New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Training Camp Presented By Verizon Media Availability
Friday, July 29, 2016
"Just a couple roster announcements. First, we signed two players—wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and center/guard John Fullington, offensive lineman. Tony Carter was put on waived/injured, and then Vincent Brown—wide receiver—was waived from the injured reserve, which puts us right at 90 (players). The other announcement—where's Jim Henderson? Seventy years old! Happy birthday. We went down, just because some of the rains we had last night. The fields, we felt, were a little soft. But I thought we got good work in."
Adding Hakeem (Nicks), what does he bring?
"Well we have worked him out a few times. He is obviously an experienced receiver. He is in good shape. He was kind of on a short list (for) if we had a number, and we did. So, I think his experience (is key). He's got strong hands in traffic. Like I said, we were really familiar with him just because on two different occasions we had him in for workouts. Plus, he wouldn't stop texting me. He was able to practice (today) and get some reps in."
You have such a young receiving corps. Even though they are talented, is it important to have a guy that's a veteran like Nicks that they can feed off of and ask questions to?
"I think it varies. From a leadership standpoint, there is one element, and there is an experience standpoint. From an experience standpoint, guys like (Brandin) Cooks and (Willie) Snead—those guys are smart players. Yes, certainly from an experience standpoint, Nicks is someone who has played in some big moments. And there is a personality he has that obviously can be infectious and help the room."
What's your sense of why his production tapered off over the last couple of years, and why do you think there is promise for a resurgence?
"Well, each situation is different. Indianapolis was pretty deep there at that position. I can't speak specifically to his reps or reasons why there were certain attempts thrown his way. He has been healthy. Again, he's competing like the rest of us. So, it's an opportunity for him to come in and find his role and work for a role within this system, which is a little different than the other places he's been."
Are you bringing (C.J.) Spiller along for a slower pace?
"Yeah, there will be a few guys (at a slower pace). Today, we backed off his reps. You are going to see that take place with a few of the other veteran guys. He'll go again tomorrow. We're just being smart with a couple of veteran guys. We'll do that with Zach (Strief); I'm sure we'll do it with Roman (Harper) and guys that have had a number of years."
Has (Andrus) Peat gotten enough reps and settled in at guard to where it won't hurt him to not get every rep there?
"I think he's going to be fine. You guys, obviously, are able to see the kind of shape he's in. He's handling the normal workload of practice. I like where he's at. He's extremely talented. He is doing a good job for us at left tackle, and his versatility, athleticism, and size is really something that is a gift for him athletically. It gives him some ability to move. So, I think the transition because of the amount of snaps he's had—we don't expect Terron (Armstead's) absence to be a month—so he'll be able to handle that."
Have you moved him around anyhow, just to get that versatility?
"Maybe not as much, but yes. It might have been over the days that we sit Zach (Strief). It might be on a day like that where he goes to right (tackle)."
How has a guy like Zach Strief been able to stick around and be effective—a low round draft pick—for as long as he has?
"He's smart. He has passion. He's one of those guys that is very good in regards to his technique. I think it's his passion, his perseverance—those things that sometimes are harder to define when a player is coming out in the draft. For him, going on year eleven, I think he knows exactly who he is and how to play to his strengths and weaknesses. That's been a big reason."
How pleased are you to see some of these rookies? Michael Thomas made a big catch today, Vonn Bell had an interception yesterday. Some of these young guys look like they're fitting in pretty quickly.
"Yes. That was really an amazing play today. From our vantage point, the leverage the corner had (made it difficult). I'm anxious to see it on film. We say, 'Confidence comes from demonstrated ability.' You can think it, you can hope it, and you can wish for it, but plays like that give a player like that the confidence to make the next one. So, for him, you're seeing growth spurts right in front of your eyes. We all are. That's really encouraging, especially for a first year player."
For Michael (Thomas), not only in the red zone, there are a lot of plays where you can take a shot even though someone might be right there with him. Are you willing to risk that?
"Yes. I think that in our game today, there are leverage throws that Drew (Brees) will make, that quarterbacks will make in this league. It looks covered, but it's almost like inbounding a basketball away from the squeeze of the defender. As you see a guy like that make those plays consistently, obviously, his confidence grows but so does the confidence with the quarterback. That's part of the improvement curve."
