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Transcript: Sean Payton opening training camp media availability - Wednesday, July 29

Sean Payton discusses preparation leading into Saints 2020 Training Camp

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Training Camp Opening
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What is the biggest challenge for you and your staff trying to get ready for camp?
"I think the first thing is communicating the schedule properly. And then the ability to handle some of the distractions and not make it so encompassing or so problematic that it can interfere with what we're trying to do relative to football. I think that the teams that handle that the best, along teams that stay healthy, improve their chances."

Until players are on the field, are they pretty much doing to same regimen in terms of working out and staying in shape?
"The week we're in this week is just strictly COVID testing. Next week, after the physicals are taking place over the weekend, next week we move into an acclimation period where they're lifting weights, they're running, they're meeting, and we'll have a series of walkthroughs."

How long did it take you to devise the plan for this training camp with no preseason and is there anything you could have possibly drawn from to kind of map out the next six weeks?
"Look, we're still mapping out the next six weeks. We're just digesting what we got relative to the Management Council and the Players Union. So you sit back and you wait for that to be ironed out and they hand out the protocols and you begin to put your plan in place."

With no preseason games this year, how do you have to have a different approach as far as evaluation of players, especially young players now? How different is that this year?
"The first thing is I would say we're not in training camp, if you will. There's nothing about this that's like training camp. So we're going to approach it differently in that we are going to have to evaluate during our (practice), which we always do, during the practice sessions. We can create environments, which are more like a scrimmage environment, in our padded practices. We'll have to do some of that, but this will be entirely different than what a training camp would be like. I think one of the things is looking at it differently and we're doing that as we begin to put together our schedule between now and when we open up at home versus Tampa Bay."

Is there anything that you're anticipating is going to have to change as far as how you and your staff coaching?
"Yeah, sure. I think that from a planning standpoint, we're spending a lot of time evaluating our facility so that it meets the protocol required relative to social distancing. A lot of it is logistics, if you will. So certainly it's different, but you wait. Basically you wait to see what it is required, put that in place and then begin to still focus on how do we find the right 53, the right practice squad, and then prepare for your first game and maybe even more than just your first game."

Have you thought about what it might be like in that building without fans, that possibility and how big of an impact they've always?
"Yeah, look, you recognize it. You begin to focus on the things you can control and that's something that is not in my control. We're going have to play the game, whether or not you have crowd noise, whether or not you have a small amount of fans, no fans. All those things are controlled by other people, other groups and we'll focus on the things we can control."

Does the way you guys look at the 53, will that change at all with teams not knowing maybe about some of the UDFAs that maybe weren't highly coveted? Like if they do well, they won't see them and they won't notice that. Does that alter your thinking at all when you're putting the team together?
"Yeah, I still think you're still trying to put the right group of players together. You're still trying to put the right talent together. I don't know that that changes. Certainly, the practice squads are larger this year. That's going be important. I think communicating to our players the importance of trying to limit the amount of exposure they have to maybe people that haven't been tested as much as these guys have when they're to and from the facility. I think that's the biggest concern."

Do you have any idea as to what practice groups might look like, how many players you'll allow in the building and when you'll cut to 80 instead of bringing in the usual 90?
"Well, we're not under any timeline right now to move from the 90. There is an 80 cutdown date, we'll decide how we want to handle practice. Again, it's not training camp. We can call it a training camp, but it's anything but (training camp). I think we'll look at every angle in how we want to approach the start of this."

You guys know what you have inside your building, obviously you've had the best record in the National Football League over the past three seasons, but do you have a feeling that this preseason will feel kind of like college a little bit from the standpoint of there's that anxiety going into week one where you guys kind of know what you have, but everyone is trying to figure that out around the league since they haven't been able to practice against other teams or play those preseason games?
"Yeah, I think it'll be different for everyone. And yet, I still think the focus needs to be inward or internal, as opposed to the other teams or the external. We'll focus closely on Tampa Bay when the time comes and the first quarter of the season really when the time comes. But until then, we'll focus on our own players, our own talent, how we're doing, how we're progressing, those that are progressing, those that aren't and that'll be really important in establishing the right group of players for this team."

