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Transcript: Former New Orleans Saint Zach Strief conference call - Wednesday, July 22

New Orleans Saints legend Zach Strief talked with local media on Jul. 23

New Orleans Saints Tackle Zach Strief
Legends Microsoft Teams Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, July 23, 2020

Can you talk a little bit about what you guys been doing at Port Orleans recently and all the work you guys are doing there?
"It has been an interesting offseason owning a business in the middle of all of this. If I was really to sum up what we tried to do was create something that we could do some good in the middle of all of this. We had an open kitchen, we weren't allowed to have the dining room open. Really the way it started and I guess probably most relevant to this conversation is it really started with me of texting a bunch of former offensive lineman and saying, guys, I want to do something to help people out and we'd kind of brainstormed. (What) we came up with was that the service industry had always been so good to all of us and O-line dinners and all of that has always been so easy in New Orleans. I told him, I said, 'listen, I want to make food. We'll use our kitchen, we'll use our staff and we'll find some way to put food out, but I need money.' There was 15 guys on that and $65,000 was raised in really 24 hours. Terron Armstead made a $30,000 donation and really under the premise of let's make some meals for the service industry and what it really turned into was anybody that was really struggling and needed help. We never turned anybody away. We ended up having other businesses jump on and help us out. I'll probably forget some, but Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Domino's helped us out down the street from us, Mid-City Pizza. That was kind of at the beginning of it was just a way to make meals. We kind of expanded it to how many different ways can we help some people. (We) ended up hiring out some food trucks and were able to provide meals at some of the local hospitals through food trucks. The evolution of that whole deal came into, okay, how do we widen the scope a little bit? And that's where the grocery giveaway kind of came. The way that really came about, after I had found so much luck with the offensive linemen, I reached out to some other players and said will you guys kind of create a group chat of current and former players and ask to give some money, donate some money to this cause. When I called Drew (Brees), what I really asked Drew was simply to send the text out for me, understanding and acknowledging how much they were already doing. Drew's response was, well, how do we help? We kind of brainstormed again and decided that one of the groups that we felt was kind of underserved was people that were actually dealing with COVID. So many of the programs were for people who had lost their jobs or had been furloughed or something like that. But the people who actually were going to the hospital and getting tested really did not have a place to go. It was really twofold, people who were being discharged from the hospital that had recovered were being instructed not to leave their houses for a week for anything, to drive straight home, to kind of close the doors. So we wanted to find a way to help them. And then also people who were testing positive for COVID and were not being admitted into the hospital were being told to do that for two weeks. What we kind of came to was a way to create grocery packages for those people to be able to go and pick up and take home. We partnered with NACCHO who was our food provider at the brewery for all of our food and obviously who was also struggling at that time. Louisiana Fresh, Riley Foods ended up jumping in, Blue Runner Foods ended up jumping in, and we were able to create packages that would feed a family of four for a week. It was 56 meals in a package, had fresh meat and vegetables and packaged goods. The Brees Dream Foundation funded that entire program at the beginning. I thought it was very cool because it was at a time when not only was our company at the brewery struggling because of this, but most of the people that we partnered with were also kind of in the same situation and yet everyone found ways to help out. When it was all said and done, we did about 65,000 meals over the course of what was about seven or eight weeks and ultimately was really funded and supported largely by former Saints teammates. I thought that was really cool. I think it says a lot about those guys and the types of people that the organization brings in and even Coach (Sean) Payton donated. It was a pretty cool program. We're really proud of it. I'm really proud of what we were able to do and ultimately I think was really successful and hopefully we were good stewards of those funds we were able to raise."

For you, could you as a player have imagined an offseason like this?
"No, I think, well, what's interesting (is) I think that there are some things that have occurred in the past that maybe would have felt somewhat similar. The lockout year, not being able to kind of be at the facility, which was, again, very strange. This one's obviously more advanced than that, because not only could you not go to the facility, you might not be able to go to a gym, you might not be able to go to the place you usually work out, if you were going to work out with other teammates, you were probably getting criticized publicly for doing it. It's very odd and there's a lot of stuff there that is tough to navigate and confusing to navigate and I think a lot of guys are trying to balance doing the right thing for themselves professionally, but also doing the right things from a public health standpoint. Sometimes those two things are in conflict. Certainly an odd offseason for everybody and I'm sure that the players felt pretty consistently like they were a little bit in Alice in Wonderland. It's just everything kind of seems upside down."

