference
Monday, August 1, 2016

Opening Statement:

"Just one roster move. We signed Tony Hills, offensive tackle. He's been with us before, and we waived/injured Ryker Matthews, offensive tackle. So, we're still at 90 there. I thought we did good work today. I thought it was a pretty good physical practice. Tomorrow, of course, we will be off."

Talk about how Roman Harper is doing at this point. Not just the leadership part, but also the actual on-the-field (performance),

"I think he is doing well. First off, he is in shape. One of his great strengths is his football intelligence. That allows you a step on a route. That allows you the ability to key in and diagnose a play, run or pass, and have a half-step on a play. I think that over the years has served him well. We've watched his reps, but I think he's doing well. I think he's moving around well."

Is his skill set unique, especially in pass defense where you can do some things with him that you might not be able to do with other guys?

"Yes. He's obviously a safety, and closer to the ball, for him's a good spot—the low zones. He of course, is going to have to play some of the high zone positions, but again, his ability to study and see formations and understand what the tendencies are—those are all things that have allowed him to play going into year 11. That's hard to do at that position."

You guys have your first day off tomorrow. Can you assess what you've seen so far?

"I think we will watch the film from today. Number one: these guys are working hard. They are wanting to please. We are young at some positions. I think we have had some good physical work. That has been encouraging, both in run defense and run offense. Again, it is just handling the transition each day, trying to get incrementally a little bit better than where they were in the morning. The difficult challenge always, until you get to an opponent or play another team, is—even for the coaching staff—knowing how that stacks up or how it will stack up. Right now, with three full padded practices in and two non-padded practices, I think our injury numbers are down, I would say. We've got a few guys still battling maybe a hamstring or a groin (injury). Overall, we've got a lot of work to do, but I like the intent and their work ethic."

Looking at the one-on-one pass drill, it seems like the defense is really getting after it. The receivers are having a hard time getting separation. Is that something you challenge the receivers on in meetings? And are you encouraged by the defensive backs?

"Typically, that is a drill where you should have a pretty good win percentage if you are on offense. It's a good sign if guys on defense are playing press (coverage). The officials will be here in a week. There are a handful of things that we'll have to clean up in regards to contact. But, I would say there's a handful of young corners that are all competing, and a handful of them are going to make this roster if you look at the numbers. What I mean by young are guys that we either drafted a year ago or guys that were signed this year, not all of them draft picks. That is encouraging."

Speaking of those young guys you drafted this year and last year, what have you seen from them in these first couple days and their development over the summertime?

"I like the way they're competing. I think there are a handful of them that are picking up the scheme—that's half the battle, knowing what to do. They're making some plays. We've had some balls turned over, and they've gotten their hands (on the football). (Ken) Crawley had a nice pick yesterday. I think the competition there with some of these young corners has been very encouraging. Last year, P.J. (Williams), Damian (Swann), and the Dixon twins (Brandon and Brian), this group this year has given us good snaps. I think when we have a chance to play our first preseason game or second preseason game, we're going to have a chance to see these guys live in action, and that's exciting."

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your cameo last night (on HBO's Ballers). What was the genesis of that? Is it because Denzel (Washington's) son (John David Washington who stars in the show) was here years ago for a work out?

"He was here in 2009. He was a free agent running back that was in our minicamp. I had not kept track of his career, but he is doing a great job, and obviously that show has done well—they are in their second season. Look, I was asked to do it. You read the script sometimes, and it is like Mickey said to me, 'If we ever show up with an airplane and a parade to sign a 30 year old receiver…' But I would say this, though. We're not going to wait forever on this offer. If he's watching some of these guys—Mike (Thomas) and some other guys—this offer is not going to stay on the table for much longer. Might be done by today. There's a lot of work that goes into that, ironically. That's a seven, eight-hour day and you realize how tedious their jobs are. So, it worked out with the summer schedule, and it was fun."

How much does that show mirror the reality of the NFL?

"I think it's entertaining. What they take is, I would say, every stereotype of the last 25 years, and they've rolled it into a half-hour episode. The director and producer, those guys had Entourage for a long time, so it essentially is the East coast, NFL-version of Entourage. There are a lot of good people involved in that project. You meet them, and it's funny. Once you're around them, you understand the humor element and what they're trying to accomplish."

