Interview:s Saints assistant coaches Darren Rizzi, Phil Galiano, Joel Thomas
New Orleans Saints
Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi
Assistant Special Teams Coach Phil Galiano
Video Call with Local Media
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
How much consistency does re-signing Zach Wood bring to that kicking unit?
(Coach Rizzi): “I think anytime you keep that operation together, you know, I think that’s really important. I was fortunate in Miami to have the same snapper the entire time I was there and really realize how important that is. I think Zach really performed well last year. I think he really had a big improvement from the year before. I think that kind of shows the long snapper position is one of those guys where if you’re not talking about him, he probably had a great year. He’s kind of like an umpire in baseball (or) referee. If you don’t know his name, he’s probably doing a good job. So I think Zach performed very well and to have that operation back, the only disappointing thing, obviously and it goes for everybody, is not being able to practice those guys here together in the spring, but, again, having those guys back in the familiarity is huge for sure.”
What are your initial impressions of Ty Montgomery and do you plan to use him on special teams?
(Coach Rizzi): “I really liked Ty coming out of college. I mean he was a guy I evaluated very diligently I guess you’d say. I really dove into his background in college and watched a lot of college tape on him. He was a guy that we had rated very highly coming out of Stanford. A guy I really watched a lot of film on him. Now having played against him and watched him perform in the league and he’s a guy that does a lot of different things. He’s a guy that, not only, I think he probably gets noticed mostly as a returner, but he’s actually done a lot of different things. He’s played on the punt team. He has played (as) a personal protector. He has played wing, has played in other spots in the punt return game other than returner. He’s been on the kickoff team. So here’s a guy that has got a lot of value and I think I speak for every special teams coach when I tell you you’re always looking for offensive skill guys that can bring value to the special teams core positions, not necessarily the returner, but you’re always looking for offensive skill guys that can bring value. So having watched him in college and having watched her now for a few years in the NFL and I am really excited to work with him.”
What do you think are the next steps for Deonte Harris?
(Coach Rizzi): “I think I say this all the time. I think people look at me like I am crazy, but I think Deonte can actually really improve a lot. I think people will just automatically look at the numbers, his accolades, the All-Pro and Pro Bowl and all that and automatically assume that this guy has got to figure it out. I think Deonte would probably be the first guy to tell you that he has enough things to work on. If you look back at last season, which we obviously had a lot of time on our hands here to look back at a lot of things, we got off to a slow start in the return game in both punt and kick and some of that was growing pains with Deonte. He made some bad decisions early in the season. His ball security wasn’t great. He made some bad decisions in terms of when to field the ball, (and) when not to field the ball. Those are things he got better at as a year went on, but I certainly think he is not a finished product yet. So I think he can actually really make some more strides. We know he has the ability, that is obviously a no-brainer. He is very dangerous with the ball in his hand, but I think now (he’s) refining his return game. What I mean by that is just kind of getting better at the little things. There is just some of the decision-making, the ball security, some of the calls. We have some calls that the returner makes sometimes things like that. I think he can really improve on. I think you saw that because obviously it was trending up big time at the end of the season. So hopefully we can kind of just pick up where we left off. That’s easier said than done, but here’s a guy that hasn’t had (a lot of experience) obviously only one year of experience in NFL return game because it’s totally different than college. And so I still think there’s a lot of room for growth there.”
Your thoughts on what you’ve seen from Tommy Stevens and do you see other teams using athletic QBs in other ways?
(Coach Rizzi): “I’m going to let Phil (Galiano) talk on that because he knows Tommy personally a lot better than I do. I can just tell you from my perspective, watching Tommy Stevens perform as a college player. He obviously got the size, he obviously has got great speed. I know from meeting with them now on these virtual meetings, he is a very intelligent player. And so here is a guy that’s got all the quote unquote tools to work with, from my perspective. To answer the second part of your question, I think you look back like Trace McSorley, of the Baltimore Ravens, or some other quarterbacks that are now, if they are not going to be maybe the starter or even the number two, a lot of teams are now kind of copycating that, because of what Taysom’s (Hill) done. I think it’s funny because you hear it in the draft a lot, you hear it even in our draft meetings. Can this guy do this? Can this guy do that if he’s not going to be a guy, because you’re always looking for jobs for that guy to do, if he’s going to be around on the 53 or maybe the practice squad. So Tommy’s obviously a good example of that. Phil, you can kind of take it from here cause you know Tommy a lot better than I do personal.”
