New Orleans Saints
Senior Offensive Assistant Curtis Johnson
Wide Receivers Coach Ronald Curry
Video Call with Local Media
Friday, June 12, 2020
What do you think about your wide receiver group heading into this season?
(Coach Curry): "I think that (Emmanuel) Sanders is a welcomes addition. He's a veteran, he's played in big games. He played in the Super Bowl last year. He has played with some great quarterbacks, (such as) Peyton Manning. So the adjustment with Drew (Brees) will be awesome. (We are) Looking forward to the veteran leadership (he brings). One of Ted Ginn Jr.'s best attributes was his leadership in that room, with him being gone and departed, I think he can come in and fill those shoes. He's a special talent and a unique talent. I think him and Drew are going to hit it off and obviously we have Mike Thomas and Shorty B, (Deonte) Harris. Looking forward to the growth of those guys going forward. We have a great room with some hard workers, guys that are coachable and guys that are football junkies. They take their job serious and it's a pleasure to coach them every day."
How does the coaching staff integrate Deonte Harris more into the offense?
(Coach Curry): "Last year, he would come in and he had a certain role. We like to bring the young guys along slow. Put him at one positon, bring him in and kind of back Ted Ginn Jr. up doing some reverses and things of that nature. But just getting to know him a little better. He missed a lot of training camp time with the hamstring. It was slow for him to get going and it's hard that we didn't have a (traditional) offseason this offseason. It's kind of been hard to say how much he's grown, but I'm pretty sure he's somewhere putting in work. I talk to him every now and then just to see what he can handle. He'll come in and his role will expand. If you've been in our offense or around this team you know that guys fall into a role and (we) have 30 days to kind of figure out what his role will be."
How much will the NFL/Black College Hall of Fame Quarterback Summit that you will attend virtually help you teach your receivers?
(Coach Curry): "Like you said, I played quarterback and I never stopped learning the game as a quarterback and I think that's something that's helped me as a coach and as a player when I moved to the position of receiver. I can learn all the positions. I can line up and read the coverage and know exactly where the ball was supposed to go. And I try to teach the guys the same thing. Don't just learn your position, learn coverages, learn the technique of defenders. When you go to things like that with the quarterback (summit) you just hear the perspective of a lot of other different coaches and how they go about their business everyday. This is the second system I have been in, one with the Niners and one here, to where (there has been) a lot of production in both offenses, but they are done totally different. (They are) Two totally different styles and when you go to these things you notice that it is a lot of systems, a lot of learning and a lot of things that go on. I consider myself a young coach so I sit there mouth closed and ears open and just take it in and bring back the things that I have learned there and try to implement it here. Some of the stuff works, some of it doesn't (in the system you are in). This (Saints) system has been around 14 years and it's been highly productive and is always evolving. Anything I can bring to the table that I've learned somewhere else I try to do."
What has been the adjustment not seeing the players and not having an offseason program this year
(Coach Johnson): "I think one thing Sean (Payton), Mickey (Loomis), Jeff (Ireland) and Terry Fontenot do every year is they go out and get the smartest guys you can and RC (Ronald Curry) is being modest. He's done a fantastic job this offseason. He and D.J. (Williams) just getting those guys together, getting them to meetings on time and getting the offense taught to be ahead of the game. We have a veteran quarterback and a veteran (offensive) unit. I think it's significant, but think about 2011, we didn't even have those meetings and I think our offense finished (number) one in the league."
What do you think some of the next steps are for Michael Thomas coming off a record breaking year?
(Coach Johnson): "Well he better break some more records. That's what he better be doing (laughter). I think Michael Thomas is a student of the game. He loves football, he's a football junkie, he's a smart guy. I wish he'd block a little bit better. We can put that in there, let's throw that in (laughter). But last year he really stepped up and played everywhere and did everything we asked him to do. He can also improve on catching every ball, instead of dropping like one or two."
Does Michael Thomas let the coaches in on his workout secrets and how much do you work off of that, given that he wouldn't tell us specifics?