Is it something you'd like to do again?

"Listen, I had limited lines there. But, that's a long day. It's a tedious day. Those people in that band—that was fourteen times, not just two or three. That was fourteen times. They backed up and did it again and again, right in the heat. But it gave you a chance to meet a lot of fun people, but you shake your head as you're reading the script and you're like, 'Nah….' But it doesn't have to be real, right?"

How much of signing (Roman) Harper was bringing stability and getting guys lined up correctly back there?

"Well, there's a part of that. When you take a guy like Roman, or a guy like (James) Laurinaitis, you have to evaluate the whole package. Also, there's calmness with Roman, an understanding wisdom, if you would. (He knows) what it takes to win. I said this earlier, if you really backtracked and just began to count up—'13 he's a postseason player, '14, '15, '11,'10. He's had an amazing career in regards to postseason football. So, he's got that wisdom and understands the traits of winning teams. I think he's a good communicator. Now, that being said, we as coaches have to provide the leadership. So when we sign a player like that, it's still—there's an old saying. 'We don't have to see it everyday, but we still need to see it.' He has shown it. We've seen some good signs. But it may not have to be everyday, but he understands the defense. He understands the leverage."

Is it any kind of a validation of what you just said, with some of the things you have seen from him?

"We're obviously in more physical practice. He does a good job of anticipating breaks. He really leverages tight ends and those inside positions well with coverage. So yes, that would be one of those days."

What do you remember from the draft process, thinking about Andrus Peat's body composition, as it relates to being a tackle?

"We felt in that draft that if Peat were available, that was a guy we were taking. You rarely receive that size and athleticism. He was a junior coming out; we knew he was young. He was big, smart, played in a pro offense. His father played (in the NFL). His dad went to school up in Illinois and was on the same all-state team I was. We took a college visit to Northern Illinois at the same time. I think his dad played seven or eight years in this league, in Arizona and Oakland. I know (Stanford coach) David Shaw very well. So this vision for him when we selected him certainly was that of a tackle, yet to his credit, with his athleticism, he can play guard. He may very well start for us at guard. But he's receiving some snaps here at left tackle with Terron (Armstead) down, and that versatility will help him. He's doing well."

If (Dannell) Ellerbe can stay healthy, he is a hard guy to keep off the field. What do you think of him?

"He's doing well. He's in good shape; he can run. We're a lot more athletic when he's out there. I think he will stay healthy. He's in really good shape. When we signed him, he was coming off of a significant injury at Miami. But he's doing well (now). He handled the first part of camp really well."

In terms of the off days, what do you tell your guys to do—read the playbook or get away from football? What's the balance?

"They'll receive treatment if they need it. Each guy will take time to do what he wants to do. There are a handful of things here. Really, they try to get off their feet. The younger guys, I'm sure, will study some. It's an opportunity for those guys to be around each other too. Maybe go to dinner, or lunch, or do something. I think they understand that. A lot of them will be tired."

Now that you've had a whole week of evidence, do you think that the schedule change to give these guys more time to recover at night has worked?

"The schedule change really took an installation that was in the evening and a break that was at mid-day and brought the installation to mid-day. It got them out of their (evening) meetings around 8:45. So, it was just trying to capitalize on some earlier time. But I think they are handling it well. It wasn't like we just changed all of the times. I think so far, these guys are pretty adaptable, and they figured it out well."

Do you find that they are sharper? Do you find that they are focusing better at practice?

"After five days, it would be hard to measure that. I think they're handling it so far. I think the key's in all the opportunities they have post-practice—cryo machine, cold pools. You really have to do a good job of taking care of your legs and recovering. That's been a point of emphasis."

When you look at their respective skillsets, how would you compare (Dannell) Ellerbe and (Craig) Robertson?

"Those two players, I would say, run well, cover well. They're quick and athletic. Robertson was a guy we had spent some time on from Cleveland, and he was a four-core special teams player. But then, week 11, 12, 13, 14, he's starting at Mike (linebacker). He's very smart; he has very good football instincts, and so does Dannell. There are some similarities as you just read those guys in regards to football instincts and guys that can key and diagnose well. That would be my first thought."

How do you think the new camp rules that have changed, how do you think that's impacted the game?

