New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean PaytonTraining Camp Presented By Verizon Opening Press ConferenceWednesday, July 27, 2016
"Like we do every year at the start, Mickey (Loomis) and I have a chance to visit with you before we get into our actual practices tomorrow. Briefly, normally we have a conditioning test today. We made a decision as a team that we felt it would be a better idea to go and help do some rebuilding, to help out just one of the many areas that got hit hard with the terrible floods back in June. So, I think all of us—the coaches, the players; there are five busloads of people—did a great job. You realize when you're there just the amount of work that needs to be done. I thought it was a good half-day for our players and our team to have a chance to get out there and help out."
Did you sign Hakeem Nicks?
"We have not. We'll let you know if we do."
When will you have the conditioning test?
"We won't. That was it. Unfortunately for the rookies, they took it last week and did well, but (today's volunteer work) was in lieu of it."
The guys on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, notably Terron (Armstead) and Keenan (Lewis), how long do you anticipate them being out?
"I don't expect it to be long, and yet, it's pretty normal. There are always going to be a handful of players that aren't ready to practice (on day one). So, we'll wait. We'll go through the rehab. I don't expect either of those to be long training camp injuries. Hopefully, the sooner the better."
Can you describe where Keenan (Lewis) is right now?
"I think he's doing well. He had a good summer of rehab. He was here the whole time. He is really diligent. I think he's going to have a really good training camp. I think he's really close to being 100%. You know, when you have that core muscle sports hernia in your hip area, there's some scar tissue that breaks up. There's a process that takes place. But I think he's doing well."
Would that be the case with Rafael Bush?
"Yes. He has passed the physical. He is practicing, and he too has had a really good summer. He spent, obviously, an inordinate amount of time rehabbing and working in the training room. You know, he handled the conditioning test extremely well. The rookies, as well as the players coming off of injury took that test and passed back in New Orleans. So, when they report—that group of players, whether it's the rookies or injured players, they report earlier—within their first day and a half, they've got to do that."
Will you have to limit Byrd in camp?
"We don't have any (restrictions). We'll be smart with the reps, but we'll keep track of how many reps these guys are all doing."
Several players have said that there is a distinctly different feel around this team and training camp this year. Is that something you detect?
"I thought there were signs of it in the spring. We will see. We still have a lot of work ahead of us. You sense their eagerness to please and to get to work. The guys are all in really good shape. Their weights were good; they were exceptional. It is time to get started."
Have you ever been part of a training camp where the preseason games have the structures changed to where you really don't have two-a-days anymore, and then you go on the road and practice against two different teams?
"This will be the first time. It normally has been one (combined practice). In our time here, we've done it with Houston; we've done it with New England. But I think it's a good opportunity for us to go see competition, get a chance to measure ourselves and see where we are at (as a team). The typical scrimmage week we have had in the past ten years has always been that second weekend of training camp—Hall of Fame weekend, if you will. We're going to have our normal practice schedule right through that weekend because we're getting ready to practice against New England and play them and then have Houston the next week. I think it will be good for not only our younger players, but also our whole team."
You're entering your tenth season as head coach. Does it seem like (it's been ten years)? Does it seem like longer or shorter?
"I don't know. There are certain years that run together a bit. I think each year's different. Each team has a chance to write their own chapter, and it's not different for me in regards to time. I don't know that it seems like ten, but it doesn't seem like four or five. I think the more and more you're around the players, there are less and less that were here when we started (in 2006). But that transition is normal. The transition of your roster is normal. I like the veteran leadership we've seen so far, and I'm sure more of that will emerge as guys begin to play and establish themselves in certain roles."
How many question marks do you see in this team, maybe in relation to some other teams you've brought to camp before?
"There are certain areas that we're paying attention to, but I don't know that you'd sit down a list (specific question marks). Specifically, Mickey (Loomis) and I have these discussions quite a bit. You know, 'This is what we're looking for. We have to be mindful of our numbers here.' It's hard to take that with this team and then compare it relative to other teams at this point. Obviously, we've had teams that we're better than we thought we'd have at this point, and we've had teams that we felt really good about, but they underachieved or they weren't as good as we expected. So, we'll get started and get a chance to see what we have. I think there is a process involved in that, but that's the exciting part of training camp."
What's the blueprint for fixing the defense?
"I think we have to do a better job of creating turnovers. Situationally, you pick it—red zone, third down, those situational categories football-wise, two-minute especially—those are all areas where we have to be smarter, and we have to be better at as players and as coaches. We've got to make sure the communication is clear and that we're on the same page with regards to what we are doing. Obviously, there is a certain amount of complementary football where we offensively improve in our run efficiency or our drive numbers—the things that can help the defense stay off the field. So there are a series of things, and I think we'll see that. To what degree—that's the question."
What are some ways you can manufacture turnovers?
"I think the first thing that comes to mind is the coaching during the practice, (such as) the emphasis on effort to the ball. You can say, 'Create a turnover? How?' Well, there are ways to cause fumbles. But it starts with that emphasis, that relentless pursuit to the football. Those are some of the things that begin the coaching of it, if you will."
Can changes with the scheme help with that?
"I don't know if that's turnover-related as much. I think we've seen in our league a lot of different schemes create turnovers. It's still about a mindset. Obviously, if you can improve your pass rush (and affect) the clock in the quarterback's head, all of those things lead to turnovers."
Over the years, you have seen the rule changes. You can call it "old-school football"—can you run the football, can you stop the run? Looking at last year, I know that it was probably unacceptable to you that you gave up 4.9 yards per carry (defensively) and you only ranked 24th (in rushing). You can see when you had ultimate success running the football in '09 and '11, you were sixth. How do you make that a priority?