(Coach Galiano): “Yeah, so I was fortunate enough to get to coach Tommy when he was at Penn State and I was there and at that time he was competing to be the starting quarterback. So unfortunately, I didn’t get to use him on special teams at that point, because he was in quarterback battle, but he was always a guy that (was athletic), he’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, he’s super smart. He’s super tough. I always knew (he) could play special teams for us. And he’s an extremely hard worker and he fits everything that we want here. So we’re really excited and I’m excited to be able to get the work with him once we can get back on the field.”
What characteristics does J.T Gray he bring to your unit, having been selected as an All-Pro last season?
(Coach Galiano): “The first thing he brings is he’s extremely tough and competitive and he can run and he takes great pride in special teams and wanting to be the best. He’s a guy that’ll come in and he studies extra film and he knows his role and he has a plan for all his opponents. He really is a pros pro when it comes to special teams and he’s a guy that has worked his way up. It wasn’t like it was given to him and he’s continued to work hard and he’s only going to continue to get better and he’s hungry and has things that he wants to prove.”
(Coach Rizzi): “If I could piggyback on that real quick. I was always super impressed. J.T. is a guy watched coming out of college and I thought could really perform well on special teams in the NFL. But now having worked with him for a year. Phil (Galiano) kind of hit on it. Here’s a guy that you talk about and we talk about this all the time and special teams players. There’s a lot of guys that come into the league and their goal isn’t to be a special teams player. They want to be (or) they maybe have aspirations of being a really good defensive or offensive player. Here’s a guy that not only knew his role, but embraced his role. I think there’s a big difference. He embraced, and he looked at, studied other special teams players in league. I don’t know if I have been around a guy that spent as much time as J.T. did during a gameweek of preparing for special teams, meaning watching the opponents, watching himself and this guy had a plan going in. So not only athletically is he gifted in all the tools he has, but he really studied. And I think he prepared himself and the sky’s the limit for him. He’s got an amazing ceiling for himself, meaning he sets high, high goals for himself. I’ll give you an example, he was pissed off that he was second-team All-Pro and he was upset. You got the rest of the league that would be jumping out, you know, jumping for joy and J.T. was upset that he wasn’t first-team. So he comes back this year with more fire (and) more hunger. And so just to kind of piggyback off with Coach Phil said and I agree everything with Phil said, but (I’m) just really impressed with that player.”
(Coach Galiano): “The other thing that he brings that I was thinking listening to Coach Rizzi talk was that competition that he brings because we’re fortunate in having J.T. and having Justin Hardee on the other side and those guys competing in practice to get better and that sort of thing. They make each other better, which is an awesome combination for us.”
How important was it bring Justin Hardee back?
(Coach Rizzi): “Yeah, and there’s special teams, it’s probably the biggest area on every NFL team where there’s the most turnover every year, because the bottom of your roster is the part of the roster that’s going to change the most. There’s always the most moving parts on special teams. You don’t see as much on the offense or defensive side, maybe in a particular year here or there, but usually not. Usually, there’s more consistency and continuity. My point is to be able to have guys that come back into the fold like Justin Hardee, like J.T. Gray. I can’t say enough to have the experience and not only the talent, but the experience and the leadership. Justin’s a guy he’s a little bit more outspoken than J.T. J.T. is more of a quiet leader, leader by example. Justin, as you watch him play, he plays with a lot of passion. That’s contagious, little things like (when) we kick the ball off and it happens to be a touchback. You guys probably notice those guys are racing through the goal line and they want to be first down the field. So they compete in everything they do. Phil (Gailano) mentioned that and so that’s contagious. A guy like Justin Hardee practices and the way he approaches, same thing with the way he embraces his role and always wanting to improve. Here’s a guy, another guy that is never ever satisfied with his performance. He might have a great game and he’s looking (to improve). He may have 20 plays and 19 of them were great and he’s pissed off about the one that he didn’t play well on. And so, again, to have that leadership back to have the experience back we’re really excited. Because there’s always going to be, like I said, a lot of moving parts. So to have some of those guys who you know have been there and been in the fire, it’s certainly comforting as a coach.”