(Coach Johnson): "Well he's going by my guy Andreu Swasey. He and Alvin (Kamara) are there by Swasay. I'm in on it, me and RC (Ronald Curry) in on everything. He'll call us, he is like our little third son. He keeps calling us all the time, bugging us about a lot of stuff. But we know he's going to be big. We never worry about Mike. He's always going to be in great condition. He is going to catch the ball and make plays. He loves football and he's a good person."
Have you seen Michael Thomas grow in a leadership role on and off the field and I know we all saw the reports of him organizing the NFL BLM video?
(Coach Johnson): "Tremendous growth, when I first saw him me and him had an experience at the combine when I was with the Bears and he didn't like me very much. But I have seen his personality come out more and more. He is a leader by example. He does some things I still don't like, but that's ok. But this guy is a tremendous leader. He's always out there, always first in line. He's going to show everybody he's the best and I love coaching him. He's just a great guy to coach."
What are you looking to see out of Tre'Quan Smith in 2020?
(Coach Curry): "I love Tre'Quan. I loved him coming out. I spent a lot of time watching film on him before we decided to draft him. He's a unique player. As I talked earlier, everybody falls into a role. Tre'Quan has skinny legs and skinny arms, but he is stronger than you think. He is smart and knows the game of football. It means something to him. He puts in the work and just needs to continue to play, (and) continue to receive opportunities. He needs to fix his stance and be a little bit more explosive. He'll be alright, we joke about that all the time. He's a special player and just needs some opportunities and a lot of people give us slack about needing guys because Michael Thomas gets all the balls and Mike Thomas is a hell of a player and Tre'Quan kind of gets slighted and when it comes to that it's not that we don't have a good guy on the other side, it's just that Mike Thomas gets a lot of the passes. He takes it and coach gets on him sometimes and you can coach him hard. I just think he needs to continue to show up and when the opportunity is there, you saw it last year and the game when Drew (Brees) breaks the (yardage) record, He catches a couple passes, but when the opportunity has presented itself he's stepped up to the occasion, man. He just needs more opportunities in my opinion."
Even though he's listed at running back, what do you see in a guy like Ty Montgomery who brings a lot of versatility and can play multiple positons?
(Coach Johnson): "I think he's just another weapon. He's another weapon that we're going to use. Sean's (Payton) going to use him to the best of our ability. He can play multiple positons and would be great for our roster. We've looked at some of the things that he's done at Green Bay and other places. I think this guys just an added addition to what we're doing. As many weapons as we can get to put in front of our quarterback I just love the addition."
How do you see Emmanuel Butler growing and where do you see him in his development?
(Coach Curry): "He's another young (receiver), we've got a couple of them. Him and LJ ( Lil'Jordan Humphrey), Austin Carr, guys we just picked up in the draft. He's going to have to compete and I think with him he's just got to have a little bit more growth on special teams. We saw him in training camp make a lot of plays, but then he suffered the injury that really set him back some and it just happened as preseason was about to start. It would have been great to see him continue to grow. The good thing about him is he was able to play the positon that Mike (Thomas) plays. When we try and save Mike he got a lot of opportunities that probably would've went to Mike. Now that he's in the second year in this offense we're looking for him to play some other positions to give himself a better chance on really making the team. But he's a great kid, he works and we just have a great bunch. You hear us talking about one guy, but really we talk about them all. But I think he just needs to grow a little on special teams and just continue what he's doing and build on top of that. He's out in Arizona working on that stuff that we need him to do to help us out next year."
How has your preparation changed if at all leading into training camp this year as opposed to years past?
(Coach Johnson): "I think this, like I said before we have a veteran group. The one guy we have to get (up to speed's) Emmanuel Sanders .We have to get him going a little bit. I think he's a smart guy. I've probably talked to him probably more than anyone. I know he likes to play golf (joking), but that's really all I know about him. But he's tremendous on film and we were talking the other day, myself, RC and Pete Carmichael putting plays together for him to use his strengths and doing some different things with Tre'Quan (Smith) also. We talked about how Tre'Quan's a guy. He's a tremendous blocker and always leading us to the ball. We have to get him somewhere else, different positions. And one thing about those guys is they are very, very smart guys. I think we can put more on them. We put more responsibility on guys like Tre'Quan and Emmanuel (Butler) and (LJ) (Li'l Jordan) Humphrey. When those guys come along, I think Deonte (Harris) as RC (Ronald Curry) said, is going to do a phenomenal job."
