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Vitt and Spagnuolo Discuss Hicks

Saints had Hicks at the top of their board when they were on the clock


New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt & Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
Media Availability
Friday, April 27, 2012

Vitt Opening Statement:

Vitt: "We're really excited about our pick, Akiem Hicks.  It's a guy that we really studied.  As late as Friday, I would say we spent an hour and a half to two hours on this player.  We felt that it was a guy that would be there for us.  Height, weight and speed, he's the kind of guy we're looking at for our defensive system.  We love his tenacity.  We know he's raw.  He has to be coached, but that's the fun part.  He fits the character of our football team.  He has good work habits.  We love his resiliency.  I think everybody kind of knows about his story.  He was a junior college transfer that couldn't qualify at LSU.  He stayed out of school for a year, worked at DIRECTV and then went to Canada, played and then qualified for the NFL Draft.  We're excited about having this kid.  It's a big body player.  Coach Spagnuolo and I are happy Sean (Payton) isn't here because we'd probably have an offensive player.  We ganged up on everybody and got a defensive player so we're excited."

Q to Vitt: How long before you expect him to have an impact on your defense?

Vitt: "I don't have a crystal ball.  He passes the eyeball test.  He passes the commitment test.  He passes the resiliency test.  He wants to be a good football player, so we're going to integrate him in (our system) and see how long it takes."

Q to Vitt: Have you seen him in person?

Vitt: "Absolutely, at the NFL Combine."

Q to Spagnuolo: Were there any other players that stood out that you were thinking about drafting?

Spagnuolo: "There's always a couple there.  Mickey (Loomis) and Rick (Reiprish) tossed around a couple of things, but when it was all said and done, Akiem stuck out.  We're pretty glad we got him."

Q to Spagnuolo and Vitt: Were you focused on defense for this pick?

Spagnuolo: "I wouldn't necessarily say that.  We were, but it could have gone either way.  I'm glad that it went this way."

Vitt: "We tried to get a group of players that we thought would be there at this time in the draft.  I know you're going to think that I'm making this up, but he was at the top of the list of our board when it was our pick.  If he wasn't there, Mickey was entertaining some phone calls to move down.  But this is the player we covered and the one that we wanted and the one we studied the most on Friday.  It worked out well."

Spagnuolo: "Mickey mentioned the other day that a lot of the guys that we thought would be there, there were a lot of defensive names."

Q to Spagnuolo: Did losing Shaun Rogers and the possibility of losing Aubrayo Franklin affect your decision?

Spagnuolo: "I don't know.  Mickey (Loomis) has been through this for a long time and Rick (Reiprish) has too.  I don't think you ever just go based on need.  We did just sign (Brodrick) Bunkley this past year.  We certainly are glad we have him along with Sedrick (Ellis) and a bunch of guys.  I think Akiem is the kind of guy that's going to come in here, and like Joe said is raw and has played a different caliber of football so it's going to take him a little while and will be a little bit of a learning curve.  In the meantime, we feel like we have guys that can help us out."

Q to Vitt: Did he play in the East-West game?

Vitt: "Yes, and he dominated.  He played really well.  He threw some bodies around in there and I think that's where people really started to notice this guy.  He has the pass rush ability, the feet and the hands.  When you're getting ready for the third round, you want to get a guy that has some redeeming qualities of greatness that you can work with.  You can't coach size and quickness and what this guy is on the hoof.  We're excited about it."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you see him as being an inside pass rusher?

Spagnuolo: "That's interesting.  Again, we're talking about a different level of football.  I think he said to us, it's like Division II football.  He said that to us at the NFL Combine.  That was his comment.  Don't quote me on that.  You guys can ask him that when he comes here, but he played inside and outside.  Just going through the notes I just had, I noticed a little bit of an edge rush.  I don't know if that's going to correlate to an edge rush in the NFL, but certainly I think he can be an inside rusher on third down.  We'll see where he develops as a first or second down end.  We'll get him in here soon enough and we'll figure out where to put him."

Q to Vitt: How tough was it to sit there in the second round knowing you had a pick taken away?

Vitt: "Mickey (Loomis) took all kind of phone calls.  Mickey is always going to make the best decisions for our football team and not mortgage the future.  We had a group of players that we thought would be there at three and they did start to dwindle, but the top guys that we coveted were still there so it was a slam dunk for us.  That was the consensus of the room."

Q to Spagnuolo and Vitt: What was Hicks' reaction to coming here?

Spagnuolo: "It's hard to tell when you're talking, but I think he had a tear in his eye.  It was great.  He was with his family."

