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Sean Payton pleased with conditioning tests, ready to start camp

Sean Payton spoke about a number of topics on the eve 2014 Training Camp presented by Verizon

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Training Camp Press Conference
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are you surprised with the facilities at the Greenbrier?

"It starts with people, going back with the process, Mickey (Loomis), a few years back, mentioned something about this facility. I think at one point the (Washington) Redskins looked at it and then last year having a chance myself to see it, meet a few of the people here that work at the Greenbrier, and then eventually with Mr. (Jim) Justice, it is one of those things that gained momentum and it continued to gain momentum and all of a sudden there is an agreement.  And now there is a lot of pressure that goes into that and a lot of things that have to take place for it to happen this nice.  If you are looking out, and I had made one trip earlier in the spring, but then I was really updated with a lot of pictures.  There are a lot of people behind the scenes, (including) James Nagaoka and Jay Romig, and that is just to name a few on our end.  On this end I wouldn't be able to list the number of people, but Jim (Justice), he and I would talk about once a month and all of a sudden the fields (were constructed)…the key was the grass, was that going to grow in time?  The Performance Center was built, the pressure with 90 something days to have this built (deadline) and really be functional is pretty amazing.  There were a lot of parts that went into it and then there is the actual arrival of when you actually get to see it for the first time.  It has been above and beyond the expectations.  The weight room, every piece of weight equipment was brought in by Rouge Fitness and (around the same time) they have their Super Bowl going on in California with the CrossFit Games.  They sent a crew in and had a weight room designed for this facility.  So the first 48 hours have been really just informative and also have been really pleasing with regards to just the logistics, where the team is staying, in regards to the hotel.  We will deal with the weather each day, like we have done before when we were outside. I think it is really a credit to the people involved.  You start with leadership, Jim and his staff, and the people (Saints staff) back in New Orleans and all of a sudden here we are.  I'm not surprised but I'm very excited and pleased by everything that's happened and it's happened in a real short period of time.  It is pretty amazing."

When did you decide to do the conditioning test?

"I wanted to get an idea, I did this a year ago, to try and get an idea of what it is like.  We had a number of players do the test back in New Orleans, the early reports, the rookies, quarterbacks, some injured players, so there was a segment of the team that passed their physicals, did their tests on Monday and I was hoping to do it earlier in the week, but I have been battling this chest cold, so I waited and I just thought today would be a good time to do it within the framework of the test itself.  It was tough.  The first five yards of pushing that sled I thought, it was like biting too much and I was worried about chewing it.  I was pleased with how our players performed.  On that field turf it is about the surface so when you are pushing one of these Rouge sleds, the surface friction with the weight on it, the 45 pound weight and the kettle bell, that's surface friction is important whether there is a lot of it or not a lot of it.  There were areas that were tougher than others because when you put a field turf in you lay that black small tire filling and so when that sled would hit some of that high spots it was like it stopped.  That was challenging but I thought overall the team really handled the challenge well.  Fortunately, it cleared up enough for us, it rained earlier, but it was good."

What is the protocol for the guys that are on the Physically Unable to Perform list?

"Well, typically the protocol is report (to camp), (take) physicals, (take the) conditioning test, and then make a decision to who is on PUP.  There is an early PUP list for those that were here on Monday, those that reported.  Once they are (placed) on PUP, then they are in a rehab mode really separate from the team so they can get up to speed and be able to participate with the team and be taken off PUP.  Because there is an early group on Monday and then a group on Thursday, there technically is a group of players put on PUP earlier in the week and then a potential for anybody that may be put on PUP in the next 24 hours."

With Jimmy Graham's contract, was there any reservation that the contract wasn't going to get done before the deadline?

"I felt confident that both sides were going to come to a resolution.  In any contract negotiation, obviously on of this magnitude can be difficult and challenging.  One a few years back with Drew (Brees), that (similar type of negotiation) took place, I wasn't here for a good portion of that, but credit Mickey and Jimmy Sexton and everyone involved (with coming to agreement).  It is not unusual that they come down to the final couple of days, I think it happens year to year.  It was great to get that resolved, great to visit with him shortly thereafter, I am literally the day of and really get on to training camp.  I think it would be much more challenging if we sitting here today and a situation like that wasn't resolved.  Obviously there was a lot of attention focused on it, largely in part because the uniqueness of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Management Council and the (player's) union having a difference (of opinion) on the Franchise Tag.  The process is put in place and we just kind of follow it.  I am saying that as coaches (in the process).  There was a process that was collectively bargained by the players union and by the Management Council.  When something goes to arbitration there was probably more gray area than both sides wanted or else it wouldn't be arbitrated.  Fortunately we were able to get all of that taken care of."