We know (Delvin) Breaux's obviously more than a feelgood story; he was one of your better defensive players last year. How can he grow from year one to two within this defense?
"I think just the reps and nuances of playing that position in our league and on our field. I think a player like him's driven. I think you'll see a big jump. He's a player—I don't want to use the term 'came in under the radar'—but I think his peers in this league, people who watch enough tape were able to see that this guy has size, strength, ball skills, and those type of things. The details of playing that position and the production—getting your hands on a play and coming up with the interception as opposed to the deflection (are where he will continue to progress)."
Obviously, the vets are looking forward to getting the pads on, but what kind of eye opener is that for the rookies?
"That is a good question. Obviously, it is different. Every one of them, they will have a chance to see the tempo change a little bit. It will be more physical, and they will be getting adjusted to the shoulder pads, the helmets, and all the things that go with being in full gear. These guys have all gone through that at their various colleges, and yet, for us it is a chance. You really do not know how guys look sometimes before they're in pads. I bring up Khiry Robinson a lot. We had an impression of what kind of back we thought he was, and then the pads came on, and all of a sudden, he was much different. A different type of runner in a positive way, a more physical runner. So, those are some of the things that come with it."
When you look at the film, from an offensive and defensive perspective, when the defense is forcing the quarterback to checkdown, is that a huge win for the defense or just a win? How do you view that as the head coach?
"It's twofold. From an offensive standpoint, there's a patient element to being productive. You hear that term 'taking what the defense gives you.' The point is that it's an element to where the ball can go within a pattern. Defensively, you're avoiding chunk plays. Not only do you force a ball underneath, but then you get to it underneath and try to turn it over. There are reps in practice where both things occur, and you would say that both sides of the ball are doing what they're being coached. So, that patient element offensively and from a quarterback position, and not having to always force it down the field, I thought Drew made some good decisions—some of the other guys as well. Defensively, it's encouraging because you're forcing an offense to (a point where) a lot of things can come up then. You're checking it down, and those balls can be deflected rather than the play where someone is out of position in coverage and the ball is going into the second level."
Is it fair to say the defense forced a lot of those check downs?
"I'd say there were a number of them—probably four to five that were (forced by the defense). Sometimes it is period related, such as if it is a passing period and you're playing linebacker, you are probably going to be into your drop quicker, or into your landmark a bit quicker. In the team run period, if there is a play action pass, then it is a bit (harder). So it is back and forth. I think that happened today."
Some of the players have said they notice Dennis (Allen) is a lot more comfortable this year. What have you noticed as he's fully stepped into his role?
"I would say one of his strengths is his organizational skills. He's extremely detailed in the meetings, not only with the players but also with his staff when they are meeting defensively. He's very thorough with regards to the explanation and communication of each scheme. I think that I'm used to him because we've had him prior (to his current stint), but the other thing is that he's demanding. The players all see that."
With the linemen especially, are you looking forward to seeing them in pads tomorrow? Are you going to have to caution these guys to dial back some?
"We'll be smart, and yet the bigger challenge is when we're doing some of these team periods without the pads because that's when the tempo can begin to increase. Now, you're at a greater risk for an injury. So, with the pads on, certainly we'll always discuss the tempo before each period. Sometimes, it'll be full. Sometimes it will be kind of a thud up-tempo. Yes, I think it's going to be a lot easier to begin the evaluation of the offensive and defensive linemen, particularly with the pads on, than it's been prior to them putting on the gear."
As the head coach of the team, how do you handle the inside drill once players have the pads on? How do you balance the need to stop the run?
"My experience has been that practices tend to go one way or another. You're always looking for the other side of the ball to respond the next day. The concern is when it's going three, four, or five days in a row one-way. So, I think from a head coaching perspective, one of the things we're working on improving is the defense. Yet, you know, if it's a competitive drill and I'm officiating a two-minute spot, I'm trying to be objective to what I see. But when we watch the film, the adversity really takes place for one side or the other, and you're looking to see the response of that side of the ball that maybe didn't do as well."
With Mark Ingram, what are you looking for production-wise and leadership-wise?
"Well, he's been healthy. He's one of our leaders. He's someone that has a high level of passion for the game and the respect of his teammates. You know, he's a consistent runner. He's really improved in regards to the protections. Also, the route running and the specifics of what he might do (have improved as well). Just that consistency he's provided, that's been a big plus for him."