Vitt: "It was great.  That's what makes the night special."

Q to Spagnuolo: Can you talk about Akiem Hicks' tape a little bit with what limited amount of it you had?

Spagnuolo: "It's hard to watch.  You have to dig and that's what the scouts did.  That's how this guy comes to Joe and me originally and then we sit there and do the same thing.  The level of the cameras isn't the same, but overall when you watch and see some of the things that he does, there's a great deal of potential there.  He's a big physical football player.  Bill Johnson and Travis Jones will get him in here and we'll work him and get him to be good."

Q to Vitt: This organization seems to have a knack for finding guys coming from small schools.  Can you talk about that?

Vitt: "I think there are some teams that may not want to draft guys from smaller schools, and we're not scared of that.  Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod (are examples).  We just stick to the discipline of the board.  This is where we had this player rated.  The East-West Shrine Game was huge.  He had a good Combine and it was what it was."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you think you've seen more active trading in this year's draft than ever before?

Spagnuolo: "I think that's a direct result of the fact that the rookie wage scale is completely different.  You saw that a lot yesterday."

Q to Vitt: Did you guys talk to LSU about Hicks and why they recruited him?

Vitt: "Our scouts and Bill Johnson did.  The character of the kid is great.  We talked about his resiliency and his want-to to stay in football.  He's out of LSU.  He goes to a junior college and is out of school for a year working at DIRECTV and then he's up to Canada to play.  You have to have some want-to to go take the trail that this kid has taken.  That's pretty impressive."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you know about his swim and rip move?

Spagnuolo: "A lot of defensive linemen have a swim and rip move.  I'm assuming he does too."

Q to Vitt and Spagnuolo: Can you talk about the reasons he left LSU?

Vitt: "I think there was something about academics.  I think there was something that he was potentially on campus a little bit too early.  He was there to start school in the fall and I guess he wasn't supposed to be.  These weren't character flaws on his part.  I think there was some miscommunication.  I think his transfer credits probably got locked up in a vault somewhere and he had to stay out of football for a year and head to Canada."

Spagnuolo: "I think he said that there was a long process of filing with the NCAA and it kind of just kept going.  He wanted to play football."

Q to Vitt: Would it be fair to say that the learning curve for a defensive tackle is a little shorter than at other positions?

Vitt: "I'm a linebacker coach and Coach Spagnuolo has been a linebacker coach and a secondary coach.  If you ask us, the further from the ball you are the smarter you have to be.  There's going to be a learning curve just from the physicality standpoint and reading blocks.  Just getting on the daily schedule of the NFL and trying to get through training camp, those are the challenges he has to meet, but those are the challenges that we look forward to."

Q to Spagnuolo: How would you assess the existing talent on the Saints defense?

Spagnuolo: "It's hard to assess the talent. I'm relying on Joe (Vitt), Bill (Johnson), Travis (Jones) and some of the other coaches around here, but I've been very impressed with how in tune these guys (players) are at this time of the year. They came here like sponges willing to embrace everything we've put in. It's just been two weeks. We're in phase one of this offseason. We get into phase two next week, but it's been great standing up there teaching them right now and the way they're absorbing things."

Q to Spagnuolo: What did you do in your month or two without players at the practice facility? Did you absorb as much film as you did or did you pick the brains of coaches?

Spagnuolo: "We did. When we started this process out, we watched Saints film for the first two or three weeks and just trying to pick out all of the good things that they had done here. It's a beg, borrow and steal league. They do it all the time, all the coaches do. We tossed around a bunch of ideas and then started to lay out the things I've kind of been familiar with in what has kind of been the package that we've run in New York and St. Louis. We're going to mesh this thing together and hopefully come up with a good one."

Q to Spagnuolo: In your system are your ends and tackles interchangeable?

Spagnuolo: "It's hard to be interchangeable with tackles and ends in the NFL. Some of your defensive ends will slide in on third down and play tackle. It's hard to go the other way. I think we'll find the spot for Akiem and stick him there initially. I don't know if we'll be flipping him back and forth. We'll see."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you obviously consider players like Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton to be top notch players? Is there something that you like to do with your defense where these guys fit really well?

Spagnuolo: "I know we always talk about the guys that are new, (but) I'll be honest with you, I'm not just focused and zoned in on the new guys. There are a lot of good football players in that room and a lot of good coaches. We'll put our heads together, put the talent on the field and hopefully put together a pretty good defense."

Q to Spagnuolo: Is it unlikely that Akiem Hicks would get some early reps as a nose tackle?

