Metairie, La. - On Tuesday, the Saints waived kicker Garrett Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to replace him. On Wednesday, coach Sean Payton announced that rookie Terron Armstead would start in place of left tackle Charles Brown.
The following are Payton's comments to the media Wednesday morning, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
"Two players were waived: defensive back Chris Carr and kicker Garrett Hartley. We signed safety Eric Frampton and kicker Shayne Graham. Frampton won't be in (town) in time for practice this afternoon; he'll be getting in probably around 2:30 or 3:00. He's someone that we feel like can help us in the kicking game. We're going to start Terron Armstead at left tackle and put a good week of work together. This is an important game for us. Our schedule will be fairly normal, fairly routine, with today being our big emphasis on first and second down. Having just played this team, there is that familiarity with the opponent and yet, I think the preparation this week and the attention to detail is going to be very important to our team. Obviously there is a lot at stake. Any questions?"
How difficult was it to make the decision to part with Garrett Hartley?
"It was real difficult. One thing we talked about – and I think that it probably happens more with kickers than any other position – he's an extremely talented player. He's going to play in this league, I think, for quite a long time and have success. The way that these doors kind of open and close, we just agreed that right now, don't ever say never in regards to being back with the team. With that being said, with what he's done and been a part of, it's difficult. Especially with the success he had in that run in 2009. He has great leg talent. I just felt like it was the one thing that is a little more challenging, that decision, because if we're not receiving the right effort, then we can look closely at reps, we can look closely at what we're doing in these drills. If we're not receiving the right scheme, we can change that. If we're not receiving the right results in regards to takeaways, we can make sure that that is emphasized. It's a little bit more nebulous when it comes to the confidence of a kicker. I think he had a great week of practice last week, and yet it didn't manifest itself in the game. That was a tough decision."
When exactly did you make that decision?
"I think it was important to spend a lot of time (on the decision). As much time after the game looking at it Monday looking at it Tuesday, and kind of putting a little distance between the recent game. That would be very typical, I think, of any decision like that."
Were you encouraged when he seemed to get his confidence back after hitting that rough patch earlier in the season?
"I think this: I think he's a tough guy who will respond. I think he's very resilient, and I think that's fairly common for the position. In other words, that's not new to kickers. I think he responded very well earlier in the year when he had a handful of misses. But then, I think it was more difficult to see (him miss) the shorter range field goal. You spent a lot of time giving it thought, and ultimately you go with your gut."
Did you ever determine if the last field goal was blocked or not?
"No. The last one was not blocked. The first one was."
Talk about the change at left tackle.
"Unlike the defensive line, unlike the secondary, receivers, running backs, that position group typically stays on the field (together). Occasionally teams might rotate a player. I felt like there were a handful of things we did a few years ago that we struggled in protection against with St. Louis, that we learned a lesson as coaches. We went into this game with a pretty good plan with regards to how we wanted to handle certain types of rushes. I think Terron has improved during the course of the season, be it taking scout team reps, some work with the offense, and it's to see what he can do. I visited with Charles (Brown) this morning. Of course he's disappointed…as he would be. I'm sure he'll respond the right way and handle this the right way in a professional manner. It's the nature of the business. It was, again, a decision based on just looking at a lot of snaps and looking at the consistency in the things that we're looking for. I think there were a handful of things that happened the other day that really prohibited us from having some type of success. I said this after the game: it wasn't just one player. There were a lot of hands that were in that mud, including mine. This is something that I think is necessary right now."
Did you consider putting Zach Strief at left tackle?
"For the long haul? Yeah, for a little bit. I think this sets up a little bit better for us."
Terron Armstead has been inactive frequently and we haven't gotten to see him as much as you have. Will you tell us a little about how he has been playing?
"He's athletic. He's someone who has a pretty good feel of what we're doing. Certainly there will be growing pains when you play a young player like that, and yet a guy like him that's been around now for eight months in our program. I think he'll prepare and study and do all the little things. I think he'll get great support by that room; it's a pretty close room. I'm anxious to see him compete."
Carolina is a really good defense to get your first start in such a big game.
"When you're a tackle, you're probably (facing a good challenge) each week. Pick a team, and you're going to have a good challenge."
Any hesitation about make a change at tackle with this game being on the road?
"There's all of those hesitations, and yet I think all of those things are factored in."
With only two games left in the regular season, how do you think moves are viewed inside the locker room?