How much do you think the possibility of not having preseason games will affect the roster and especially some of these undrafted guys trying to make a team? How much do you think it affects them?
"I think you kind of look at that two ways, there's the leaguewide way, how will it affect the general NFL? And then how will it affect the Saints? I think the Saints for this year are going to be really good at handling the situation. That's been talked about a bunch, but there's a lot of veterans on this team, a lot of guys that have been around, there's consistency in the coaching staff and the systems that are in place. Those things, I think will help the Saints out. Where I think it becomes an issue is when you look two and three years down the road and you maybe let go of an undrafted free agent that ended up being a difference maker for another team and now you don't have that young, cheap talent. I think that's how it's really going to affect a lot of young teams or teams in transition this year is you really are trying to build that foundation and you don't have time to see a guy really perform under pressure. What the teams will be tasked with what I think we will see, or maybe not see, maybe we will hear about, is more competition within the training camp itself, more opportunities for inner squads to compete against each other. I think it is going to be something that Sean (Payton) will really focus on is how do I put them in stressful situations where I put really a lot on the line to see how guys perform under pressure, because we have seen over and over and over again over time both things, both the guy who in practice looks amazing and in games cannot perform. And we've seen the guys that cannot perform in practice and when the lights turn on, they turn into players. I think it will be on the teams to find ways to create that of pressure filled situation where guys feel like their job is on the line in that moment to see how they respond in those situations. I think that'll be the big challenge for them in training camp, but the Saints also I think have been pretty cognizant of the fact they're not going to have those situations and because of that, I think they really focused this offseason on veteran players and bringing in free agents who they thought had a realistic chance of making the team rather than bringing in 15 draft picks and 30 undrafted free agents where, you know, maybe those guys aren't going to get a real chance to show what they can do."

When you go back to 2006, did you need those preseason games? Would you have made this roster with without them being a seventh round draft pick or do you think you sort of proved yourself in the actual camp without the games?
"Well, I think you'd probably have to ask somebody that made that decision. I didn't think I was going to make the team. I think it certainly (makes it) harder, I think that, that you can show a lot more in games than you can practice. I think even more so than the preseason, if you want to talk about how does that happen or how would that have happened without the situation I had in terms of getting to play in preseason games. I wasn't active for the first seven weeks of the season, and then got to play in a game and was never an active again. So it wasn't until that game experience that I think they really trusted me and it's going to be that way for a lot of these undrafted guys. It's going to be very hard to show that type of performance and practice and that's why I think the training camp itself is going to look really different to those guys, because almost every day, they're going to have to find ways to put guys in highly stressful situations to see how you respond, to see if they can trust you in those big moments. I don't know that I would've made the team. I think it's hard to say, but there's no question that guys who are undrafted this year, guys were late draft picks have an uphill battle, especially on a team like the Saints."

The NFL as a whole hasn't come out with anything that said, no fans or whatever, but some teams like the Giants and the Jets have already made that decision. You've played it in front of a big crowds for however many years it's been, but could you imagine playing in an empty stadium and just being able to hear some things that you normally wouldn't be able to hear and maybe lose that home field atmosphere that makes the Superdome so special?
"Well, Amie (Just), I am glad you asked me that question because I read this morning, it is hands down my favorite tweet of 2020 so far, and it was a Ifeadi Odenigbo who is a defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings (and) played at Northwestern, who said he keeps getting asked that question, is it going to be different playing in empty stadiums? And he said, you have obviously never been to an 11:00 a.m. Northwestern start in Evanston. I was born and bred to play in front of no fans because obviously there are no fans at a Northwestern game that starts at 11:00 a.m. I do think it's a challenge. I think that it's going to be a huge transition for those guys. You almost wait as a player for the crowd to give you energy and to feel that energy and excitement in a stadium to get yourself mentally to the level that you need to be at to play at your highest level and that's going to be really difficult. And again, I think that's a challenge that the teams are going to have to figure out in training camp and that is how do you create that feeling? How do you create that urgency, that sense of urgency that you have in front of a crowd without a crowd there. I think that will be a big challenge. And again, I think when you talk about what teams are going to be most prepared for this season, it is going to be teams with coaches who have been around a long time who are very secure in their programs and have figured out how they want to do everything, not a coach who is in a new place trying to put in his own system, trying to create a culture, all those things. It is just one additional item that they have to train their guys to do. I think it's complicated and it's difficult. It's never been done before. And so there's not a lot to go on. So I really do think that that challenge that teams and players are gonna have really kind of benefits organizations that have been more stable over the last decade."