Spagnuolo: "We don't have a quote, unquote nose tackle. We're going to start this thing out with a right and left defensive tackle. He'll be on one side or the other and we'll approach it that way. We'll see what's his best abilities are and go from there.

Q to Spagnuolo: He played both end and tackle in college, but is he a little too big for end?

Spagnuolo: "He's a big man. Playing up there (Canada), the level was different. He kind of got away with playing outside."

Q to Vitt: Can you take us inside the draft room a little bit where you waited 27 hours to make a pick?

Vitt: "Mickey's (Loomis) entertaining phone calls to move up or move down. This is a fun time of the year for us. We're watching new rookies come into the league and try to match them up with the teams they're going with, how they fit into those schemes. This is a fun time of the year. We'd much rather be picking in the first or second round, although we have a pretty good first round pick with Mark Ingram. We'd like to have our second round pick, but this is a fun time of the year."

Q to Vitt: Last year the defensive tackles had 1.5 sacks. Is that acceptable and is that one of the reasons this kid is coming in?

Vitt: "Again, we took the best player on the board. Our tackles know they have to perform better. We feel we have a really good player in Sedrick Ellis and we'll have improved play from that position and again this was the best player. When it got down to it, Mickey turned to Spags on Friday and we all agreed on this. This was the guy."

Spagnuolo: "What would be interesting and I don't have the stat in my head is what 4-3 teams what the numbers were for inside tackles. It's tough for inside tackles on first and second down to create sacks from inside. I hope we do it, but it is hard."

Q to Spagnuolo: Did you have nicks graded a little higher?

Spagnuolo: "He was about right."

Vitt: "We had a group of players stacked that we felt would have a chance and he was at the very top of the list. Mickey (Loomis) had some phone calls and entertained trading down. He said we'll move down if he gets picked before us. He fell to us and we took him."

Q to Spagnuolo: Although he came here from a small school, the fact that he was recruited to the SEC that sends a lot of good linemen to the NFL shows that people saw the potential in him?

Spagnuolo: "I think you're accurate about that. That would be correct. I forget the whole conversation that we talked about at the combine, but coming out of high school he had some opportunities, a couple of things ended up differently and he ended up in Canada."

Q to Vitt: Can you address what the priorities are heading into tomorrow?

Vitt: "(We pick) the best player. That's what we've done here and it just so happens that this was somewhat of a need. We want to stick with the discipline of the board and if we like that player like we think we will, we'll stay there. If not, Mickey will entertain some phone calls, but we're going to take the best player that's going to be best for our football team."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you think the number of sacks from this team last year requires a talent upgrade or do you see that with the guys here with tweaks here and there that this can be a team that can be disruptive and cause turnovers?

Spagnuolo: "This defense here in New Orleans has traditionally been a disruptive defense. I've seen that in the years I've been in the league. I don't get too wrapped up in stats, but I do know and we all recognize that one of the stats that most directly relates to winning and losing than anything is turnovers, takeaways and giveaways. That's always a focus. I know it has been here. It will continue to be. I remember Jim Johnson saying one time that really with these turnovers sometimes they come in bunches one way or another. Hopefully we've saved them up and we'll get a bunch this year."

Q to Spagnuolo: Do you expect Akiem to come in to create depth or to come in and create competition?

Spagnuolo: A little bit of both. Probably depth first and then when he gets his feet underneath him and gets used to the speed of the game, which probably won't even happen until a preseason game with the way the schedule goes."

Q to Spagnuolo: Is Greg Romeus healthy now?

Spagnuolo: "He's getting there."

Vitt: "He's had a great offseason. Two days ago I saw him out back running the hills. He has put in the time. He's been dedicated. He's worked hard with the trainers. Now he's in the strength program. We're excited about this player. We really are. We got a glimpse of him last year when he was on PUP and watched him practice a little bit and participate in our practices and we're excited about this player."

Q to Vitt: How tough is it going through the draft and not knowing about potential player discipline?

Vitt: "Again that's hypothetical. We're going to play that hand when we get to it. We can do all the guessing and speculating we want. We're not going to know until it's handed down, if it's handed down."

Q to Vitt: If you had to guess, what would Sean Payton's reaction to this draft pick be?

Vitt: "That's why we (he and Spagnuolo) came together. He's looking at that TV right now and he's mad. At the end of the day, Mickey (Loomis) and Sean have really developed this system of grading that we have for our college prospects and we stuck to the discipline of the board just like Sean and Mickey always have. There wasn't a reach. It came right down to what we wanted and what we thought might be there and that's what happened."

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