How bizarre was it having Jimmy Graham there arguing his case?

"No, believe it or not, bizarre would not be the word.  That was a long two days but having a chance during lunch breaks to touch base.  Look, there is a business element to it and the uniqueness, the reason agents are involved is they are able to handle negotiations. In this case, it was more unique because of the arbitration and the two day process.  Everything worked out and obviously we are excited it worked out with him prior to the start of training camp."

You were able to touch base with Jimmy Graham throughout the process?

"Yeah, we were all in a room and we have to go to the bathroom once and a while and eat."

Was there any awkward tension between you two?

"No, I understand completely from an outside perspective how you might look at it like how would that be and it wasn't like that.  We couldn't discuss it which made complete sense.  It is what it is.  I am glad it is behind us.  I am glad.  I know it would be a lot harder sitting in that room trying to say (Terrell) Suggs was a linebacker when everyone knows he is a pass rusher.  It was educational as well.  I think the arbitrator really wanted to listen and pay attention to everything involved in the process and in the end I am fired up for Jimmy (Graham) because he earned this opportunity now (with this long-term agreement with the Saints).  I know it was a lot off his plate.  There's a weight on your shoulders when you're at a crossroads in regards to a contract.  I've been there as a coach in a different way so when it is resolved, man there is a lot of relief and you are able to focus and not have to deal with the daily conversation often times by the people that are wishing you well or talking to you. It just gets quiet and that's a good thing."

Were you proud of the maturity Graham showed throughout the process?

"The process I thought was handled outstandingly considering the challenges with it.  I thought he (Graham) was fantastic.  One of the best phone calls of the summer was he and I having a chance to visit the day of and just touch base and kind of get moving towards this training camp.  We have seen a guy come in here young and all of a sudden in a short period of time accomplish a lot of great things and still has a lot of things I'm sure he wants to be able to accomplish moving forward."

Are you excited to see this offense now with Graham back?

"Yeah, those are parts to it, but look, training camp more and more, it has always been important obviously and it is a period of time where a bulk of what you do schematically during the season, both offensively, defensively and the kicking game, are repped out here.  The spring is more restricted.  It just is and that is fine because it is for everyone. Especially with Brandin (Cooks) for instance, he had the school quarter system at Oregon State, those are all some challenges.  You just have to be able to adjust to and move forward and that's one of the great things about training camp because it's everyone.  You have more time, more practice time, more meeting time and it is really 24/7 football."

Are you expected to see Jairus Byrd play?

"Yes, I think so, sooner or later, but much like we expected and no different than (with) John Jenkins at some point.  Fortunately for us that is not a big list for us right now and hopefully it can remain small."

How do you handle the pressure of people calling this team the best Saints team ever?

"Honestly, one of the challenges as a head coach every year is managing the outside, I don't want to use the word noise, but managing the outside, when things are going well and managing that and being guarded and when things aren't going well, managing that and staying focused to not let that derail you if you will.  Does that make sense?  Look, this team will be measured, not by what people are saying today on talk shows or in the newspapers, it will be measured really at the end of the season and that is the great thing about the NFL that you play, you try and win the division, you try to advance to the postseason, you try and go on to win a Super Bowl and you don't have to worry about how you stack up maybe in a BCS. It will be through hard work and we have a lot to do and we can't get started quick enough.  But with regards to the beginning of your question, the overall expectation, it is what we wanted, right?  It is trying to change a culture to create an environment where you feel like you have a chance to be successful, a chance to win each season and with that comes Sunday night games, Monday night games, flex schedules, some of those challenges scheduling-wise, but that is part of the deal.  If you are playing every game at 1:00 except the one Thursday night game the league gives you, then you are probably not having a lot of success.  They go hand in hand."

Can you talk about benefits of being in this type of climate and environment?

