New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, October 22, 2020
How has Carolina been able to adjust without a presence like Luke Kuechly in the middle of their defense, and still have some success early this season?
"Well, they're playing some young players. I think the one thing (is) we've seen Shaq (Thompson) for a handful years, he's taken on a role. Tahir Whitehead has been instrumental in what they're doing inside. And then you get a young draft pick, like Jeremy Chinn and he's kind of listed as the Sam and he's kind of a hybrid, but I think that's a fair description of where they're playing him. So it's a transition year, and I think Phil (Snow) and those guys, Matt (Rhule), have done a great job considering there hasn't been an offseason, these guys are playing with speed. Obviously, when you lose a player like (Luke) Kuechly, that's significant. But when you lose a player like him, and a new staff is coming in, that adjustment maybe is more forward thinking and a little bit different than if you've been there with the same scheme."
Do you have any background with Matt Rhule?
"Well, look, the thing I mentioned, I think I mentioned it to you guys was, a handful of weeks before he got hired (by the Panthers), you know their team was preparing here. They practiced over here one day, I had a chance to visit with him, meet him and then briefly talked to the team. He did a fantastic job at Baylor and especially under the circumstances of going there. It was really impressive. And then after that, I can't recall it was two, three weeks or how much longer but shortly thereafter, he's a head coach in our division. But I've heard nothing but great things about them. And already you can see how his team's playing. It's pretty impressive."
You mentioned the receivers yesterday being one of the dangerous groups. What kind of growth have you seen out of DJ Moore?
"We just did third down (preparation). He is extremely efficient, he's fluid. They all have that juice, speed wise. He'll block, there's a physicality to his game. And all three of these guys, those are the targets when it comes to certain down in distances. And I just think that, yeah, I mean, you see a very competitive player and someone that is playing with a lot of confidence."
I'm curious, from you, you've been in this for so long. And what have you learned about your team this year in this pandemic? And like, hearing from your players this week, the bye week was so good for you guys. Like what have you learned heading into week seven that you like?
"That's a great question, that I like? Look, we've had some, we've had some gutsy wins.
I still feel like I'm learning relative to who we can be and who we are. I mean, we talk about the perfect game. It's out there like Shangri La and I just think there's a number of areas that we have to improve but there is a resiliency. I think we have good leadership. We've overcome some early obstacles. And yet in fairness to the evaluation, we haven't played near what I think we're capable of playing. And that's the one thing that I'm anxious to answer this question again in eight weeks. Hopefully, it's clear. But I think though, at this point, we're 3-2 and it's exactly what our record is. And so, the early, look, we're going to all go through some obstacles this season. I feel like each team at different times of the year and it might just be, there's a randomness to it with what we're doing and relative to COVID. And then also you handle what are the normal ups and downs of the season. And I think the teams that are able to keep their eye on the prize and focus and kind of handle business will be the teams that have the success in the end. We went through some of that already in Detroit with a bunch of starters out and then seven guys getting tested in the wee hours. But hey, that's this year and that's not just our team. It's not just (one team), it's every team and you just hope to control it as best you can here. But I'd say the leadership and I think the resiliency right now (have been good)...but we need more (for it to continue)."
What have you learned about yourself through this? Like you said, the randomness, what a perfect word. What have you learned about yourself as a leader through this season and pandemic?
"It's forced us to look inward also, we're preaching this message, then also to be a part of the message relative to how we react and really focus on the things we can control. In other words, just coincidentally, I think I had the virus, early March, right after (it was announced with) Tom Hanks. I remember I heard that he had it in Australia and it was, that was early relative to what we're experiencing now. And to some degree, I would say that was a blessing relative to it wasn't real severe, I built up the antibodies, still have those and experienced it. Yeah, I think the year is entirely different than anything we have seen. And I think that we adjust, we adapt, and then very quickly, we get on to focusing on the things we can control. And I think that this is one of those seasons that helps you breathe a little bit more, kind of set your set your sights on the attainable things rather than the optimal things."
That's interesting. I was wondering a few years ago if you could have, like, let go of that control as easily?
"(laughter) How many years back are we going here with this one?"
I don't know, you tell me.
"Look, I think it's a challenge. I think it's impressive. And I'm not saying this because I'm trying to kill the opponent with kindness. It's impressive what Matt's (Rhule) done at Carolina without having an offseason program and I read the comments, look, the perfect fit with Teddy (Bridgewater) coming there and in a system he was familiar with. But when you watch what they're doing defensively and the job that Phil (Snow) and his staff have done, and Matt, it's impressive, because look, you've had meetings (online earlier in the week), you really aren't. I'm trying to think of the task in 06 of what we needed to get done. Now there might be some differences relative to where the 06 was versus where the 20 team was in Carolina. But my point is, I think it's difficult. I think it's certainly not the way you want your first year to go and yet, back to certain things we can't control and let's try to focus forward. I don't know that I would have been as effective or as good in 06 with something like this. I'd like to think that we'd have handled it, but certainly I think as you're older and more experienced, I think for me and for me personally, it's been a little bit smoother."
Can you kind of take us back to when Teddy was a free agent after I guess it was the 2018 season. And you just kind of called him and let them know about like the plan you had for him. And just kind of how that worked out I guess?
"Absolutely. We had good discussions. Specifically like it was yesterday, we were on the bus, heading to our beginning season football banquet. I can't recall the hotel, but pick a downtown hotel. All right, and we were heading to the banquet and on the bus, the trade was confirmed. I believe Teddy was actually boarding a bus getting ready for preseason game and then got back off the bus and I just know at some point at the banquet then it became news. And by the end of the banquet, everyone was aware of the trade. Yeah, look, there's some ties here with Teddy. Mike Zimmer is a close friend of mine and so he's a great reference relative to the time he had with him in Minnesota. (Bill) Parcells is a, I think, an important mentor for Teddy and I would say one of his biggest advocates, Bill loves him. And so factor those things in and then it becomes more about the health. And you kind of get the preseason tape at the Jets and you see him playing and effectively and moving (well) and now you look at just the position and the value of the position. In a lot of ways, I don't want to make the same comparison, because there wasn't an injury, but the same type of vision with a guy like Jameis (Winston) like, 'Hey, I remember him working out at his pro day.' Like, in other words, we see a lot of really, really, really good traits and talent. And so I just remember it was the fall banquet that (the trade) was confirmed and then he was every bit as impressive as everyone said and some. I think Matt said it best yesterday. He's a natural born leader and the whole team will follow very quickly."