Metairie, La. - Thursday's practice was a pleasant one for the Saints since it was moved to the air conditioned indoor facility. Another changeup was the presence of referees to help explain new rules and clarify any questions. One referee was Sarah Thomas, currently a Conference USA line judge but also a candidate to join the NFL forces for the 2014 season.
The following is Drew Brees' media availability, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
Sarah Thomas is out here today. She's been with you for a few years, maybe. Through a players perspective, there is a little bit of history there. What is the difference when you're out there? Anything with that?
"No, she is a pro. She's been out here, like you said, the last couple years. So there is a comfort level, as with any other official. It is an opportunity when they come out here to fine-tune their skills and get ready for the season. It is their training camp just as much as it is our training camp. When you kind of follow the history of really all officials, you know we have an officials report every week before we play every game, and it kind of details the history of this official. For example, Walt Coleman's out here too. You know, he started, maybe, I don't know this for sure about him specifically. But maybe, an official started in the Pac 10 Conference, and they coached these bowl games, and then became a side judge this year, and five years later, they became a head referee, and they have refereed this AFC Championship game, and this Pro-Bowl. It just kind of goes through their list of accomplishments, and it'll talk about what their job is outside of being an official. They have a family. You know, you learn about them on a personal level. It is not just all business, like it is out there on game day and such. We can have those personal conversations as well. They are as if they are one of your teammates or something."
Do you want to see a woman on the field while you are still playing?
"Sure. I mean they are as qualified as anyone else who is out there. You see, there is a protocol that they all go through. It is not easy to become a NFL official, just like it is not easy to become a NFL player. There is, like I said, a list of qualifications, experience levels; there is a process by which they go through. But, certainly, it seems like she is deserving if she is going to be out there."
Are we mislead with Benjamin Watson? He was always a run-blocking tight end. But, I have been impressed. As a pass receiving tight end, he seems like the complete deal. He is good at blocking for the run, but he can really catch the ball. He catches it cleanly. He looks good out there.
"Yes, for being a 10-year veteran guy, he has been around for a long time, (and) been on some really good teams. He has won two Super Bowls with the Patriots. (He is) extremely athletic, fast, and (has) a rare combination of the ability to be a great route runner, catch the ball well and also (be a solid) blocker. We really have a good one in him. He is going to be great for Jimmy (Graham). They get along extremely well. It is going to be a great combination. So we are excited to have him."
Lance Moore is the longest tenured receiver. He says he does not like being called that. What are your thoughts on that?
"Is that just another term for you are old? Longest tenure? You know what though? Look at Lance's career. He was an undrafted free agent. I think on Cleveland's training camp. Ryan Pace has told me some of the stories. He has told me many times. He saw him in a scrimmage one time, snatched him in '05, I believe, during the Hurricane Katrina year, when the team was displaced, and he was on our practice squad in '06 and then kind of worked his way in, a little bit, in '07, and then now he has been a mainstay since '08, and has really done a phenomenal job. There is not a guy I trust more out there than Lance. The road that he has traveled to get where he is, he has earned it all. But we have a lot more good years together, but that experience is a good thing for him. I do not mind being called tenured. Not old, but tenured. It is good."
Looking at those young receivers, at the three or four spot, do any of them stand out to you?
"A lot of them are standing out, actually. I mean literally, every single one of them. You put them in there and feel a level of confidence. So we will see how it shakes out. There is still a lot of football to be played, practices and then the preseason games, but I feel like we have a really solid group here."
What was your relationship with Sean (Payton) like when he first came back, when you guys first started on the field? Was there any rust you guys had to knock off? Can you just tell me a little bit about that, having him back and how you all interacted?
"I would not say there was any rust. You know, you have those people in your life that you may not see for a while, but when you get together, it is like no time has passed. That is how it is with Sean. We had a little bit of catching up to do, but just in regards to 'Hey, how has life been for the last fourteen months,' and 'What is your perspective as you saw from a distance,' and that kind of thing, but other than that, it has been football as usual, business as usual. It is just good to have him in my ear in practice and have your head man back."
Has his approach, in terms of dealing with you and interacting with you, changed at all?
"It has not changed. It really has not. We have been together now, this will be our eighth season, going back to '06. So, we have had a lot of time together. We can draw on a lot of experiences together. Sometimes, we are at practice, and we will be like 'Hey, remember when we played so-and-so in '07, and we ran this?' It is weird how you remember certain things. I can't remember certain things that you told me yesterday, but I can remember a play in a game from ten years ago. And who ran it, or why we called it, or who we were trying to attack, or what the situation was. It is just that crazy kind of memory when it comes to football. So, we will sit there and do that all day long on the field. And it is good. We are in the moment. We are talking shop, and trying to find ways to get better, and kind of retool and fine tune this offense to make it better."