This Saints roster is always praised for its depth. How does that impact the special teams coaching staff as far as roster decisions?
(Coach Rizzi): “Yeah, It’s a great question. You never feel like as a special teams coach, you never feel like you have enough and so I guess I would say that, number one, it is a good problem because, trust me, I’ve coached teams before that you didn’t feel like you had that competition. We’re always, I’m one of those guys that believes wholeheartedly that every guy in camp should be battling it to make the end of that roster, if they’re not a starter. We impress that upon the young guys when they come in, we’ve already obviously met with these rookies and a lot of these guys already know, drafted or undrafted, that their vision or their avenue onto this football team is through special teams. When you have that leader to some of those older guys that have been there done that, it’s easy to point to some of those guys and say, hey, listen, Justin Hardee made this team on special teams, J.T. gray made this team, Craig Robertson, Deonte Harris, you can just kind of keep going down the list, Dwayne Washington. There’s been a number of great examples since and obviously since Sean (Payton’s) been here a long time, you have great examples to point to. That os number one, number two, you mentioned the discussions that take place, those battles were happening all through camp and we constantly kind of stack the board and rank positions and you are jockeying for those last couple spots. Listen, Sean is great in terms of communicating with us the vision for the player. Listen, this guy is going to be the fifth or sixth at his position, does he have a vision on special teams? If that player doesn’t, it is hard for that player to make our football team. And I know a lot of head coaches that don’t look at it like Sean, we are fortunate to be part of this because Sean’s vision is very similar and almost on the same exact page with ours, meaning if that player is not going to be an offensive or defensive starter or whatnot, he’s got to have a value and he has to have a vision on special teams. Those roster spots, that is the most exciting thing about training camp for us. We come in as coaches and I know I am speaking for Phil when I say this, that’s the exciting part, to watch the 90-man (roster) kind of get down to the 53. Now this year, there are a couple of extra spots now on gameday. That’s going to be interesting. I know the one spot has to go to the offensive line, but now you have an extra player you can activate this year and also there are new practice squad rules where you can taxi guys up and back, those rules have changed. That is going to be really a new dynamic for us as well, meaning week to week seeing those guys, not only for the 53, but for the guys that are going to be active. It’s the same conversations, week to week, once we have the 53-man roster, Sean’s the same way. Listen, this guy is going to the game, we want to see him active, we want to see him play playing, we want to know the vision. If there’s not a vision for that player week to week on special teams, he might not be active. There’s no doubt that it’s a great problem and we are very fortunate to have some depth at a lot of different positions. I think we’re deeper at some spots than others. Maybe we might be a little bit younger, but, but no matter what, I think there’s some great competition and that’s really exciting for us as special teams coach, for sure.”
What is the defense getting in Michael Wilhoite? He was with you last year and now he’s moving over to defense and getting back to kind of the positions that he played back when he was player?