"I walked up right when Mickey was answering the question and the climate is one thing and I think we are just under 2,000 feet.  I don't know that the elevation is creating the climate just as much as it is just a little cooler here.  But I do think where we are located, number one, you want to find here, getting here, it's kind of magnificent when you do.  You are trying to reduce the outside distractions and come together as a team and as a coaching staff and focus on one goal.  There are a handful of benefits.  I do agree with Mickey and he and I have shared this from the very beginning that change is a good thing.  We were in Jackson, Miss. our first three years and that proved to be a real good decision.  There was a region and a city recovering from Katrina and we were able to focus on some goals and then brought it back to Metairie and again, had some success and that provided a lot of things that gave us opportunities with the indoor facility so the weather wasn't as challenging.  The change of something different and something new I think is helpful."

Do you have a certain checklist for this training camp?

"I think there are a handful of things.  I think our improving of our return game and kicking game (will be a big challenge).  I think us finishing offensively in the four minute.  We had a couple opportunities this past season and close games (that would have allowed us) to win the division (if we won) even at Carolina or New England.  Those were tough losses against good teams.  Defensively, finding more turnovers, more opportunities to create fumbles and interceptions, that statistic every year becomes redundant and yet it holds up pretty true to form.  Those are a few with regards to special teams, offense, and defense.  There are a lot more than just that.  The challenge of starting four out of six on the road and playing better than a year ago on the road, those are some things that come to mind right away."

Do you envision one player handling both duties of punt returner and kick returner or two players?

"I don't know if they will be the same player.  I think there is a better chance there will be two different players (handling each duty).  We have to see.  That punt return job, there were will a handful of guys competing for that and the same way for the kick return job.  I think you find a unique athlete that can do both because generally often times there are a little different skillset involved.  The focus on the punt return is one thing with so many kicks being touchbacks especially in the NFC South when you look at eight dome games at home, nine in Atlanta, generally a decent climate whether it is warm or not in Tampa Bay or Carolina.  I know in other divisions there is going to be kick returns and certainly when we travel, but I think there will probably be more than one player that is involved."

Can you talk about what you have seen in Junior Galette's growth?

"Clearly (his maturity) is one area when we signed him.  I think he is a smarter player too.  He has good football instincts.  He can leverage and get an edge.  He plays with a lot of energy.  I think one of the great traits a player can have is passion and I think he's got that for the game. That with speed and his growth as a player and also as someone who prepares, I think that has served him well."

Who is the next breakout undrafted free agent?

"I think it is challenging every season.  I think last year was a higher number; we had five or six free agents that made the roster.  I think it depends really.  It is hard to say until we get practicing.  You want to create the environment.  The one thing we talk about all the time is really trying to pick the right 53 and how you get here is not important once you are here and really trying to pay attention to what we are seeing on film and that process obviously began in the spring but clearly starts tomorrow.  As teachers, you pull for all of your students, you want them to do well and that is the same way as coaches, you want to see them have success.  I am not sure who that is going to be."

Did you have success on your conditioning drill?

"I finished.  After the first five yards of pushing that sled, my goal was to finish (it).  It was tough, but it was good.  I just didn't want that sled to be sitting like half way between the sidelines and like five players have to pull it back for the next heat."

Can you talk about the ability to come to The Greenbrier?

"The ability for us to come here and you guys will have a chance, the longer you are here, to see it, and be in this environment and play two preseason games (to start) with the second one back in New Orleans and finishing camp there.  I said this at the beginning, the reason training camp was successful was because of the people, it wasn't certainly because of a field or a gym or a dorm room.  As nice as these fields are and the performance center and this area we are in here, a year from now will be a dining area.  But the hotel, it still gets back to the people that make it special.  So the process from spring till now has been really good and the relationships very early on that have been formed and that will continue to be formed have been fantastic.  When we finish up and play week two and then get back home to our fans, there are just a lot of positives for it.  So absolutely, the setup is, I'd come that first 24 hours and I'm just looking and that is what a coach is supposed to do first, look at the fields, make sure there aren't any hazard areas, look at the meeting rooms, how do those lay out, make changes, how is the transportation to and from the hotel, is it happening quick enough?  The meals, Jen (Gibson) has been here with their food team.  So you have a laundry list of things and then (you are) meeting with Holly (Burns) and Stephanie (Yeager) today and our people and going through some of these checklist items, depending on where you go that could be very extensive.  So when you are on one page after one day that's pretty good. The facilities are outstanding and the people are the same."

What are the player's reactions to West Virginia and the new facility?