"I can't speak for the players. This is an important game this week. We have a chance to become a division winner and a chance to become the number two seed, all of that right here in this game. I think the spirits were down after the loss. I think our guys are pretty resilient though. I think we will bounce back and I think they all understand the nature of this business."
Having said that, do you think that part of this decision was to say hey, everything is on the line here and nobody is safe?
"No, these are not decisions made for effect. You don't do that, at least we don't."
What was Garrett's (Hartley) reaction?
"We had a good visit yesterday. I am sure he was disappointed. We spoke for about half an hour and we will leave it at that. He was probably more frustrated than anything else."
Would you anticipate making any more changes to the offensive line?
"No, nothing right now. Those guys and Zach (Strief) have been playing well."
You said that all position groups, not just this position group will be on alert.
"I think it is really looking closely at the reps guys are getting and what we are asking them to do and can they do it well. I think we will have a good week of practice. I think the response will be, by our players, will be good. Listen, this is everything you work for playing a game like this."
Can you talk about Eric Frampton who you just signed?
"He was someone we had worked our probably two and a half months ago. He excels on special teams. He would give us depth as a backup."
What was it about Graham that made him stand out from the other kickers your worked out?
"His workout was better. He seemed to be a little more accurate, a little more stronger. He was clearly better."
Does it help that he has experience?
"Yeah but I think you really start with the talent pool that is available. It is a little bit easier to bring in five kickers, work them out, kick, and select one than it would be any other position group in football. You could bring in defensive linemen in and you are not going to be able to really, you are going to work them through pads and agility drills, but a kicking position becomes a little bit easier to see where they are at with regards to specifically their skills. His experience, obviously, is helpful and is a plus."
As far as the personal and professional, how hard is it to separate those two with Garrett Hartley?
"Absolutely, because when you do something and win a championship like that it is a little bit stronger bond between everyone that was on that team on that bus ride home and a part of it. So, absolutely."
With (Terron) Armstead, is it unusual for a tackle to leapfrog the Bryce Harris role or the guy that has been the sixth tackle?
"I don't know if there is that formula that's hey, you are going to have to report as eligible for a year before you get called to the big leagues. I think he's adapted in playing the position and fit and ready to play that position. I think naturally that is the position that he plays and I am not saying that the guys that are the jumbo tight ends are right tackles either. Often times it does seem like that."
You started Zach Strief in a situation like this in 2006, do you think back to that?
"I just thought, you think oftentimes it is challenging for coaches, same thing in regards to (Jermon) Bushrod when Jammal (Brown) got injured in Houston, players get thrown into a position and I think that it falls on all of us to help him have success including Charles (Brown). I think that his teammates will make sure they do everything they can to make sure he is in a position to have success. We will as a coaching staff and this is going to come down for us, no different than Carolina, this is going to come down to the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, third down, (and) which team can affect the quarterback more. All those things are going to be paramount."
What are some of the difficulties of playing the same team twice in 15 days?
"I don't think it is that uncommon. I think if we took the schedule out for the last four or five years we will probably find this game every year with some team just because the way the divisions are shaped up and the emphasis the league has made to try and push the divisional games further back in the schedule. Interestingly enough for us, you can tell me this game was three weeks ago, you just get so engrained with the focus of the game plan. I don't think it is that unusual especially when you are talking about a division opponent. There are things they are going to know very clearly about us, the same way we would about them. There will be some tweaks I'm sure, both sides of the ball and the kicking game to try and create an advantage. Listen, it is going to be a good hard fought game I am sure and obviously it is very important."
How much do you have to change from what you did ten days ago?
"I think in both cases there are things that we didn't run that were on a call sheet, offensively and defensively. And I am sure vice versa that things you wanted to have a chance to do and weren't able to, you keep those things. Teams aren't really changing their scheme philosophically during the course of weeks. There are certain things you do as an emphasis. There are certain things you want to apply in a game. But the personalities of teams, at this point in the year, are pretty defined."
Do you like that it is coming down to you on the road to prove people wrong?
"I think as competitors we like just having the opportunity to play in games like this. It is a lot better than the alternative. We say this to our players all the time, this is next game, the most important one and yet we feel like we will play in bigger ones, but this is obviously the biggest game we've played in to this date. When you begin to set goals as an organization very early in that conversation is win your division. I am sure it is the same for Carolina."
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