Who's the offseason addition, rookie or free agent. that you think will have the biggest impact immediately?
"I think it's hard for it not to be Emmanuel Sanders. I think with the things that have happened with this team offensively in particular, and as Drew's gotten older and with the emergence of Mike Thomas, they have found ways to force the ball into Mike Thomas, obviously. The way they've done that has been pretty incredible, but there's no question that it adds a little bit of pressure to both Drew and to Mike to throw into double coverage as much as they have to. I think the reality is they're still going to get those same looks. That teams are still double teaming Mike Thomas, they're still gonna focus on them, but there is a real legitimate weapon across from him, not only with Emmanuel, but also Jared Cook. I think a lot of people forget that Jared Cook was very late to develop last year because of the time he missed early in camp, into the season. Those additional weapons are really going to make this offense really tough to defend. Emmanuel Sanders, just with the production that he's shown in his career to date, is something that the Saints have not had in a while and I think that he's going to help them a lot."

With a really veteran team like this, training camp battles might be a little bit different, but who are the ones to watch on the offense and defense in terms of training camp battles that you'll would kind of focus on?
"I'll go right back to the receiving position. I think that's going to be really interesting to see how that position shakes out again. We had the same conversation last year, John (DeShazier), I think all the way through training camp was who is going to be the fourth and fifth guys, and I do not think that is any clearer today than it was last year. I think the backend of that, will it be a young guy, will be one of the rookies, will a guy like Emmanuel Butler who we thought had a good c"amp and then kind of disappeared in preseason games, does losing a preseason actually benefit him? Does it make it easier for him to find his way onto the roster? Do they stay with a guy that's been more of a special teams contributor like a Krishawn Hogan? I think that's an area where you're going to see a lot of competition, just like we did last year. On the defensive side of the ball, I think what is going to be kind of interesting to me is really the linebacking core. There are a lot of dynamics there, that is an aging group of players. Demario Davis, Craig Robertson, you have a guy like Kiko Alonso coming off of an injury and how is he going to respond to that? You have a guy in Alex Anzalone who you are saying well, is he going to be able to make it through a season? He is a guy that has struggled with injury throughout his career. I think in a time when they would really like to get younger at that position, obviously Zack Baun is a guy they are going to look to make an immediate impact, but can they find ways to get some of those young players involved and can they figure out in a training camp who those guys are going to be? I really do think that when you look defensively, that seems to be the position where depth has been an issue and again, where they're aging out of some players and needing to find some know replacements for the future at the linebacker spot."

What's impressed you the most about Ryan Ramczyk going into his fourth year?
"He's awesome. How awesome he is. Listen, Ryan from the day that he got there and when Ryan got to the Saints, he was coming off of an injury. The only reason the Saints drafted him where they did is because he was coming off of an injury, unable to test, a guy who had only started one year at a major college. He was really game ready the day that he got there. He really, technically, is an advanced football player going into his fourth year. He was an advanced technical football player in his first year, which is amazing if you look at the path that he went through. I think it's a testament to the system that Wisconsin has in place for developing offensive linemen. It's not an accident that they produce so many NFL quality offensive linemen. Ryan, from day one, felt like a guy who'd been in the league for three or four years, just technically, but everything about Ryan, I don't know that I've seen a player at such a young age, be so incredibly consistent from the day that he walked into the building. I think that's really what Ryan is. I don't see Ryan as an elite, top flight athlete at the position and I don't think that I see any one of his skills being all that more elevated from any other one, but he is really good at everything and he's incredibly consistent. He plays hurt, he's a tough player, he's consistent, and he's smart. It's just incredible how good he is at everything. Again, it was like that very early on. You can tell Ryan something on play one and by play four, Ryan has it down. A lot of guys take a lot of reps to develop skills and Ryan has to hear at one time to convert it to the field. That's an incredible attribute that he has and fortunately he pairs that with a lot of physical traits that are highly desirable for the position and really the sky's the limit for Ryan. He can continue to get better, but already, me personally, and I'm sure that people would see me as being biased in this, but I think Ryan Ramczyk is the best right tackle in football."