When you're working with a guy like (Curtis Johnson) who's a fairly dominant personality, how's the dynamic of that relationship?
(Coach Curry): "It's great. C.J. has a great personality. He keeps the room light, he jokes, he's just a veteran. He lets me go about my business the way I need to go about my business. He encourages it, he develops not only players, but coaches and human beings. He's probably one of the best coaches that I've been around just all around as far as coaching. That's the good thing about him. There's a lot of coaches that you're going to be around, especially when you're young. They try to keep you in your place and only allow you to grow at their rate and C.J. isn't like that. He treats you like one of his own. His house is always open. C.J. is C.J., what you see is what you get. He's loud when he comes in the room, but he's always preaching knowledge and from me to the last coach on the staff, to Sean Payton, to Mickey (Loomis), just everybody. He's a likeable guy to be around. You can't always say that in this profession, but he's one of the best ones you're going to be around."
We've heard a lot from the coaches on this staff talking about visions for players so what is your vision for (Emmanuel) Sanders? How do you see him fitting into this offense?
(Coach Curry): "We're going to do it. We're going to try to put together what he does best. The beauty about this system and the reason why nobody has caught up to it yet is Sean Payton knows how to move guys around. He knows how to take advantage of their unique talents. He tries to put these guys in positions to where you keep them out of the things that they don't do well and you enhance the stuff that they can. So it's hard to say exactly what you're going to do for Sanders and his vision until you really get your hands on him. You see the things he did in San Fran last year, but our offense is kind of different from San Fran. You kind of need to go back to his Denver days when he was playing with Peyton (Manning). He's a transition player, you want to get the ball in his hands, you've got a vision for him on third-down, win your one-on-one matchups in the red-zone. You feel like he's going to fit in like Ted Ginn, like a veteran that's going to be where he's supposed to be, on time, for Drew (Brees). Drew is a person that (Sanders) needs a lot of work with. It doesn't matter who it is that comes in here, (Brees) likes to find ways to work with guys and seeing their body language and how they get in and out of routes. We have a vision for him on third-down and how we can use him, maybe taking some of that option stuff off of (Alvin Kamara's) plate and some of the stuff that Ted Ginn was doing, double moves, transitional stuff. There's a lot of stuff in this offense. (There's a lot of things he needs to know) to try and get involved, but we've got to see what he can handle first too."
How is Krishawn Hogan developing and what's the vision for him moving on?
(Coach Johnson): "Krishawn is another good players that is in the mix. We like his intelligence. (He's a) very, very intelligent guy. He can line up in a variety of different positions, he's a tremendous blocker, he can separate. So he's another guy that we're going to look at to increase his role in the fall and hopefully he's not injured. He was injured at the end of the season last year (so hopefully) he's protecting his body and doing those things. He's another guy that's definitely in the mix that's going to help us this year."
Going back to Tre'Quan (Smith), the injuries that he dealt with last year, do you think that played a role in just the production people were looking for out of him?
(Coach Johnson): "The one thing about Tre'Quan I can say that we haven't used him to do is he's a catch and run type guy also. The play he made in Los Angeles that he got hurt on, he caught the ball, broke like two or three tackles and then a guy got his ankle. Any setback for a young player in his second or third year is going to be major setback. The one thing I would say about Tre'Quan also (is) we took him from an outside receiver and moved him to an inside receiver by necessity. He's been outstanding doing those things. We've just got to continue to work with him on some of the things that he never did in college and didn't do very much of in the first year that he was here. I think his improvement is going to be drastic and I think he's going to have a breakout year. Y'all can write that down! (laughter)."
You mentioned earlier having a moment with Mike (Thomas) at the combine, is that something you can elaborate on?