What do you think of Kenny Stills at this point?
"I really like Kenny. He reminds me a lot of Lance (Moore). Just a very smooth route runner and a very natural pass catcher. Pretty elusive, sudden at times. Bigger than you think. So, he has impressed me a lot. I like his approach. I think he is very smart and has the ability to play a lot of different receiver positions. Move him around. It does not seem like it has ever been too much for him. You keep throwing it at him. He just absorbs it and is able to go out and execute it. It doesn't seem like it is weighing him down at all."
On the same lines, can you touch on Nick Toon a little bit? He got hurt in camp last year.
"I think coming for him from OTA's, being away from football for about a year, you can tell there was a little rust to work off. But, ever since he has come into training camp, you see the light bulb coming on, and the sense of urgency. He is making some really nice plays, and making it look really natural, which is great to see out of a young receiver, watching him develop like that."
Who would you compare going against Keenan Lewis, compared to other corners? Is it bump and run coverage ability?
"Well, whenever you have big corners with long arms, that is typically something that those guys like to get their hands on receivers, and reroute them at the line of scrimmage, and that works in their favor. You see a lot of bigger corners enjoy that, and he is definitely one of those guys. He has made some plays out here too. He has made some nice plays down the field too, not just on the jam. But, as they get down the field, ball up in the air, his ability to go up and contest it."
The renewed focus on the rushing game, how much easier does that make your job and what kind of role do you think Pierre Thomas plays in that?
"He will play a big role. All of the backs will big roles. They are great stable backs. They can do everything. All of them can block, all of them can run, inside, outside. They can all catch the ball at the backfield. They are all smart, tough, disciplined, reliable. And so, anytime you can get the run game going, especially early in the game, it opens up so much in the pass game. We want to be very complimentary. So, where the run game is setting up the pass, the pass is setting up the run. And you have a defense on your heels to worry about. And there is so many ways they can hurt us. On the run game with all these backs, and the receiving corps and the tight end corps, and that kind of thing. That is the world we want to live in. "
Ryan Griffin, you gave him a good nickname, and so far it seems like he is making good strides here.
"RG4. Yeah, he had a big day yesterday. As a young quarterback coming in, you are limited on reps, and it is a lot of terminology, a lot of stuff thrown at you. He gets the benefit of having played at Tulane last year, with Curtis Johnson. It is a similar system, so some similar terminology carries over. But, you're still stepping into the NFL game. The speed of the game, the speed at practice, and just the amount that is thrown at you at once (is big). I feel like he has done a great job at absorbing it. So, Griff is doing a great job."
What is your opinion on the changes to the Pro-Bowl eliminating that kick return spot?
"I was not aware of that."
They are adding another defensive back, instead of a kick returner spot next year.
"Okay. Does that mean that they are not going to kick off anymore?"
Yeah. They are eliminating kick offs.
"Well, I can tell you this. Every guy who is over there at the Pro Bowl, who gets to be the lucky individuals who get to be on the kick off team, they probably haven't done that in 10 years, or maybe ever. (It's) not something they look forward to. It is obviously a high-risk, high-injury proposition on the kickoff team and kickoff return. So, I do not know. It stinks for the return guys, who certainly deserve that opportunity. Guys like (Darren) Sproles, and (Devin) Hester, and some of these other guys who have been those return guys in years past, but I guess I can see why they did it. No one wants to go over there and play special teams."
How do you like the top two vote getters being captains picking teams? So you could have AFC guys on your team.
"Again, all this stuff is news to me. I have not seen it yet. So, explain that one to me again."
The top two vote getters will be captains. Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, two fantasy football players from NFL.com get to pick teams. So you can pick whomever you want. There is no NFC versus AFC. You could be playing against your own teammate. Jimmy Graham could be on the other team if you are the top two vote getters.
"So, the NFL Pro-Bowl roster guys are established, and then, basically, they have these team captains, who then choice amongst that pool of guys who goes to which team?"
Right. The NHL does it that way.
"Interesting. We will see how it plays out."
As long as you are there right?
"I just want to throw to my guys. That is all."
Drew, what are your thoughts on the Riley Cooper situation.
"Okay, again. That is not something that I (am really up on). I just saw that when I was literally walking out of the locker room today, so I am not aware of that situation, other than I kind of heard that there were some racist comments made. I am not sure of anything other than that."
Does that surprise you?
"Sure. I do not know Riley Cooper at all. So, again, I do not know the situation. Obviously, that is not a good thing if racist comments were made."
Do you foresee, should a woman make it into a line judge, or whatever position it may be, that a perceived bad call will be treated any differently by the crowd, the team, the coaches, if the bad call came from a female official?