Would you say you're watching what's happening with the Miami Marlins and are there maybe any lessons that you can use in what's happening in that?
"We are paying attention to all the leagues. I think the NBA's done a fantastic job. I think the NHL has done a fantastic job. I am not as familiar with what is going on in baseball. I think the concerns we all have with football is just the fact we're not creating a bubble. So we're going to have to be on point with our testing and be able to adjust very quickly should a player or group of players test positive."

You've had Coronavirus, have any of your players reached out to you about what the risks are in today's age of opt in and opt out? Have you been able to share anything with them?
"No, I haven't had any of those discussions. Mine was very, I don't want to use the word minor, but it was three days of feeling like I had a normal flu. We have had two players opt out. I respect that decision they made and we go from there."

Is there anything you've already decided to do where you have freedom and wiggle room that might be unique as far as separating quarterbacks or separating groups or anything like that you've decided that's gonna be kind of a specific approach that you guys take?
"Nothing specific right yet, Mike (Triplett). I do not anticipate separating quarterbacks or certain position groups. We are going to be smart relative to how they are locker-ed. And, look, I think the key is hopefully you can stay as healthy as possible. I will not be surprised if some games are not forfeited. There'll be some suspended games, though. There'll be some teams that have players at one position group where they just won't be able to play the game and that's part of the deal. I think the league understands that."

Have any of your personnel decisions been affected by knowing that the economics are going to change, the salary caps going to be lower? Was there anybody you guys had to rethink that you were maybe gonna add before training camp, sign, etc.?
"No, none to date. We still discuss possible players we bring in. There's still a handful of players out there that are going to be with clubs. I think everyone understands the flexibility now or some of the challenges that present themselves next year relative to the cap, but there's been nothing we've done to date, because of that or not done because of that."

I ask because I think obviously a lot of people look at your cap situation and say, oh, this might have messed up all the Saints plans, but I assume you don't take that same approach in your building?
"No, I like our plans right now."

Is it tough with someone like Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz trying to figure out where to play those guys, how do you approach that given the real lack of time on task this offseason?
"We'll meet on that. Visit with them, practice, rotate those guys, move them around. We'll pull out a plan and I'm sure by the time we start the regular season we'll have ironed out some of those question marks and that's just one of many."

You talk a lot about the concept of team and how important it is in football, do you think this year that is maybe more important than ever, because theoretically, one guy goes out and could possibly come back and ruin this entire season for another team? So you are really asking a lot players on the honor system and all of that.
"Well, the players and their union had a lot to do with the current format and how we're going to practice and how we're going to prepare. It was collectively bargained. As a coach, we sit back, wait, find out what the rules are and then prepare accordingly."

Do you think the concept of team means more just in regards to a player maybe has a choice to go out and potentially infect themselves or not go out because there's another 52 people relying on him?
"That's not just the team. That's everyone in the building. We're talking about the players, but we're also talking about the coaches, and we're talking about people that may be affected more adversely than others, you know. We know now that more than 90% of those impacted with COVID recover fully and move on from it, many of which have had it and didn't realize they've had it. But then we also know that there's a percentage of people that are affected much more adversely by it and that's the responsibility of everyone that's trying to play football during a pandemic."

Do you have to define any clear way for the players what would constitute according to the team risky pandemic behavior outside facility?
"I think some of it has already been spelled out. I think the league, Management Council and Players Union have gone through some of those questions and outlined what would be possible conduct detrimental and possible challenges that would even be finable."

Does the shortened offseason change how much you can install or anything about that?
"We've had shortened offseasons before. When players were locked out in 2011, there was no offseason. Guys came back in good shape, I expect our players to be in very good shape when we see them. Their physical conditioning and their physical preparation should not have been affected during this. We made a point early on to tell them that we weren't going to, regardless of what happened, we kind of saw ahead of time that there wasn't going be a chance for minicamp or OTAs. We were able to have meetings like everyone else, but I expect that the players to be in outstanding shape. It's their livelihood."