(Coach Rizzi): “What do you mean? He was a special teams player (in the National Football League). We always bust his chops. He was not a linebacker (laughter). We love Mike. I think Mike is an intelligent, passionate, hardworking guy. You talk about a guy who is, I mentioned the word contagious before when I was talking about Justin Hardee. Mike is one of those guys too. He has a contagious personality, always upbeat, always in a good mood, has a real I think realistic approach to the game for the young players. The best thing that Mike did for us last year in his first year as a coach, was he mentored a lot of those younger players and a lot of those guys that were rookies, like I’ll mention like a Kaden Elliss, Carl Granderson, some of those guys that were first year players, Mike spent an awful lot of time with them. A lot of times where Phil (Galiano) and I were game planning during the week, Mike was spending an awful lot of time with those guys in meetings, watching film, going over improvements because as we all know, there’s only so much time in the week. So Mike did a really nice job of mentoring and tutoring those young players. And so he was really, really valuable. He still laughs and jokes, I’m not done with special teams because he views himself as a linebacker and special teams guy. So I know he’ll still have a little bit of a hand in with us, but I think the defense is getting a gem. I think Mike is a really up and coming young coach that the linebackers are really gonna enjoy working with. I’m excited for him, even though I bust his chops all the time that he’s a special teams guy, I know that he’s going to be very valuable to the defensive staff as well.”
Everybody wants reps, but nobody can have them, no matter what team you play for. What are y’all working on in those special teams meetings with those younger guys, either rookies, first or second year players so they can, once training camp eventually gets here, hit the ground running as best that they can?
(Coach Rizzi): It’s great that you bring that up. So when Phil (Galiano) and I first started this whole process, you’re kind of like, all right, listen, we’re going to have this many meetings. What’s our goal at the end of this so when these guys come to training camp like, what’s our goal with the rookies? Well, number one is there is a lot of rule differences between the NFL and college football and it’s particularly in special teams. I think you probably don’t even realize how many different rules there are in the different (levels), so number one is educating these guys on the rules. Our goal, okay, listen, we can’t do field work right now so what can we do to make these guys as prepared as possible when we do start practicing? Well, number one is all those rules. So we’ve really hammered and hammered and hammered home all the rule differences. That is number one, because the punt game is completely different, the kickoff games completely different, PATs, the hashes, all that stuff’s completely different. (We have) really hammered home the rules. Number two is our terminology. I like to use the phrase, ‘we’ve got to be speaking the same language.’ Every special teams coach, there might be a technique and you talk to five different special teams coaches and they might call five different things. So we want to keep hammering home our terminology to the players as well. We want to speak the same language. And then the last thing is we’ve obviously given them playbook material and the nice thing is we’re allowed to share video. We save all of our practice clips from last year, from OTAs, from training camp, our drill work and what we’ve done is we’ve showed those guys the drill work and the things that they can do on their own, the techniques. Because that’s really, special teams wise is a little bit different than offense and defense, meaning there’s going to be techniques that some of these players do on specialty that they’ve never done ever in their life. That’s not going to be the case on offense and defense, right? Receivers have run routes, linebackers have hit things, defensive linemen have gotten off the ball, defensive backs have backpedaled, but some of these guys are going to come in where they’ve never played special teams, never, maybe never in high school or college because they were marque players and now all of a sudden their way to make this team, their avenue on this team is going to be through special teams. Some of them have never taken a punt set for example. Some of them may have never covered kickoff or never played frontline of kickoff return or never rushed a punt. So we’ve showed them a bunch of the drill work that we’re going to do, and maybe they missed during OTAs. And we have asked them to do the things that we can do (and to) incorporate this into your workout, because we don’t want the first time that I am just going to give you an example, Adam Trautman, first time he’s taking a punt set and I don’t want that to be when we come back for training camp, I want him to have a bunch of punt sets already under his belt, if you will. So those have really been the three things we focused on the most. The rules, terminology and speaking the same language and then obviously getting as much of the drill and incorporate as much of that into their workouts as possible. I think so far so good. I think a lot of these guys have been really, really on top of the meetings in terms of asking good questions and even not during the meeting, I might get a text on a Friday night at eight o’clock and a guy (says), ‘hey coach, I’m looking at this and I’m not so sure what this is, can you help me out?’ I’ve had a lot of good questions, a lot of good back and forth, a lot of good feedback. That really what was our goal, to get these guys as caught up as possible in those three areas as we approach training camp.”