"I think there was enough time from when we announced it that everyone at some point in time probably went on the internet or at least knew someone that had been here.  I had never seen it until last summer and I had a handful of people describe it.  But I think, just the experience of yesterday coming in, that first 24 hours where players, coaches and staff are walking the grounds and seeing the meeting rooms and then seeing the fields.  We had some rain (at) about this time yesterday and the temperature dropped to about 60 degrees.  It was a good feel.  The people though are what make it special.  Certainly, the setup and the facilities are outstanding, but more importantly than that, the people that put this together."

Do you need this training camp to figure out how to use Champ Bailey?

"I think part of that will be this training camp.  Bill Parcells used to say this and every once and a while I will reference Parcells, 'With a player like Champ we don't need to see it every day, we just need to see it once in a while.'  He used to say that and it made sense.  That's being smart with the conditioning test for instance.  It is being smart with how we practice him.  I have a pretty good vision for what I think he can do for us and I think that has been communicated and I think he is really anxious to do that."

What was the nature of Tavon Rooks' injury?

"It was (something) other than football and something that I don't think is significant.  Basically he has a sore back.  We'll leave it at that.  I expect that to be resolved before some of you national guys go home."

Do you anticipate Joe Morgan being 100 percent?

"He was a go.  There were a lot of things he couldn't do at OTAs, but five weeks later, now we just have to transition him back to football and be smart about that, not different than Patrick Robinson, no different than some of these other players we are discussing.  He's done well."

When you look at the competition at center, is it fair to say if Tim Lelito is the starting center that if something would happen at the guard position, that Lelito would move to guard and put Jonathan Goodwin at center?

"Well, I think that is fair speculation right now.  In other words, Jonathan came to us as a guard back in 2006 and then played center.  Obviously has had a great career at center, but that versatility that he has and that Tim is gaining by playing center is very valuable.  When it comes to who is the seven or who are the eight, if you are dressing eight linemen on game day that is one thing, but if you are dressing seven it is a little bit more challenging.  What you just discussed is certainly a scenario that could exist with regards to, the key is with an injury, what position move are you making?  Are you moving two spots or one?  That's the trick here for the next five weeks to really begin to sort through how they are handling it, being smart with Jonathan's reps, how Tim is doing, all of those things."

The following Saturday, will there be the traditional Black & Gold scrimmage?

"Yes. It will be a week from this Saturday. We will have an A.M. scrimmage hopefully up here on the grass fields. Anytime we scrimmage or play a preseason game, usually the next day's the player's day off. That's what's on the itinerary now."

Do you feel like your team has momentum coming out of the spring?

The way the springs are set up now for every team, you have a harder gauge because of the OTA work. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, it just is what it is. You don't have as many practice snaps, and you're never in pads. It's hard to come out of the spring and say 'I feel like the team's here.' How many times did you guys ask a question in the spring and I said, 'Well, we have to wait until we get the pads on.' Khiry (Robinson) was a great example. If you asked me last year at this time how I felt about his progress coming out of the spring, it was okay. All of the sudden the pads came on (and) he was a different type runner than we expected, and that kind of defined him. I think the same can be said for your team a little bit, until you really begin the process of getting into a scrimmage and playing your first preseason game. Marques Colston is another great example. His spring compared to the training camp in '06 his rookie year where he earned a starting job were two totally different experiences for him…one positive and one negative. So as a team, I think that's going to begin to unfold now. It's a little bit harder for a head coach to gauge where you're at. The first thing you look at is your health, and I feel pretty good about that. The ability to sign Jimmy, those things that you can control during the offseason and begin to kind of get ready for what is the start of training camp. If that's a fair answer, I think it's more challenging now."

Does it get that much tougher having Jimmy and Brandin out of the mix in the spring?

"Well because of the process now, it's not as significant as it was five years ago. Jimmy had the low time out there today, and that was significant. I told him to stay in Miami every offseason. It was outstanding. My point is that if there's less team, less pads, then somebody who misses a portion of that is not missing as much as they were four or five years ago. You quickly get them up to speed, and that's just what we do. Each year there is a different challenge, and that's the challenge this year. With Jimmy, he's experienced in what we're doing. With Brandin, there's a lot for him to do and learn."

Because of that, do new players kind of get a clean slate when it comes to training camp?

"Absolutely. We're really looking at all 90 because we can't have an instant opinion based on the drills that we're doing. We're hopefully bringing them up to speed so that when they get to training camp they know what to do, because that's the first thing we evaluate. It's hard to evaluate a player who doesn't know what to do.

Photos from opening press conference with Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis of the 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. Photos taken by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)

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