New Orleans Saints Linebackers Coach Michael Hodges
Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, June 11, 2020
How big of a transition is it for you going from assistant linebackers coach to linebackers coach?
"My position, being that it's in the same building, it's less of a jump if I were to have gone to another club. And so the fact that the players know me and I know the players, I know the scheme, those things all kind of align and it's made this transition much smoother than what it would normally be if I had to go to a new club. There are a bunch of differences as far as, now it's my decision on some of the things that we do in there and mostly how we teach and that's what it's exciting. I get to kind of slide back into that teacher role more than I was before. And that's what I thrive off of. I love that part of it and so that's the biggest change and man been a lot of fun so far. I've enjoyed it."
Does that translate to a more assertive voice, a more authoritative voice? Do you feel like you have pretty much the same relationship with the players as before?
"Well, I think the relationship was established before. It was just now I am the one in front of him a little bit more and Mike Nolan was really great about allowing me to be a part of that teaching process. And it was very much a partnership between him and I. The difference is who's leading it now. Now I'm in the lead and Michael Wilhoite is my partner and we're doing this thing together. So that is really the change. My voice will not change. I don't think of myself as an authoritative person? I see myself as a tool and as an educator and that's how I approach it."
What are some of the challenges adjusting to that role without being able to do the things you traditionally would be able to do because of the pandemic?
"Well, first, I mean you bring it up and it's, I think it's an excellent question because you would have never thought, alright. You are an NFL linebacker coach it's been something you've been shooting for and then all of a sudden, your first meeting in front of the players is through one of these mediums and it's like what are we doing? Anyways, so that's been a challenge, but DA (Dennis Allen) has said it, Sean (Payton) has said it, everybody's got the same challenge, right and so, um, it's been different. Yes. I wish I could see their eyes. I wish I could feel them a little bit more. I wish I could coach them on the field, but we're overcoming that just like everybody else is trying to overcome it. And from the very beginning, I sat down with these guys and I said, look, we're going to find a way. I sat down with Michael Wilhoite and I said we've got to find a way to be the best teachers in the NFL, right. Better than anybody else and really both being young, both being eager and both being around a little bit maybe more electronics than some of the other coaches we're competing against. We should have an advantage here. And so just like anything, right. You're going to try to find a winning edge and I think that we've done that. And so that's what we've been spending our time, this off season doing."
Would it be easier if you were able to meet a guy like Zack Baun prior to this?
"Sure, that definitely creates a different, challenge for a guy that I have not even shook his hand since the combine. But at the same time, man being in front of all those veterans and having their feedback and really even having the interaction amongst the whole group, there is so much value that comes from that. Those guys being in there, a guy like Zack feeling the presence of Demario (Davis). And when he has to answer a question and he feels Demario right there listening to him and then there is feedback throughout the room, those are things that we're missing. But we're getting some of that even through these calls. And so, yeah, to answer your question, yes. I wish I could be in front of Zack and, and get them out on the field and continue to train him, that time will come. But right now we just have to get creative in how we do that."
Has he made an impression on you from the virtual meetings you guys have had?
"Absolutely, he has. Mickey (Loomis) called me an hour or two ago. We were talking about Zack and he has been an outstanding pro. For him to approach what he's been doing the way he has. I mean, I just know we got the right guy and that (credit) goes to our scouting department. They knew all that stuff. When you talk about a makeup, this guy's makeup is outstanding and then from an intelligent standpoint, man, he approaches it the right way. He invites being corrected. He's already asked me how we're going to schedule out the rest of the summer for meetings and so it's been really impressive to see him. Really the rest of the young guys that we've met with primarily. We've got a group that is just really fun to work with and really easy to work with. And so I'm just excited about it as we get going closer to August."
Are you envisioning more of an OLB role for him in this defense or you really think he could fit with the Sam or Mike potentially?
"I think there are a lot of ways I could answer that question. I think this, AG (Aaron Glenn) kind of hit on it. These guys are positionless and to bring in a guy who's really intelligent and who has position flex gives us a ton of freedom to do what we want to do. Once we get him in here, we have a vision for them, right? Every player I've talked to this summer, I'm sorry, this off season has been told these are the two positions I want you to learn, right and he's no different. We're teaching him Sam and Mike right now and we're going to make him learn those two positions. And then when we get to third down, that pass rush value, man, we're going to try to leverage the hell out of it. I think that like we do with some of our safeties and with a couple of our (other) positions, we are going to do everything we can to put these guys in the best position week-to-week. And that may be a different spot from game one to game three, right. And so he's got his job of learning Sam and Mike and then our third down package, he has has got another role. There's a lot on his plate as a rookie, but I do know that he has approached it in a way that's given me the confidence that he's going to be able to handle it."