Kind of following up on that, are there any of the undrafted free agents that you guys, through these meetings, kind of come up with like this is somebody I really want to get to work with in training camp because I think he’s got a lot of potential to maybe potentially be like a J.T. Gray, Justin Hardee and a guy that really stands out in that unit?
(Coach Rizzi): “Sure. I’m going to give kudos real quick to our draft guys because Jeff Ireland and that whole staff, they do a fantastic job of keeping us updated on all the players that we’re kind of targeting going in. So there’s not really a lot of guys that we didn’t know anything about, meaning coming in. Not just the draft picks, but even the undrafted guys that we brought in, we all kind of had some awareness of those players. So you take a guy like (Marquez) Callaway for example, we evaluated him as a returner and possibly as a core player, Juwan Johnson that Phil worked with at Penn State and then went on to finish at Oregon. We had a lot of background with Juwan, if you will. Joe Bachie is a guy from Michigan State that we evaluated as a linebacker and a core special teamer. Those are just a couple of guys that pop into my head, but all those guys we felt, again, we have a great process, in my opinion, I think Jeff (Ireland) and his staff do an unbelievable job and are very, very thorough in the draft process, not only with the draft picks, but the undrafted (free agents). When we come in, we have a really good background and I think every guy that we target, we have that, I mentioned that word vision before. I think we have a really good vision for those players and what we think they could do down the road and how they can make our team. And that’s really the question, Jeff (Ireland) is always asking us. If we’re going to bring this guy in, give me a vision, how can this guy make our team, can he be a special teams core player? To really answer your question, I’m excited to work with all these guys because I kind of have a little bit of a background with most of them and Phil (Galiano) has worked with a couple of these guys as well in the past, and that’s exciting too, because we had some good background on these players.”
Obviously know having worked with Juwan (Johnson), I know special teams was something that he mentioned when we talked to him after the team signed him, what are your expectations from a guy like that?
(Coach Galiano): “Well, I think Juwan understands is his avenue to be able to make this team is going to be on special teams. From a guy who has been productive in college and has done it before, I’m really, really excited to get a chance to work with him and him being able to show that a guy his size that can run the way he does is physical, but also is smart enough and loves special teams enough to know how important it is. I mean, heck those are the guys you want to work with. So I think he’s got a really bright future and we’re excited to get him out there and see what he can do.”
(Coach Rizzi): “Some of you guys have covered this team for a while. You know George Johnson played for the Saints for a little bit, this is Juwan’s brother. I actually coached George at Rutgers. So I go way back with the Johnson family and I remember Juwan used to come to the Rutgers games and he was just a grade school guy. So we go way back with them, Phil (Galiano) got a chance to coach both George and Juwan so yeah. He’s a guy that we really targeted in this process and we were really hoping if we didn’t draft then we were going to be able to get him in the free agent pool and then that worked out. So again, another guy that we’re real excited about.”
New Orleans Saints
Running Backs Coach Joel Thomas
Video Call with New Orleans Media
Monday, June 15, 2020
I know the coaching staff has been working remotely this offseason, what have been some of the challenges that you’ve been finding considering the position group you work with?
“Well, you’ve got everybody on both sides of the country first of all. So you’ve got to make sure the time works and then for the guys on the West Coast, if we’re going at 9:00 then, hey, we’re going at 7:00. Honestly, they’ve been great about it whether it’s East Coast, West Coast. Obviously, guys have their workout schedule, things like that and everybody has been pretty much working hand-in-hand with that stuff. I’ve got stuff going on at the house here (even), so (for example) one day the internet got cut out and you’ve got to figure out where to go to do that. But other than that, I would say given the fact that we really do not have a test, a baseline for what we are doing here, it has run pretty smoothly.”
You talked about the guys being scattered all over the place, your group is still a pretty veteran group. Alvin (Kamara) has been here, Latavius (Murray) is coming off a year here, but he’s been around the league a while, even Ty Montgomery is a guy that’s been around the league for a while. Does that help knowing that you have guys that are out there doing the work on their own and you don’t have to watch them as hard?
