New Orleans Saints
Defensive Line Coach Ryan Nielsen
Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, June 18, 2020
What has this offseason been like for you and just how things are totally different than how they usually are?
"Well look, it is what it is. I think we've done the best that we can do with the situation that's going on. What I mean is we've had great participation from our veterans in these online meetings. I've been very pleased with the interaction and just the one on one conversations with the guys, getting the feedback of how it's going. We're getting a lot of teaching time. We're watching a lot of tape, we're doing a lot of installations and I just feel the only thing that's a little bit different is obviously we are not around each other. So I don't get the immediate feedback and interaction as you would get when you're with the players, but I feel everything else from the time that we've had to meet, the installation, the material, I feel pretty good about it. The real test will be when we all get back together to see how it worked. When we start camp and we're with the players to see how much the retention (has worked), but as of right now, I feel very good about it."
I know with your position group technique is very important. You talk about hand placement and footwork and everything. Has it been sort of frustrating that you haven't been able to get that hands on work so far?
"Well, I love individual (periods) in practice. Like that's one of my favorite things, other than playing on Sunday with the guys, but I will say this, the meetings have been structured where the first part of the meeting has been more of the installation on like what we're doing. And the second part of the meeting, what we've done is we've taken films 17, 18, and 19, and we've watched certain fundamentals and techniques and really dissected how to do it on the film. So it's not just the installation part, but here's what we're doing and then here's how to do it. I feel doing it like that, it's been a good change of pace in the meeting and we've really got to spend some time on what's really worked for us at the Saints at all positions. So that's been a kind of a cool, and then we'll get feedback, I'll talk to the guys individually every once in a while. What'd you think about this meeting? So they're constantly giving me feedback of, maybe we can do this a little bit better, or I liked how you did this list, let's cover that again. I'm chomping at the bit to get back with these guys. I can't wait. Like I said, I love the individual part, but I do feel that we've got a lot accomplished, as much as we can right now."
The NFC South has changed significantly this offseason, especially on the offensive side of the ball. What are your thoughts on the competition going into the season?
"It's the NFL and any given week, yes, any given week any team can win. We've got some new players in the division that we'll have to prepare for, but to be honest with you, really, the focus has just been on us and just us getting better. I really haven't done a lot of reading about any other teams other than just the people that they have. But it's been about us getting better, us staying together, us just taking the next step as the Saints organization and our football team."
When you guys brought (Marcus) Davenport in, the talk about him was him being raw and having room for growth. Two years into it now, how far down do you feel like you've gotten into that potential and how much more room is there for him to keep getting better?
"He's definitely has got some room to get better and it's there, the potential and the growth is there. I think that he made a big step last season. There's some games where he was playing lights out. I really feel really good about a few games where he took the next step. Talking to him, I think his confidence is better this offseason. He's working hard and I know he had a couple of injuries, but he's put the work in. Every time I talk to him, he's saying all the right things, he's doing the right things. So look, it's year three. Yep, we expect more from him, as we do with everybody else. So I'm excited to start working with Marcus, but there is some growth and there's some things that we've just got to do a little bit better and we'll work on that."
So that injury hasn't held him back too much, this offseason he's getting in the work he needs to get?
"Well, with the rehab and obviously when you have an injury, you're not training that part of the body as much as you can. But I do feel he's done the best that he can with his rehab and everything that I've been with the trainers that, the injury reports that we've been talking about is look, he's busting his butt this offseason and he's really putting the work in to come back in the best shape that he's ever been in."
Is Sheldon Rankins in a similar situation?
"I think Sheldon, same thing. The thing with Sheldon is he has had it (an injury) before, so he's kind of known what to expect a little bit. So he has got a little bit of an advantage with his injury, but again, talking to him, he is working hard. He feels great. I talked to him the other day. He feels really good mentally. He's in a really good place. One of the things for when you're older in the system, he's heard all the same terminology now and we've worked on a lot of the same things. It's going to be easier for him to come back and pick it up a little bit faster. So again, really excited for him to get back and work with him as well."
You kind of touched on (Marcus) Davenport, mentioning some of the areas (for improvement). Is there like one specific thing that you've really kind of keyed in on, this is something that we're gonna get you better at this year?
"I think there's a few one things that we could focus on. Some of the approaches that we take is let's get better at this and maybe practice one, and then we'll get better at this in practice two, and take that approach. And if we need to come back and maybe fix some pass rush or work on some pass rush or run fundamentals, things like that, then we will. There's a couple of things, but it's nothing that he can't do or obtain. It's very, look, there are certain things that we've just got to maybe drill a little bit. I have got to help him more in individual. We've got to work on a couple more things, but I do feel that he is as eager as possible to get back and get going. That's exciting to me, man, he really wants to get better at these things that we've got to get better at."