(Coach Johnson): "I was in Chicago and (General Manager) Ryan Pace told me, 'look, we want to get to this guy. We want to see what he's really about.' They'd heard some rumors at Ohio State that he was good or bad or whatever so before the interview we're out just kind of talking, I knew I kind of baited him in and then when I got in the interview I drilled him. So when he found out that I was going to be coaching on the Saints staff, he almost had a second child (laughter), twins! But Mike and I are good now. We are very, very good. He just bought my wife a great birthday present so I've got to say Mike is my favorite right now, today."
Where does Mike (Thomas) stack up against some of the great receivers you've coached in your day just as far as pure talent?
(Coach Johnson): "Well, look, he's as big as Andre Johnson and Yatil Green, probably two of the biggest guys, he has hands like Reggie Wayne, he can separate like Santana Moss. He's right there with all of them. He can make back-shoulder catches like (Marques) Colston, he's not as fast as Devery (Henderson) or (Robert) Meachem so I'm not going to give him that much, but I mean he's up there with the top. I've never seen a big guy as courageous as he is and can separate the way that he does. Colston was courageous also, but this guy separate in small areas like no one else I have ever seen do it. So he's one of the top guys."
Whatever limitations Deonte (Harris) is working with because of his size, do you have to come up with a specific type of package for him or do you think he can kind of do it all regardless of being 5'6 or whatever?
(Coach Curry): "I don't see his size as a limitation. I feel like he had a package, one because he was a young player and we had a vision for him to basically be the player that he was last year as far as a returner, a top returner in the league. We knew that would be his role and then he played behind Ted Ginn, Tre'Quan Smith and Mike Thomas. He had a limited role because he was up on game day as a returner and we just got him going on offense when we could. He came in with hamstring problems so we protected him as much as we could. Going forward, his role will increase just because he's been here for a year and he's going to be able to compete. It's kind of the same situation as far as the receiver numbers that are back, but he's a special talent. Guys of his stature have had great success in this league and I don't see that as a limitation. It's something that sometimes you're not going to be able to find him in the middle just Drew (Brees') height and his height is just a combination of both."
Was his big catch against Minnesota in the Wildcard game an example of that?
(Coach Curry): "Yeah, he's an example, just like the Tre'Quan (Smith) question about his production. It's not because the player can't play. It's more because when you're drawing up the offense, first you're going to think about Mike (Thomas) and then you're probably going to think about (Jared) Cook and then you're probably going to think about (Alvin Kamara). So by the time you get to these guys it's kind of like basketball, you're going to think about Lebron, Lebron, Lebron until he has to kick it to the corner for somebody else to shot. You don't draw those plays up for guys, the ball just finds them and that's just the way our offense works. A lot of the plays that I've drawn up for Tre'Quan and Shorty B, but eventually they double team Mike, they double team Cook and somebody has to step up and then the ball finds them. Basically that play was for him, it was meant for Taysom (Hill) to take a shot and Taysom threw a hell of a ball and (Harris) made a hell of a catch."
(Coach Johnson): "And that was your play. You've got to get the credit for that!"
What are your thoughts about Marquez Callaway?
(Coach Johnson): "Marquez was a guy that was coached by one of my guys at Tulane, David Johnson, and I think he's a heck of a player, good kid, comes from a great family. Dave has been telling me about Marquez for years. He's big, he's fast, he's a tough kid, very, very smart. I like him, but sometimes I get on him about his haircut because I see that haircut and I can't grow hair like him so I'm (jealous)."
What about Juwan Johnson, how do you see him fitting in with you guys?
(Coach Johnson): "I like him also, my nephew had him at Penn State. He is a special teams guy, he's a very tough guy, big, physical, athletic. You cannot get enough of these guys in a season like this. We like big guys, like R.C. always says, we like big guys because of Drew (Brees') situation (where) he is a little bit shorter than everybody else, but this guy has made some plays at Oregon. And these guys are tremendously smart. I am telling you, D.J. (Williams) and R.C. did a phenomenal job with those kids this year. I can't wait to be a part of this."