“Absolutely. Really up until when our OTA phase two is going to start, they’re going to be on their own anyway so we’re really away from each other for about a month, maybe a little bit more. They’re pros, it’s their job, especially with the two guys that have the most experience in the room with our organization. You stay in touch with them and they’re doing the right things as far as working out, they know how to take care of their diets and follow the plan. Now you throw in like Dwayne, this is his second offseason going with us, Taquan Mizzell, this is his first offseason going with us, (Michael) Burton, this is his second, but he was not with us the whole year. So you have those vets at the top and you throw in Ty Montgomery who’s been around a couple teams and teaching him our language. Those are the things that need to be caught up here as soon as we can all get together here in July hopefully, but they have all been on point. I got a text from a couple of them today (saying), ‘can we go at this time just so we can review some things?’ Like I said, I have got a really solid, high character group that I love working with.”
Talking about some of those veteran guys like Kamara and Murray, what have your conversations been like with them and what are your expectations for them this year?
“With those two guys, it’s not so much teaching the playbook like I am with some of the other guys. It’s more so of, alright, here’s where we’ve got to tweak, do whatever we have to do to keep polishing our game up that maybe we lose some of those reps during the OTAs. That really starts back at the beginning of the offseason when we review the film and look at the things that we did well and the things that we need to correct and get a little better so we can be a better offense.”
Ty Montgomery has displayed a versatile skillset throughout his career, how do you see him fitting into the offense?
“I’m a fan of Ty Montgomery, yes he’s on our team, but I was (familiar with him) before he got here just because he can do everything that is required within our playbook. Obviously, he has a route running skillset that he had in college at Stanford. I coached against him when I was at Washington and he was at Stanford so I was very familiar with him as he came into the league, but he’s got the ability to run routes. When you look back at it, he has only been a running back for five seasons so that is where I see the piece of putty we can hopefully mold into what we want him to be within our offense. I love the versatility out of the backfield. We can line him up in empty. We can put him back there as a single back seven-yards deep. I don’t think he’s gonna be put in a single position and that’s what he does. He’s along the lines of maybe a (Travaris) Cadet, maybe a little better running body just because he’s 220 pounds. Pierre Thomas, obviously Pierre didn’t have all the route skills coming out of college, but (he was) a solid running back. The meetings I’ve had with him, he is smart, obviously Stanford educated, but he’s smart, very coachable, I like what he’s bringing to the table as far as what we’ve got with this signing.”
If Erik McCoy is able transition to guard, what would getting his athleticism at that position do for the running game and the screen game?
“I love Erik McCoy. I think the guy missed a couple snaps during the whole course of the season so I know he’s dependable, he’s tough and if that’s the case and he does end up playing guard I think you’re going to get a physical mauler at that spot that’s got a year under his belt. He’s not going to be thrown into the fire as far as being a first time out there playing a new position. I think he’s going to be okay. As far as the screen game, he’s got athleticism where he can get out in space and make some adjustments which is exciting. Obviously, in the screen game though, it’s an all-encompassing package. It’s not just one person that’s going to make this thing go. We’ve got to do a great job as far as our timing, understand the player in front of us as far getting out in space and understand his techniques as well.”
Alvin (Kamara) sometimes will post a video of his workouts and it looks like they’re kind of outside the box. I was curious on your thoughts on some of the things he does during the offseason to kind of prepare himself.
“I think what he does as far as some of the training, it’s things that push him that maybe a normal player couldn’t do or maybe do to that level. I always likin him to where he’s kind of a cat, where he’s always landing on his feet. He’s always trying to find ways to tweak and find a way to be cutting edge, yet it’s something that’s going to make him and our offense better. I enjoy getting the videos and all that stuff every once and a while of all the things that he’s doing to stay on that level. Now, obviously, the coaching is like, ah, let’s be smart now about what you’re doing, but he’s a guy that knows the limits, where to push them and when to back it off as well.”