What's it like when you're working with a guy like Cam Jordan, who's pretty much dominated the past three years? I don't know if he has much room for improvement, but I mean, what do you say to a guy like that?
"I love Cam. He is fun to be around and he's got a great personality. He's never had a bad day in his life and that's one of the best things. He always shows up, he's the same every day. When you go into the meeting and you know what you are going to get from your players, that is, to me, when I walk in and Cam has got a smile on his face and it is the same Cam every day. I love that part of him and then working with them, I mean, what a talent, there is nothing he cannot do. He's shown he can sack the quarterback. He can play the run. It's really fun just to continue to work the fundamentals and technique with them (the whole group just to try to raise his game a tick better. If we can get him a tick (better) and everybody gets just a little bit better, we will be a better football team. He takes it on himself to say, look, I can get better. And he'll tell you guys, there's some things I can get better at and that's one of the things that excites me. There is a little bit left in there, but after the three seasons he's had in a row, it's just fun to be around at practice and the energy and leadership he brings. It makes coaching the guys a lot easier."
Last year, I talked to Cam about sack dances and apparently he's even taken it upon himself to kind of police the guys and make sure they're not burning too much energy. Is that one of those examples you're talking about?
"Well, look, if we can get one, we can get two, right? So let's not burn ourselves out on just getting one. He's good with that. I think that's a little bit, he just has fun with the guys, and look, we want to have fun too when we're playing ball. So that's just kind of one of the things that they give each other a hard time about, but listen, I like those conversations now. Let's keep having them. Let's keep raising those numbers and talking about are we going to dance or are we not going to dance? Those are good problems to have."
This team in the past few seasons always seems to found some guys that have been contributors on the D-line that are undrafted. I wanted to ask you about Malcolm Roach, a guy out of Texas, what's something that you guys liked about him and a reason that you wanted to bring him in?
"I think he fits what we do in terms of his ability very well. That is kind of one of the things that when we look at these guys we bring in is, look, obviously they have had good college careers, what do we do and how does it fit together? I think he is extremely explosive, a smart player. I really like that about him. His intelligence, he sees things when you watch his games at Texas. I think he's an equally good pass rusher as a run defender. His game is not skewed one way or another. So when we can get a player like that, and look, he's close to home now (Baton Rouge native), he's going to have a lot of motivation to make this football team. That's another thing that, man, that's pretty cool. So I see some things there. I would have been able to tell you a lot more if we were practicing right now, but we've just been on these meetings. He's been great in the meetings. He's been asking the right questions. I really like what I see from him so far and what I've seen on tape. He's just another guy that, look, we'll know more about after two weeks in camp, but I do think we got the right guy here."
Shy Tuttle was in a very similar position last year coming in undrafted and then he kind of made a name for himself and is kind of a cult hero for what he did to a Matt Ryan in the Atlanta game on Thanksgiving night. What's the vision for him moving forward and what have you seen from him this offseason?
"Well look, I think Shy has had a good offseason. I think he's really working. I would like to see him take the next step in his game, be a little bit more aware, be a little bit quicker to see blocks, see angles of departure, be just one-step faster than he was last year, year two, just the maturing of a player. That's in all aspects, that's in the run and as a pass rusher. I think you'll see that. He's got some confidence now, you know what he did towards the end of the year and he got better. It seemed like he got better every single week. If we can just take where he was at the end and just work on that and just one tick better, I think he'll have another solid season for us."
Are you anticipating getting to work with Zack Baun at edge at all when training camp comes around and all that?
"I'm sure there'll be some pass rush things. The guy's a good pass rusher. You can't deny that. He's had a good career as a pass rusher. So I think there'll be some things when we'll bring him down to when we pass rush against the offensive line, maybe some third-down stuff. So we'll put them in some of those situations. Last year, we played a lot of three-down, two linebackers up and in tight on those guards. I think he'll have some good ability. When you watch him, you know that he'll be able to do a good job in that. We'll move him around and find the right fit for that player, but I'm glad we drafted him. I think that was a heck of a pick and I'm excited to see him out there running around and then when we do have that opportunity really put him in the right spot for our defense. I think he can do some things that we can move him over a guard, a tackle, move him around a little bit to have some success."
You mentioned that you missed the personal interaction, but when was the last time you've been able to spend as much quality time at home and have you kind of developed like a daily routine?