You were asked about on the fans and potentially lack of in the stadium, have you thought about how that affects your coaching or Dennis Allen's coaching or cadences and what other teams may or may not be able to hear? Does it change what you do and have you thought about that?
"I don't know that it changes what we do. I mean, we generally play games home and away and so in some environments, like at home, we've got clear communication for the offense and more challenging communication for the defense. Obviously when we go on the road, we flip it around. For the defense, it might feel like an away game. For the offense, it might feel like a home game. I don't think that's going to impact what we call, how we call things. I think that it'll take a little getting used to just relative to the atmosphere, but being ready to play, being ready to execute, those are going to be the most important things."

What do you mean by that, saying it's not training camp?
"From a schedule standpoint, it is not training camp. We are not allowed meetings at the hotel so the schedule won't be the same this training camp. We're limited relative to padded practice which is different than training camp. So at some point, call it what you want, preseason probably is a better way to describe it. But we are not going to be in a training camp environment. And so I think it is important for us as an organization to quickly adjust to what is given to us and then prepare the best way we think and make decisions the best way we think that help our football club to start the beginning of the season. So preseason, the beginning of the year, practices leading up to the start of the season. All of those things fit what we are talking about, but it's the antithesis of training camp."

Do you feel like the roster and coaching staff continuity is an advantage this year with this situation?
"I think it has the opportunity to, yes. In 2011, I think there was, there might have been one (team prior), I think the 49ers were the one team with the new coaching staff, new head coach, that were a playoff team. But outside of that, I'm not sure if there was another one. So I do think the continuity can provide us that advantage."

Do you have to do anything differently to hide calls this year compared to years past without crowd noise as a factor?
"Nope, it already exists. When we play at home on a televised game, it is really easy because we added microphones for the network's in the center and the guard. So it's pretty easy to pick up cadence from teams when they're playing at home. That won't change and quite honestly, it'll be easier to pick up cadences I'm sure probably when they're playing on the road now. Because the crowd noise you know won't be present. So I don't think that presents any new challenge."

Are you on board with the way the league decided to do this ramp up period before the season?
"Well, it's unimportant, regardless and of how anyone feels. What's important is quickly taking what we're given and preparing and getting ready to prepare the team."

Do you expect any more Saints players to opt out of playing this season?
"I would have no idea. I would imagine if they were going to do that they probably would have done it in the first few days. Again, I wouldn't have any way of knowing, you know, their thoughts on that."

How much has your working relationship changed with Drew Brees heading into year 15?
"Oh, quite a bit. Look,there's certain things that have changed relative to game planning, practice schedules, all of those things. But I think there's always kind of an ongoing, if you will, evolution of how we're preparing. And I know he's worked extremely hard this offseason, and he'll be in great shape. And we'll be excited for the challenge ahead and all of us will. There is a competitiveness about something where it may not be normal, may not be which you're used to. But quickly, let's adjust to it and then do what's best for our team to try to win more games. I know he will be up to the challenge. Yes, 15 years seems like a long time, although one of those was taken away. But nonetheless, we're both I'm sure excited to see what this team can do."

Is there anything that stands out specifically as a lasting memory you have coaching Brees?
"I don't know that there's one specific thing there's probably hundreds. He's very committed to his profession. The first year here, during the minicamps and even early part of training camps, he was limited as he was recovering from the shoulder injury. But his attention to detail, his leadership skills, all of those things stood out. And I think were even more impressive than you would have known maybe for us evaluating someone on a different team. There's so many elements go into what he does and how well he does it. That's why he's where he's at right now."

Do you think you'll have all of your players healthy once you actually take the field for padded practices?
"Yep, I think we'll be. There's a good chance we'll be close to full strength. We might. There might be a player like Kiko (Alonso), who might be limited. I would imagine will have a couple players limited to begin. And then, you know, we'll be smart about how we acclimate them when they clear and are ready to be in pads and practice without any limitations."