(Alvin Kamara) has eluded a few times to how much pain he was in last year playing. Just just being able to watch that and seeing what he went through, does anybody have any idea of kind of what he went through to play every week?
“No. He’s the one that knows exactly what he went through, but I know this, he wasn’t 100 percent the entire season. There was a point to where, whether it was a back, a knee, an ankle, whatever it was, he battled through it the best that he could. I know at times people took it as something else, but the guy is an ultimate competitor, he wants to be out there to help the team and help us win, bottom line. His 75 percent might be someone else’s 100 percent and that’s why he’s out there trying to play and put his best foot forward.”
With somebody who’s had as much success as Alvin has had in his first three years, going into year four, how do you challenge him to continue to be better? What’s kind of the message for him?
“I think the message, there’s obviously not a lot of challenges, obviously we’re going to keep on pushing, but I think he wants to put forward a better season than he put forward last season, plain and simple. That’s the true sign of a competitor, they’re either happy with what the last season was or they want to keep on getting better. I know in his heart and in his mind, what he put out wasn’t 100 percent him all the time as far as his best football. We always have videos as coaches that we can go back and teach off of and review. Veteran players are reflective and they look at how they play, they know when it’s been great and when it hasn’t been up to their level as far as the output. That’s the first thing, we’re going to continue to review the film, where can we get better and then obviously when we get back out there, whether it’s a new scheme, whether it’s polishing up just a traditional outside zone scheme on what we can do better as far as the runner, eyes, decision making, landmarks, all those little things. That will come about when we get back into camp.”
Probably before the injuries started piling up for him, those first four games I think he was breaking a bunch of tackles and things like that, was that kind if emblematic of where he actually was last year?
“I think the Seattle game, obviously Teddy (Bridgewater) made his first start, we were in a very hostile environment and that was vintage Alvin Kamara football, that game. I can put on, whether it’s in the pass protection, whether it’s a run, whether it’s a reception, whether it’s a make you miss out in space, whether it’s a make you miss in a tight box, running through defensive ends, he did it all, making linebackers miss. That was a complete game as far as his performance in that game and I’m willing to bet if you talked to him about that game, he would still find something that he might have been able to do a little bit better to have even more output. I think up to that point, he was healthy and rolling. That’s what we expected, that’s what he expected for the entire duration of the season and obviously things popped up and didn’t allow that to happen.”
When you’re in that first year of the running back rotation that you had last year with Alvin and Latavius (Murray), does it take a while to understand their rhythms and how they work together and that sort of thing and can you actually use that to benefit this year?
“I think we will be able drop and go back to last season and the pace that it took to get those two going on the same level. Obviously with the injury where Alvin missed a couple games, our hand was pushed to play Latavius a lot and he played outstanding. He played outstanding all season long. What everybody was so accustomed to was the style that Mark (Ingram) had and then you bring in this runner that almost looks like a tight end at times as far as his height and his size. That took some getting used to, but I think the so called yin and yang with these two now is something that we’ve got a good grasp on and obviously Latavius earned every bit of his playing time that he got and he did a solid job of stepping in when his number was called and then obviously working hand-in-hand with Alvin when they were both healthy.”
I think we can assume you miss the personal interaction with players and coaches and being at the office, but when is the last time you’ve been able to spend this much quality time at home, and have you developed a daily routine?
“First of all, I’ve never been at home this long (laughter). We all look at the situation that’s going on and you try and find the bright lights that you can draw on. I’ve got an eight-year old and a seven-year old. And it’s been great. I’ve been able to cook dinner every night. I’ve been able to tuck them into bed every night. I’m involved with – (little league) baseball’s been going again now, so I’m way more involved with that. Just the little things that you might miss. And our offseason is good to where I’m around a lot, but it’s been time like no other being around these guys. And to go back on what you said, I got into coaching because of the social interaction, and the hands-on work, and the ability to coach and develop, and to have the daily talks. It may not be about football at times. But that’s a part that we all as coaches, that’s built into us and we are chomping at the bit that the time comes that we can all be together and focus on the 2020 Saints.”