What was the scouting process like and then just coming up with the vision for Zack Baun?
"Well, there was enough movement skills to say, this guy could play a different position besides Sam linebacker and I told Jeff (Ireland) very early in the process, when we watched him, I see Sam, Mike, boom. Like I wrote it down. It was the first note I wrote on him and really that aligned with other people's vision as well. And it gave us the confidence to go get him where we did and Sean (Payton) agrees with it. Sean sees him similar to the rest of the building. And so the movement skills that he showed when he was in space and then also during the senior bowl, there were some things there that showed us, man, this guy is going to do it. And then you couple that with all the makeup and the intelligence that we vetted. It gave us a ton of to see him being a multi position player that's going to have a long successful career."
How much of an impact player can Alex Anzalone be when healthy?
"I mean all you guys follow this and y'all are on it as good as anybody. And we got a really good taste of that a couple of years ago, right. And going into last season, he was playing really well. Alex is one of my favorite players. Alex was the very first interview I ever had at the combine, right. I'm in the NFL, I'm not supposed to be doing interviews yet we were slammed, all of a sudden I'm with Alex. Alright, and I'm learning how to say his last name. Look, there was a personal connection there early and then he gets in here and you evaluate him and you see how he works and you see his ability and there's things and there's a potential that he hasn't even come close to reaching, which is exciting. But I'm confident that he's going to be better than he's ever been. And look, his health it is what it is and there's no secret there, right. And we know that he knows that, but I do know this, he looks outstanding right now. Just the videos that I've seen and the conversations that I have had, he looks outstanding and he tells me how good he feels. And so I think he's going to come in here and I think now, I just said this earlier today to somebody else, I think to my core, and look I might be wrong, but I think he's over a hump now where he's going to be able to extend his career to that eight-10 year career that he should have, hopefully staying on the field, healthy."
What can a guy like Demario (Davis) do to get even better? What else can he do?
"It is funny you ask, because we do these plan of attacks and we dive into what they can do better, but not only that, not only identifying a problem, but also identifying the solution. DA (Dennis Allen) charges us with that responsibility after the season. I did all these before (Michael) Wilhoite was kind of hired as the assistant and I sent them to him to look over and he's like, why are there more on Demario than anybody else? Well, you really look at it (and) there's so much film to study on him, right? And he's such a intentional learner. This guy takes an approach to it as good as anybody I've ever seen. The only other person I've seen approach it differently, from my short career, is Drew (Brees) and that's from afar. So Drew's on another level I think, but what he does is some really special things. There's some things in coverage, there's some things in pass rush, there's some things in run fits that if I can get him just a little bit better at those things, well all of a sudden he's a perennial pro player and it's not because of what I do. It's because he's using me as a tool? And he's using me as another resource to continue to get better. There's just always room for improvement. I never imagined being around a guy who is an all-pro player, had the season he had last year and he calls me and he says, what can I do better? He calls me during the bye week and he says, what can I do better? So that's really why I see that there's more upside for him. And I do think that we're going to see even a better player than we saw last year."
It's not just Alex (Anzalone) in your room coming off of injuries. You've got Kiko (Alonso) and Kaden (Elliss), the list goes on. In the meetings that you've had with them, how has this offseason benefited those guys who are coming off of serious injuries or even just guys who've got tweaks?
"Well, I think what you're asking is how we're taking advantage of the meeting time and the virtual meetings. Is that kind of what you're asking?"
Yeah, and just like, those guys are getting extra rest and all that stuff, but they're still learning. They're still involved.
"Yeah. Coach (Sean) Payton does a great job with taking care of our veterans and, look, I hate the situation that we're in right now, but I do think that there's a lot of positives that are going to come out of it. And one of those is (that is has) given these guys time to heal. And again, this is such a veteran group who approaches the game in such a professional manner that I think that, although we're not on the field, which is invaluable, I don't want to discredit how much we miss that. I do know that these guys are ball junkies and they are finding a way to use the tools that we have provided for them to still look for that winning edge. There has been a lot of good feedback in the dialogue, through these zoom meetings and the fact that we are able to find time to watch film together. And quite honestly, I'm able to jump in a few more tools and teach tapes then I think I would have been if we were having to deal with practice. I've really been able to focus on different ways to teach them rather than having to prepare what we're going to do for individual. There's been some good that's come out of this."
Kind of following up on that, you mentioned looking at things to teach the linebacker group. How creative have you had to get for these meetings, knowing that, all right, I won't be putting them through drills for a while, but finding ways to get them their own workouts and improve?