Do you have a sense of how the team responded to what happened this offseason with Drew Brees? Do you think it need to be addressed again?
"Yeah, I think the locker room is in good shape. I don't see any need to address anything relative to that. I think, you know, the players focus will be on earning a roster spot and that'll be most important. That'll be the same for the coaches, and so (the) number one thing we're going to be working on is football. And it's that time of the year right now. And all the other things take a backseat right now to what we're doing."

What do you make of Malcolm Jenkins' social activism and his cable news presence this offseason?
"I am excited for him and if that's something he's going to pursue or wants to pursue once his career is over with fantastic. I think, again, he is someone I know very well. All of those things are (great). I want to see these guys have success when they leave the game. And so I might join them on a network somewhere else."

Is it possible to get an evaluation on the backup quarterbacks on the roster, specifically Jameis Winston?
"Yeah, obviously, it'll be different. And not just that position, but for all of these guys trying to create and look we'll create it internally that. We'll have more scrimmages. We'll have more live individual periods. You have to at some point play football if you're getting ready to play a football game. So that's the direction the union and that's the direction the management went (and) will deal with that."

Was there anything you did to the facility that your excited about or could make a big difference fighting Covid-19?
"We've taken all the protocol necessary that was mandated by the league. And so I think that we added plexiglas to the lockers downstairs, the meeting rooms are spaced out more. All of the things that were recommended to us by the league. And, yeah, I think that look, we're compliant with what they asked us to do. Now relative to how that fits with being tested. I think that, look we're getting tested every day. Unfortunately, we're not on the immediate result side of things. We have to wait 24 hours, but nonetheless 24 hour wait will give results the next day. The other stuff in the building some of it I think will be beneficial, some of it I'm sure are optics."

What is next on your calendar once everybody's approved to come in the building to work? How soon are you doing walkthroughs or so you push that back into classroom learning for a while first?
"No, this week is testing. Physicals take place over the weekend. Monday we will start with the weight room and conditioning. It will be a lot of lifting, running. We're going to follow the schedule to the tee, but it is going to be challenging. So, an hour in the weight room and hour conditioning. And then also meetings and walkthroughs. That will all begin Monday. That will take place for the better part of call it, six days, seven days. Following Wednesday we'll have helmets and jerseys and still be in walkthrough mode and then begin full speed OTA type practices, really for the better part of a couple days. And the pads begin on the 17th. Monday the (August) 17th. So we will take full advantage of that. We'll be in full pads every day that were allowed."

Have you had to monitor Drew Brees throwing more and more as he's aged?
"Yeah, we've done that now for a handful of years. It's not gonna be that important in August, looking at the schedule. It'll be more important once we get into the season."

What about the dreaded conditioning test, is that out the window?
"Well, the specific conditioning test may or may not be. But I'm going to tell you this, the amount of running and lifting they're going to do is going to be significant. Again, this is their schedule. This isn't our schedule. This is the union's schedule. This is the management council's schedule. This is not the schedule recommended to those parties by our coaches. So we've got the schedule, we'll follow it to a tee. And, and look, we might add the conditioning test because that's certainly something we're allowed to do if we choose too."

How much do you miss sports?
"For me, I do not notice it as much in the offseason because I don't watch a lot of sports. I don't watch a lot of baseball. So it hasn't been something I've thought about relative to watching TV, I'm able to get away, play some golf, do some things. And maybe you miss sports highlights more than anything."

Did you pick up any skills during quarantine?
"Nothing, nothing significant."

Have you and your staff found ways to operate differently than before that you may use going forward?
"Well, I kind of like talking to you guys on the telephone rather than standing in front of a podium, so that might be a start (laughter). I do think they'll be some things relative to meetings that we might look at. But I'm anxious actually to get back in front of players and see them, interact with them. I think the challenge and it's simple, is you can put up all the shields you want in the lockers. You can move the chairs six feet apart. We can walk around and sit (and) when we go to eat stand in our six feet lines. But for two hours, two and a half hours every day we're playing tackle football. And so that's the challenge we have this year."

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