"It's been a while now. I don't know that the camp rules have impacted the game as much as maybe the spring offseason—the OTA, the minicamp. That's been more noticeable, in trying to get your team ready. The training camp, I would say, has been less of a change. I know it's eliminated the second practice, but that spring calendar is more noticeably different than that of the fall."

How much more attention do you guys pay to nutrition than you did maybe ten years ago?

"Quite a bit. Typically, in a lot of cases, the college game is a tick ahead because their budgets and their recruiting (puts them) constantly in an arms race with facilities, nutrition bars, and things that they can do. A lot of times, that flows up. In our case, we had been to Alabama for a workout and saw the recovery station they had, with protein shakes for if you were trying to cut weight or if you were trying to gain weight. (They emphasized) proper nutrition during the day, after a practice, or leading up to a practice. I think in the last, probably five or six years—I'm sure there are some teams that did it a little bit earlier than that—that's like a double challenge in New Orleans. The way you prepare the food and what you're eating—it wasn't too long ago that on Saturday you travelled to you away game and you're eating Popeye's chicken on the plane. The nutritionist comes in and says, 'Well, that's the most important meal! They're going to be playing on that the next day!' A lot of times, not just in football, we all do things because that was just on the itinerary before us. So, I think it's changed quite a bit in the last six years."

In your eyes, what have you seen from (Kenny) Vaccaro and (Jairus) Byrd working together as a tandem, they have not had a lot of work together the last few years because of injury. Why have they been able to mesh so easily?

"I've been encouraged with Jairus. I can't point to a day or week, but this period of time from the spring to the start of training camp, he has really gotten himself ready. There has been a lot of work on that knee. He is a smart player. I think those two guys both communicate and understand the defense. It's been a quick transition, yet nonetheless, even when Jairus wasn't receiving reps in the spring, you would see him behind the defense or mirroring—trying to mentally receiving the same reps. But he is an experienced pro. He has played a while in this league. I think having him back out there and healthy is only going to help us."

When do you think you can get a handle on whether you've improved a lot defensively or just a little?

"That's a good question. In '06—I've talked about this before—we came out of training camp, and some of you that were here—we were on the road for four games; one of them was in Shreveport; one was in Jackson; one was Tennessee; I can't remember where the other away game was—but it was really an unknown as to what kind of team we were going to have and what kind of defense we'd have. Right at the end of training camp, the week prior to the start of the regular season, we acquired Mark Simoneau who became the starting Mike. We acquired Scott Shanle. So, two of the linebackers that started in week one in Cleveland were not there for the prior four preseason games, or at least three. There was a lot of ongoing roster shuffling that took place. That's not unusual for a new team. I think early in this preseason and the first couple of weeks of the regular season, we'll get a feel for (the defense). That's not a permanent tattoo because we're obviously going to have to improve upon where we are at that point, but I think we'll receive a pretty good indicator after those first couple of regular season games as to if we are meeting some of the goals with regards to what we want to do communication-wise. Are we meeting some of the goals in regards to third down defense, which was an emphasis today, and red zone defense? Are we better against the run? Look, I expect this to be (a better defense)—it'll be hard not to be. It'll be hard not to be."

With that being said, looking at the competition going forward, whenever you're a player and you make a play, that helps your confidence. But does it also maybe step up a notch, even though it's not a preseason game? Let's say you go to New England against the Patriots and the defense is making plays (during the scrimmage). Does that seem like a preseason game?

"I think you bring up a good point, because when you are talking about confidence, you can wish it, hope it, act it, but it is generally established by or a result of demonstrated ability. So there are little moments, even in practice out here when you see Mike Thomas make a play and then in the next practice makes another. In his mind, he has demonstrated that not only can (he) do this, but (he) can do this exceptionally well in traffic. That is only earned; it is not just hoped for. The same thing takes place when a guy makes a play defensively on the ball or comes up with an interception or a pass rush. Those don't have to be in any organized specific (situation). It can be a nine-on-seven. It can be a team (drill). Obviously, once you get into preseason games—every one of us has watched a preseason game and some young player shines and they begin to take off. It comes from demonstrated ability. We need to then try to put them in those positions where they can have that growth and gain that confidence and build on it from there."

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