Congratulations on a new deal.
"Thank you very much. I'm extremely excited to be back. That free agency process is not as much fun as it's advertised as, especially when you have a strong desire to go to one place and kind of be in your home. I'm just glad that it worked out."
How did you go about it? Didn't you want to stay in New Orleans all along?
"You have to be smart about it and try you best to kind of keep a level head. As much as I did want to stay, you have to be open to the possibility that it's not going to work out for whatever reason that is. You try to keep an open kind and go into with that mindset that it might not work. I think that's the same way that the teams go into. Even if they want a guy, maybe it doesn't always all come together. Try to keep a level head and yet at the same time every time we heard from somebody else I made sure to emphasize to my agent that he needed to call the Saints and make sure that they were in the loop and see if we could get something accomplished."
That will make a lot of people happy here. Why New Orleans and why were you so passionate about trying to make this work?
"I think for me it may be a little different than those guys. I'm sure that in New Orleans now that there is a culture of winning here. That I'm sure is attractive to people outside of the building and that's something that I think guys desire is to be on a winning team. For me even more so than that, I feel like I've become a part of creating that culture. I do feel invested in kind of the change that has occurred here in the last eight years. That's important for me to be around and to continue and have the possibility of finishing my career in the place where I started had a lot to do with it. And on top of all of that, I love the guys here. I love the coaching staff. I have a personal relationship with a lot of people in this building from equipment guys to training staff to the coaching staff and certainly to my teammates. There were a lot of reasons for me that it made sense to stay and you top that all off with getting to continue living in New Orleans and all the great stuff that it provides. It was hard for me to come up with a reason to leave."
Cincinnati was home originally, right?
Has New Orleans become home now?
"I think even my mother at this point would concede that New Orleans is my home, as much as it probably pains her to say. This will probably, barring an unforeseen circumstance, be the place where I spend the rest of my life. I feel like I'm a part of the community. People talk a lot about it's the people that make New Orleans. When it's the people that make a city, it's hard to leave it because you can't bring those people with you. You can go to another city that has great festivals or parties or a great atmosphere or has great food. There are other cities in the world that have those things but the people here are really unique. I don't think that I could let that go out of my life. I think that staying here with the people that I've met and the friendships that I've built is really important to me."
Where do things stand with the offensive line in your eyes? Maybe a piece of last season that you would like to stay.
"Obviously, there is still a little bit of personnel work that needs to be done. I don't want to play general manager. I certainly don't desire that job. There's some more personnel things. I think more than anything, if you look at our offensive line and where we stand that we've got some momentum going into the offseason. I think we played well at the end of the year. I do think that we struggled a little bit early with some of the changes that we made in just understanding the concepts. Sometimes those things are harder than they might appear to really understand exactly what you're trying to do and figure out how it's best for you to do it when we changed the zone scheme. I think there will be more growth this offseason. I think that where we are starting is a much stronger position and I think that there is some youth that is going to be added. It's exciting to see some of those guys grow and see how they develop."
How are you spending your offseason? Are you climbing the peaks of Machu Picchu?
"Steve (Gleason) is much more of an adventurer than I am. I don't think I can keep up with him. Not too much. A little bit of golf and some cooking and spend time with friends. I've actually had a lot of people come in town this year, which has been nice. I feel like I've shown off the city of New Orleans about 10 times this offseason. I do my best to get some true real relaxation in. I haven't even really taken a vacation yet. I've kind of stuck around and obviously I did Mardi Gras. I ride in Bacchus so that's a lot of fun. You know, just do what New Orleans has to offer. It's been a good offseason. I feel really rested. I feel like mentally I'm in a good place and certainly excited to get back to work. You kind of start itching for the structure again."
I'm trying to picture a 6-7 and 320-pound Bacchus rider.
"Actually you stick out. One of our trainers, Kevin Mangum, told me that someone pointed out. I had a mask on and someone said 'There's Zach Strief' and I was sitting down because we were stuck and Mangum said no and he said I saw you stand up and said that's him. I stick out in that situation. Actually the guy that rode next to me stood on a cooler so it didn't look as bad as you think."
In the offseason do you try to add moves or add something to your game?
"I'll let you, I don't have moves. I think I have a lack of moves. There are definitely things that you work to develop as an athlete. Really what you do is you think back and watch tape and say where have I struggled and you try to develop those parts of your game that seem to be a problem. I think for me, the running game, run blocking, aiming points, pad level, things like that are going to be really big for me this year. Those are the types of things that I'll focus on. There's lots of ways to do that stuff. Even at the end of last season, not knowing my future, I sat down with Bret Ingalls, who is our offensive line coach, a couple of times and said here are some things that clearly we as a group and I personally need to work on. Once we get back into workouts, we'll start kind of addressing that as a group. Even more so I think than basketball, a lot of those things will be done with us as a position group, less than me as a player or any other guy by himself."
You all will train partially at the Greenbrier this summer. What advantages does that bring?
"The architect that's building the facility was in the office today and I got a chance to meet him and see the plans. First of all, it's going to be a beautiful brand new facility, which will be nice. There's no denying that practicing in the type of humidity and heat that we do is detrimental to your body and to your body's ability to recover. It's just hard. It's something that obviously you get used to and we deal with but I think what this camp is going to allow us to do is enter our season fresher. I think it's actually going to allow us to work a little bit harder in training camp to put in more time and really be more focused on what we're doing. The fact of the matter is that there are days in training camp where you are just trying to finish the practice. It's not a mental thing. I know a lot of mentally tough guys that have been through it. It's just a physiologically thing that in those conditions and under that temperature it's hard to focus and work on the things that you need to work on when you are also dealing with a 110 degree heat index. I think it will be really good for our team. Obviously, it's really tough to leave the fans and hopefully they will understand that. I think that when we come back we will do some stuff with them. I think ultimately it's going to be a huge advantage to our program this year."
Did the way the season ended leave a bad taste in your mouth or did it push you toward taking another large step this season?
"Well, it's really hard to take silver linings in this league, especially when you've kind of reach that ultimate goal that you are trying to get to. We've won a Super Bowl here and we know what that feels like and we know that we are capable of it. I've always found it very hard to leave a season and say, 'Well we didn't win but it went good at the end' or 'We played okay.' I think what you really do is that it drives you every year a little bit more. We were a couple of games away and it's not a big difference to be two games away. I think you certainly watch how the Super Bowl played out and say we're not that far away from being back there. That's always going to be the goal here. I know for a fact that as long as Coach Payton is here, there is never going to be anything less than a Super Bowl is not a disappointment. It just always will be and I think that goal that and that vision drives us more than any type of momentum or silver lining that you take out a season ever will give us."