"The good news is we can (make it a priority) right now. To the point of practice, we can be full pads every day, and we can go up to three hours. It's something that you're limited to in the spring, of course. The rules have changed, and the offenses have begun to change in their personnel groupings. The defense is the same way. Yet there are still some things that remain consistent. We talked about turnovers. We're talking about defense now—run defense and the ability to run the football. Those are things that we'll have to do a better job at practicing while we're here this next month."
Do you think that the way the game has changed over the years had changed the way that quarterbacks age?
"I don't know. I think we've seen the health and training element that I think would contribute more to that than anything else. It wasn't long ago, we as players weren't allowed to drink water until the end of practice. We just didn't know. As we become more aware as to how to take care of your bodies, we've got a quarterback that is exceptional in regards to preparation—sleep, recovery, all of those things. I think that has helped that position as much as anything else."
How much do you think (Sheldon) Rankins can help with the pass rush?
"We will see. We will get the pads on in a few days. We drafted him high, and we think he's a good football player. One of the things we felt that stood out with him was his ability inside in passing situations. We saw that not only as Louisville but we also saw it at the Senior Bowl and throughout the evaluation."
In '07 and '08, you didn't make the playoffs. Obviously, you rebounded in '09 (winning Super Bowl XLIV). I know teams are different and years are different, but after not making the playoffs the last two years, is there anything you can take from past experiences?
"That's a good question. There's a sense of urgency. Teams are different. I said earlier, this team will write its own chapter. This team will write its own book. They don't get to include last years' last three chapters. This team starts and earns based on its merit, and I think that's how the preparation starts. It's been ongoing in the spring. The one thing that is easy to point to is the amount of close games that you play in. You go back through each season—and we can point to a few of those in '07 and '08, and then in '09 there was that confidence that began to take place—but it comes from demonstrated ability. You can talk about it, you can wish it, but until you hit that free throw or until you make that catch—we've all seen that moment when all of a sudden an individual does something and then you feel like a hurdle (was crossed). I think it will be important for this team to play well early on. The key is that there is no limit with regards to what our expectations are internally. Eliminating the preseason, let's just focus on getting better. That early start, those first four weeks before the bye, will be important. That's an obvious statement, yet (it's true), certainly for this team."
Can you coach anything better to get off to a faster start?
"Yes. The first thing (is) that is going to be important for us will be preseason and scrimmages. One thing this group has done a good job at is the competitive periods. I know it's a preseason game, but it's going to be important for us to win those as well, regardless of what we're doing. I kind of feel that the group working at the park today did a better job than the group working at the home. You pay attention to who is doing what and how sweaty the shirts are. That started in the spring, and that's a good thing. That's a habit that has to be better."
A lot of NFL teams might say that winning preseason games isn't all that important. (Why is it different for the Saints?)
"You guys have all covered our preseason games. We got on the bus, we go to the plane, home or away. There have been some games that we didn't win, but you knew that in the first half guys did well. And then there have been some games—I can recall a plane from Houston to Oxnard (California). We can try to try to put a rosy face on that game, but we got our butts kicked. I think it's going to be important to compete and see guys compete. Granted, one of the elements of a preseason game is getting a number of guys playing time, but it's going to be important. That sense of urgency is certainly going to exist with our staff, and I think our players already understand the topic we're on right now."
Do you find you need to detach yourself from any Drew Brees contract talks?
"I understand (the situation). Yet, that is something that cannot be the focus of what we're doing. That's the one element that I'm sure will take care of itself. Mickey (Loomis) will spend time (on that), I'm sure. There's that dialogue that exists, but that can't be what preoccupies what our mindset is right now. I do not think it will be for Drew either."
Looking at other NFL teams, everyone is talking about disrupting the opposing quarterback. Looking at last year's fifth-round pick Davis Tull, is he ready to roll?
"He is healthy. We saw some good signs later in the spring. (Kasim) Edebali is healthy. We feel like we are going to be able to do that in the building, and we might have to be creative with regards to scheme at times. But it is one of those consistent topics that come up every year. When you go back through—there was an (ESPN) 30-for-30 on the Bears, and they were talking about the defense. The quarterbacks had no time to throw. For Denver, even in the biggest game, the pressure was outstanding. So that's important. If teams are gradually throwing the ball more, you're forcing the team to make a decision and throw it in less amount of time. I don't care how good you are at that position. If all of a sudden you have less time, your efficiency is going to drop."
You guys didn't draft or sign any new edge rushers. Did you identify other issues as more important than that?
"No, but we were not going to create and just draft one at pick number nine because that was a need. That'd be a mistake. Like I said, we have got some young guys. It's here. No one is coming here and sitting down at this press conference a week from now, (saying), 'Ah he arrived!' They are here. And it is our job to coach them and get them ready. That's why we're here, and we're excited about it."
To the topic of starting faster—is that something that is more than typical for this offseason?
"I think it's important for this team. You're always careful as a coach. You guys have heard me say this. The true 'must-win'—I always smirk when I read that something is a must-win and it's Week Four—the 'must-win' is the game where you're either eliminated from the playoffs or you're alive still. So, the '11 team was pretty good and in the first week of the season lost a tough game to Green Bay on the road. Obviously, we came back and won a few games. At some point there's a stretch where you start playing more consistently if that's the word, or winning a stretch of games in a row. I think for this team, without putting a number on it in those first four weeks, we have an early bye—I think those are important games. When we've looked at '06, '09, '10, '11, or '13, I would say in all of those cases, the first four or five games we played pretty well."
On Jairus Byrd, did he have a surgery this offseason? Is that what he's been rehabbing?
"He's been rehabbing. Just continued rehab. No event."
A couple of players had to drive in from D.C. last night. Did everyone get in ok?