"I have found this extremely exciting. Like I love it. I love this challenge. I really have embraced it. And Michael Wilhoite has been an unbelievable partner with this as we work on these things together. What we've done is spent a lot of time really defining what we do, just like DA (Dennis Allen) mentioned about how we've kind of gone through the playbook and focused on what we're not necessarily, I'm sorry, let me correct what I'm saying. It's not what we're doing, but how we're doing it. And so what I've been able to do is really spend some time honing in on the words we use, how we verbalize it, because without me out there showing them I'm misleading them. And so right now I've had to really focus on the language that we use and putting it down on a piece of paper. It's something I'm going to be able to hang on to for a long time, but it's also something that they can reference back. It's Saturday night at 10:30 and Zack (Baun) doesn't have anything else to do so he pulls up an old teach tape and there's verbiage on there that explains what we're doing. All of a sudden he's getting a lesson than that he wouldn't have gotten before because maybe I wouldn't have had the reason to do it."
Executive Director of Football Communications, Doug Miller: Michael's family just welcomed a brand new baby last week. So I don't know if anybody wants to ask him about how his life has changed again in the last week or so, but it was great perspective when I talked to him earlier.
"Thank you. We have a two-year old daughter, so this pandemic's been wild for us. It is wild for everybody. People are losing their lives over this stuff and I hate it. I absolutely hate it. When I hear from people, I was talking to Doug about it, like there's a lot of people that are gonna come out of this and feel well rested and tell you how they can play the guitar now and all these different things. Look, there has been no idle time in the Hodges' household. We have a potty-trained a two year old, we have bought and moved into a new home and we have, I say we, my wife had a child. In fact, I gave her a hug before I came up and she kind of gave me a sniff on my shoulder and she goes, I think you have throw up on your shoulder. That's what I'm dealing with in-between meeting, but it's all part of it. Fatherhood is truly the best thing I've ever experienced."
Does that make you sort of appreciate this pandemic a little more though, just getting to spend that kind of time with your family?
"Oh my gosh, I'm down for lunch every day. I get to go down for lunch every day. Now I'll say this, I have to hide in the room because if my daughter knows I am here, it is game over. So it is 'act like daddy is at work and then all of a sudden, I come home for lunch.' So that has been excellent. I am there as soon as I am done in the afternoon. So those have all been good things, but it is not all roses either. There are some challenges now of being home and balancing the fact that I am home, but it is not vacation. It is harder for everybody in the room. Anyways, we've been balancing it really well. My wife is an absolute rock star when it comes to being my supporter and my partner, and then also just raising these kids. I just value everything that we've been doing together and building this family. I'm just excited that we're able to kind of set some roots down now that we're in this linebacker room."
With the positionless football that you guys are talking about, did you ever do any work with any of the DBs with C.J. (Gardner-Johnson) or P.J., is there any crossover there where they come into your purview a little bit?
"No, not in the sense that they're in my room. We're not there yet, but I will say this, there's been conversations with AG (Aaron Glenn) and Ryan Nielsen where there's so much involvement in the room for us to be upfront with those guys and then there's involvement in the backend. So what we'll do going forward, and I am really excited about it is we're going to make sure that we carve out time throughout the season, particularly in camp. And then when it suits us for specific components, but we are going to work with the other groups more often? Because there's never a time when we are not communicating with somebody up front or communicating with somebody in the back end. And if we can get a little bit better there and them having an understanding of what we're trying to do and vice versa, we're going to be in better shape. So there's going to be a little more crossover, but it's going to be joint coaching as opposed to the player, moving into another room to learn a different position."
With the work life balance during the current situation, have you found the staff having any interesting conversations about how this may affect your approach to work in the offseason in the future and how effective you can be while still, maybe maximizing more time with the children or family and things like that?
"There's been some ideas kind of thrown around. I do not know how many of them are jokes. Like, hey man, no more staff meetings, unless we're at the house. I do not know to what extent, but I do believe that where we are entering kind of a new era of how we are going to do certain things. I think that this is a tool that is going to allow us to do a lot of things. A big one that I've pulled away was I've been able to meet with different coaches across the country, through this medium, as opposed when you get any professional development in the past, you normally jump on a plane and go spend two days with them. Well, now I spend half a day over the phone with them and then I go down for lunch? There's been a lot of merit to growing in that sense. And there's definitely, I think some meeting times it's going to be stolen away from the office and allowing us to do things at home. So I do think we're going to go in that direction to some degree, to what degree I don't know, but I know that the personal face to face stuff is invaluable and you definitely don't want to lose that. It's just a matter of how much of it do we need."