"Yeah, look, the daily routine, so I've got a son here that's going to be a year (old) this month and he's an early riser, so that's always fun when he's getting up. But look, I'll say this it's been very good. My morning is spent the first half hour with him and kind of getting him going and breakfast. Then I get into the office and it's preparing for the meetings, kind of getting our cut ups set, look, the installation, working with Brian Young, who has done a great job with our installation and he does a really good job kind of putting it together and we both meet with the guys and we will meet with the player. Say 6:30, 7:00, I'm in the office preparing for the meeting until nine. We will meet with the guys for an hour, hour 15, which has been really good. It has been all football. Coach (Dennis) Allen will get on and we'll have a defensive staff meeting and there'll be some time in there. And then at the end of the day, it is always going back and watching our (2019) season, pulling out some things that we did well and the things that we need to work on and putting those in a couple of cut ups for the guys so they can see, look, this is what we do good and then here are a couple of things we need to get better at. The nice thing is, I am having lunch with the family 30 minutes, 45 minutes, whatever that is. And then, at the end of the day, we're here. So if we get done and I'm ahead, then I'm with my family and with my kids. It's been really cool in that aspect, where I have missed, like you said, the interaction with the players, being at the office, being with the guys on the field. Look, there is some give and take with it. I have definitely seen this as a positive, at least from my family, in terms of a lot of family time together. Now, look, I'm not going to tell you every day was a utopia. We're around each other all the time, you guys know how that (ii), I see some smiles out there (laughter), but look, I feel closer and I appreciate the time that Coach (Sean) Payton has given us with our families and it's been pretty awesome. I'll tell you, just talking to some of the players who have kids, and they'll say they're around their kids all the time and every day in these times, which you don't always get to do that in what we do. So just trying to take advantage of those of those times, because I'm sure next year we'll get back to the same schedule and we'll be back in the office and doing those things. That's been pretty much the routine. I've enjoyed the routine. I feel like we've got some really quality time with the players on these meetings. I really do. I feel really good about where we're at and the interaction that I've got from them has been, the feedback has been really good. Overall, I think the it's and I said at the very beginning, I think we've made the best that we can out of this time, personal family and also our group and our team."
Do you think the Saints have sort of an advantage at the start just because of the number of veterans on his team and coaching staff that is pretty much intact from a season ago? Does that help you all out in a situation like this?
"I think it does until we start playing games. Once it's a live bullet, all that stuff kind of goes out the window and now we've got to win or one-on-one matchups. We got to execute and fundamentals and technique come into play. So the offseason I would say, yeah, I'm sure we're ahead of teams that maybe have got a new coaching staff and those things, maybe some new players, a new quarterback or new positions, people have positions. So I feel like when you look at our group, we've got a lot of guys back, we have a couple additions which I'm excited about. But then once we start the season now it's about playing football, it's about fundamentals, execution, technique and the things that you've got do to win football games in this league. They're trying to win as bad as we are. That's when I think the advantage kind of (fades), we've been there before, but now we've got to execute."
You guys have been pretty much able to keep this defensive line, minus the injuries, pretty stable these last couple of years. How much has that helped you this offseason?
"It's been tremendous. I'll tell you, like we'll say a term or we have a glossary of terms and just going through those terms with the guys, they've heard that before. It's not just new, just for a few guys. We're all talking the same language, the communication is a lot better, so when we're on these meetings and we'll say a type of technique or what we're supposed to do defensively, I think the guys pick it up a lot faster, and we are moving rather quickly through the installation. Some of these guys, I mean, we're going on four years together now, so that's a lot of football, a lot of meetings, a lot of time. I think that's helped us."
Specifically one guy that has been here and has made a lot of strides in the past four years is David Onyemata. I was wondering if you could just comment on how far he's come from when you first got to work with him.
"I love them. I love the guy. He's a tireless worker. I think that's why he's raised his level of play. He loves meetings. He loves practice. He's one of the first guys on the field every day. He's another guy like Cam (Jordan), man, you know who you're going to get every single day coming to the meetings, coming to the practice field. He's a guy that I think because he loves the game so much, he loves individual and practice and he just loves to get better and that's what you're seeing, the progress of this player. David, he's worked hard at it. He has worked really hard and I'm very proud of where he was and where he is now. I mean, it's really cool to see the progress of this guy and he still can get better. Like, that's the thing that's cool and I know he's going to work at it. Look, that's the way it is with all the guys, but with David that you're asking, man, it's really cool to see the process from day one to where he is today and knowing where he still can go. Like, there's some things that we've got to work with him and continue to get better (at), but very proud of him. Very proud."