NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Thursday marked the end of the first week of Saints Organized Team Activities and Head Coach Sean Payton likes what he sees so far.
After the morning outing, Payton addressed the local media and the following is a copy of that conversation, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
"This is our first week that we just completed, our first three OTA's. I thought our tempo was real good, considering the heat. We're getting through the periods well. (We're) in the beginning really of the installation, for the whole team right now, so it's the first time that we are working with the first-year players along with the veteran players."
For someone like James Laurinaitis, what is the expectation level for how quickly he should learn things relative to helping everyone else learn the new wrinkles?
"Two things – number one, there's some similarity with the terminology where he's coming from and where he's at now. He's someone that picks things up extremely well. To your second point, he's already at a stage where he can assist others in alignment. He knows it cold right now. He is experienced and I would say that it comes real quick. He is a quick study. He is at that point already when we start these early practices."
How much does knowing the similarities and knowing the terminology go into bringing him in?
"I don't think that the terminology had anything to do with it. But the idea that, let's say it's a completely different system, there was still a great amount of confidence that he was going to have it quickly because he is real smart and has real good instincts. That had something to do with it."
Bringing in (Coby) Fleener, is that vision like Jimmy Graham and utilizing him that way, and obviously in the red zone?
"Yes, I would say so. It wasn't an initial target, and yet when we bring in a player like that, there has to be (a vision), no different than when we draft a player. We talk about all the time, what is the vision? I would say, certainly for him, it would start with a receiver first, whether it is third down or whether it is red area. Those would be areas where we think he can help."
Would you be a better red zone team this year, with him and Michael Thomas?
"I'd like to think so. They are bigger bodies. It's an area that we'll work on diligently. When you get into those close quarters, the windows are a little bit smaller. It's always tougher if your size is not as big. There are a lot of contested balls down in tight and I think that a guy like him can help us. I think a guy like Michael (Thomas) can help us, Brandon Coleman, those guys all have a big catching radius."
Have you been impressed by what you've seen from Michael Thomas' hands so far?
You said last year that communication was an issue and wanted guys to talk more; has that been a point of emphasis this offseason? It seems like guys were talking more out there.
"For (Defensive Coordinator) Dennis (Allen) and his staff on defense, I think the number one thing that you have to be able to do is get aligned right, and then handle adjustments. A team gets set and they go in motion, you have to be able to communicate the adjustment. If you're having trouble with that, there is probably a good chance that you're going to have trouble having any kind of consistency defensively. That would be a big point of emphasis."
Have you seen any differences from Garrett Grayson from last year to this year?
"Well, it's early. We've had three practices. Yesterday, I would say that he had one of his better practices since he has been here. But again, we're really three days in. He has been real attentive. He is in good shape and I think the biggest thing is just the mental element of the process happening quicker and him knowing where to go and not spending so much time worrying on how to call it."
Can you talk about Andrus Peat and how different he is, physically, now as opposed to last year?
"I think he is doing real well. He finished strong last season. Obviously he played at a few different spots a year ago. He is in great shape, and I think that is going to serve him well as we are in these practices and as we move into training camp. Certainly we see him starting. Whether it's at right guard or right tackle, we've got some time and some flexibility with regards to that. I'm encouraged with how he's progressing."
Craig Robertson, (Nate) Stupar, and Erik Harris; what do you see in those guys? Did they do anything in OTAs that caught your eye?
"Again, it's early. Harris is a guy we had film on and studied closely, from Canada. Robertson and Stupar are both two linebackers that have played well in the kicking game. So, that being said, we're just in jerseys and helmets right now. So it's tough to evaluate certain positions. The most important thing we're going through is the alignment assignment, so that when we get in pads at training camp, (it will be) a little bit more fluid and (it will come) a little quicker."
Do you think (Andrus) Peat will do both positions during OTAs, or do you really want to get him acclimated to guard?
"He's working reps at right guard, and he's working some reps at right tackle (as well)."
What kind of step could Willie Snead make from last year to this year?
"He received a lot of playing time a year ago. He's someone that's training real well. He's smart. I think we can see a big step, just from his experience and his comfort level with what we're doing. He's very attentive. The attention to detail with him is very high. He has a real good knack for finding the right holes in zone (coverage). And (he understands) the leverage in man-to-man. So, I think we will see a good step (in the coming year)."
Do you guys want to find ways to get all three safeties on the field this year?
"I'm sure we'll have a package that does that. Obviously, as this game has spread out a little bit more, you see defenses playing with more of either a sub package or an extra safety package. It would be dependent on our health and who we look at as our best personnel when we start evaluating a substituted defense."
Have you guys talked about joint practices at all with any of the (preseason opponents)?
"We've talked with a couple teams. At some point, when we iron out the final training camp schedule, we'll announce it."
This isn't the first offseason where a contract has kind of been over Drew (Brees') head. How well does he compartmentalize or put that aside?
"He does that extremely well. He's someone that extremely focused. He's been sharp here these three days. I'd say that it's been a strength of his, just with regards to playing. The ability to focus, whatever situation we are in, (is key), and certainly this is no different."
From a confidence standpoint as well as expectations, P.J. Williams, where do you think he's at as far as the projections for his contribution?
"I would say he is a lot farther along (than we expected). This week he's received some good reps. He's had some good snaps. He's in real good shape. This offseason has been good for him. We'll see as we continue to ramp things up, but he's doing well."