Because of the circumstances, do you see this as a very intense training camp?
"It'll be interesting, John (DeShazier), again, I think there's some reasons that you would say no and there's also some reasons that you'd say it has to be. Obviously with no offseason, there's going to be a ramp up period. I know it's been one of the conversations between the owners and the players of, how long are they going to take to ramp up the guys and how much time do they give them to get ready, but also the difficulties is can they kind of weigh and balance the difference between letting guys get acclimated to football so you don't have a bunch of injuries, but also creating the intense periods and points in practice that will act as simulation for a Preseason game, in a real live game. That's going to be really important for their evaluation. I think because of that, you might see a little bit of a split type of practice. When we practiced with the Patriots, I can't remember off the top of my head what they call that period, but they basically have a full practice and then afterwards have a couple of team periods with their young players with first, second, third year guys, reserves. I think you might see something like that with the Saints, a normal practice and with a couple of added periods at the end to try to get young guys reps, to try to let them perform and to put all eyes on them, to put their peers watching, to put all of the coaches and staff all knowing, hey, this is when we're watching and evaluating these young guys. In that way, they can make things intense for the guys they need to put in that situation for the first time and yet leave for the veterans, a camp that's more familiar to them and not put the type of unnecessary risks that you might have to put on your veterans to simulate those games."

What would be your favorite training camp memory?
"I hated training camp. I don't know if I had any favorite training camp memory. They are all bad in my recollection. What's great about training camp really is because of the stress and because of the level that you're tired and all of those things, training camp seemed to be the funniest parts of the season. A lot of the jokes that kind of permeate a season kind of start in training camp. We always had a lot of fun. Most of my favorite camp stories were things that were pranks played on players or things that we did off of the field. Those to me are the moments in training camp that you kind of remember and it's true I think of the sport in general. I don't miss running into people at practice. I don't miss the act of going out and practicing, but I do miss the locker room before the practice and after the practice. In terms of a single memory, most of my single favorite memories are probably bad memories in the moment. We had a day, it was in 2009 when Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator, we fought almost every day at practice because it was kind of Gregg's way of getting his guy's ready to go was to kind of push the limits a little bit. We were at training camp, there was a big fight that had started and it was about the fifth fight I think of the practice. Sean (Payton) had had enough and he put us on the line and he said, okay, I'm done. We're just going to run until practice was supposed to be over. We were in the indoor facility and we ran hundreds for, I don't know, about 30 minutes. I think we got to 18 or 19 hundred yard sprints, and I'll never forget touching the line and turning around and seeing Jermon Bushrod touching the far goal line and U-turn to come back. He was essentially walking at that point. Again, not funny in the moment, not a favorite memory in the moment, but when we think back and when we talk as players, it's always something that seems to come up was the day that Sean kind of gutted all of us. It was very much a college type day in a professional atmosphere."

How do you feel Cesar Ruiz will be able to acclimate himself to the center position with a limited type of reps with preseason games potentially being eliminated dependent on NFL-NFLPA agreement?
"Yeah, I think it's a big challenge and a challenge that I don't even know at this point that they're going to try to tackle. I could really see a situation where they just say, you know what, Cesar is going to play guard this year. I don't know that, I have not heard that yet, but I'm not getting live reps with your center-quarterback exchange in the preseason and not getting some of those live moments might be a little bit too much for them to tackle. Obviously they're already really happy with Erik McCoy and the job that he did last year and it might just be an easier transition to just put Cesar in a guard and let him kind of hold that position down this year and make a change if they're going to the following season. That may not happen, but I do think it's a big challenge. You have really lost already a lot of reps, a lot of time on task. Forgetting that relationship and that exchange in a position where you feel completely confident in it. It was really an area where Erik struggled at times last year and it wasn't until they got towards the end of camp that that really had been secured. I don't know that they'll try to tackle that this year. If they do, it's a big challenge. Who knows, maybe Cesar goes in and it's smooth from the beginning, but generally speaking, there are some nuances there that are pretty tough I think to teach because they're slight and it's not a big change from guy to guy, but it's got to be perfect and it's got to be exact. It might just be something that they say, you know what, we're just going to wait to do it until next year. We've got a guy we feel that can play the guard position as well and we're going to roll with him there."

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