Is Kaleb Eulls getting a look at offensive line?
"He is over there now. So we moved him to guard. We think he has a lot of the attributes you need (for that position). He is smart, he is tough, he has the size that you are looking for. We felt that before the draft—it was not as a result of the draft—but we felt before the draft that was something that we wanted to do. We spent some time in the offseason talking with him and going through that decision. So he is over there now learning. It is obviously a big learning curve for him, but I think he'll handle it."
Can you tell whether (Garrett) Grayson's (made significant improvement)? How long (until we know how good he is)?
"Not yet. I think we'll see. I think the preseason will be important this year. I think we'll receive a good evaluation as to how he's doing."
With Stephone Anthony, who is a young starter, is there a delicate balance to saying "You're changing positions" while still building his confidence?
"He is handling that well. Moving from Mike (linebacker) to Sam (linebacker), I do not want to say it is easy, and yet there is versatility. A lot of these guys are learning two spots. So he's receiving all of his work right now at the Sam, and at some point we'll get him reps back inside at the Mike position. But he's handling the transition well."
With (David) Onyemata being less experienced than some other rookies, how has he handled this week, and were you trying to mix him in with the first team a little bit to get him so reps?
"Yes. What we've tried to do during this offseason, we've tried to really get away from (a standard first-team second-team format). Certainly, you have got wave (of players). When the first unit's up, someone has to be in the first unit, but that unit's in flux constantly. So he's receiving work with the (first unit), he's receiving work with the (second unit). He, much like Kaleb Eulls, has a lot of growth (ahead of him), and yet he's not repeating mistakes, which is encouraging. He's doing well. I'd say these three days have been positive. He's working at defensive end. Obviously, we think he's someone that can play in the sub (packages) and probably be more suited to play inside."
How much do you afford (in terms of importance) this portion of the offseason calendar?
"It is just as important for the coaching staff (as it is for the players). We are going through our teaching techniques, our drills, (and) evaluating how we're putting things in. I think it is a progression. I think it's important that the players, before they get out here for a period of two months, are coming to lift weights and run, so they aren't arriving at the facility feeling like they're getting ready to practice. And now, the weight room is obviously just as important. More than anything, the installation schedule takes us all the way through minicamp. Then when you start training camp again, we pattern a bit of that installation much the same way we've done out here."
I know it's hard to gauge defensive and offensive linemen with no pads on, but what have you seen from Sheldon (Rankins) so far?
"He's done well. He's in good shape. He's smart. His alignment and technique are good. Outside of that, it is difficult. The trick is finding the right practice tempo. I think it's more difficult for the offensive and defensive linemen to arrive at that right tempo than it is for other positions."
What have you seen out of (Hau'oli) Kikaha and (Davis) Tull?
"Both of them are doing well. They're both healthy. For (Davis) Tull, it's important because he's receiving full speed reps now. And Hau'oli (Kikaha) is someone that's used to playing in that rush position. Both of them are doing well."
What did you like about (Nick) Fairley when you brought him in?
"He's athletic. We thought he played pretty well last year. He was in a rotation. Most of those defensive fronts now, when you watch them on film, they're in a rotation. So I think that will be important. He's experienced. He's come in and done a good job of getting acclimated. He's smart, so he knows how to get aligned. There are some technique things we're working with him on, but he's got quickness and the ability to get on and edge real quick and provide some sub-rush as well from the inside."
Re-signing Tim Hightower took a little while, but it seemed like you guys liked him so much, both in the locker room and on the field. Was that (the case)?
"I think it was just a matter of time. I think that was going to happen. I think it was merely just getting all the numbers worked out."
His value to you is both on and off the field?
"Listen, he's someone that's a good pro; he's a good leader. I know he's well-respected in the locker room. He has versatility."
How do you envision that position (running back)? Is it still (Mark) Ingram as number one when healthy, and there's a backup there?
"Yes. Obviously, Mark's got the experience and is someone that will be one of the backs that we feature. The rest of it I think will work itself out."
Anything you've been pleasantly surprised at? Something that was unexpected that you noticed over the last three days?
"I thought our tempo overall in the heat has really been fluid. Guys have been good. That's been encouraging. The times that we've finished practice have all been underneath the planned times. It's hard to point to individuals right now, just because of the way we're practicing. But, I think these first three days have gone real smooth. The way the schedule's set up now, it's a little different than in years past, where the rookies were in for four days before they began their rookie camp. They just seem to be further along than in years past."
Does (CJ) Spiller look good? Does he look healthy?
"Yes, he does. That would be back (to the previous question). I'd say CJ's health and his movement skills look noticeably different. He worked his butt off in the offseason to get the strength back in that knee where he had his injury. That has been really encouraging."
Is (Jairus) Byrd still dealing with his old knee injury?
"He's just going through his rehab. He's right on schedule. It's nothing different than what was expected. We expect him to be ready when training camp starts. Right now he's receiving walk-through snaps and some individual work. He's on schedule."
That's that same injury that he had in the past?
"Yes, that's what he's rehabbing."
With middle linebacker specifically, do you have to make sure when you move a player out of there that they don't view it as a demotion because they are losing some responsibility?
"No, it is about getting our players in the best position to excel. That is really it. It is about improving from (being ranked) 31 or 32 (as a defense) and getting better. (Stephone Anthony's) been great that way. He wants to play and contribute and be a part of a defense that's good, and that's been the focus."