To piggyback off of that, we’ve talked to some assistant coaches and they’ve said one of the positive things to come from these virtual meetings has been able to be more detailed and meticulous. Is that something you’ve experienced with some of the running backs this offseason?
“Well, we don’t have the ability to physically demonstrate certain things, so you have to be on point with your words. You might say something, and in all these calls, I might be talking with a video running where they cannot see my face. They see the actual play. So I am sitting there describing something with my hands or with my feet or whatever, so I have to come back and retrace and show them again. And really, that comes into play with the newer players that are involved with Tony Jones and Ty Montgomery. Maybe what they hear is a certain zone step or footwork, they may notice something else from a previous place. Whether it’s with the Jets, the Ravens or with Tony (Jones Jr.) with Notre Dame. So you have to be more detailed and more on point, not that we weren’t at the office, but you want to make sure that when we come back in there, we’re all on the same page.”
What are some of your early impressions on Tony Jones Jr.?
“I reflect back to the last conversation we had when we were going over protections – he’s pretty smart. Smart football players find a way to get on the field early. Now that being said, you have got to compete and show it with the pads on. But I like his size right now. I think last time we talked he’s in that 223 range. He’s got a little bit of a thump to him. I think there’s going to be things that, you know, when we get going here in camp (that we have to work with him on). I think we’ve got to develop his hands a little bit. Nothing that’s detrimental. And then obviously the pass protection (we will work with him on). What was asked of them previously (in college) and what probably (will be) asked (of) them here in camp would be a little bit more, but I like the attitude. I like what he brings to the table, as far as the intelligence. And you know he has played at a high level as far as football goes (at Notre Dame). So I don’t think he’s going to have this, ‘All of a sudden I’m in the bright lights of the NFL.’ Who knows (where he) stands for his first game. But I’m looking forward to getting him out there in the field and seeing what he brings to the table as far as helping our group out.”
In your own words, what’s kind of the importance of that fullback position in the offense, and was it important for you all to bring back guys who have experienced in the offense after Zach (Line) retired?
“First of all, we use it (more extensively than a lot of other teams). Obviously we find different ways to use that position come gameday. Because we can carry an extra tight end (to serve some of the blocking duties). We can carry a fullback. There have been times we haven’t addressed that before or whatnot or (John) Kuhn in the past. But when they’re on the field, we’re always looking for a guy that if we’re lead blocking, and we look for a guy that’s going to clear a hole or widen the hole and that’s where Zach excelled. He did a great job. He gave it to a strike point, he’d strike the other stinger, he’d roll his hips and you would cover guys up and remove them. With Mike (Burton), when Zach retired, we knew Mike was out there and he was the target. He was having a good OTA, good training camp until you got hurt. And then boom, the competition was gone because we were really optimistic about what he could do to push Zach. And then obviously he had the injury and it forced him to sit out most of the preseason and obviously we had to only carry one (fullback) at that time. So yeah, I felt it was important to get a guy in here that’s familiar with our offense and coach (Sean Payton) and (Director of Pro Scouting) Terry Fontenot did a good job of getting him in. And at the same time, he played well for Washington when he did play. He did a solid job and felt that the player that was on film from Washington was the one that we saw during training camp. And then at the same time, you know, Ricky (Ortiz), he stepped in there for a couple of games and the guy came in and he played a significant amount of playing time having really no practice. He was on scout team the week that he came up when Zach’s injury sidelined him for the season. So Ricky is still a young player that is developing at the same time, so it will be a fun battle when training camp gets rolling.”
Do you think there are any elements to this virtual off and that you think might carry forth in future years that might make your job a little easier?
“Well, you have to refer to Sean in that one. I mean, obviously, yeah, for us with the virtual offseason, it gives us a little bit more time to kind of prepare as far as the install tapes, and also opponents. I mean, you know, we know our schedule now, we got Tampa, we got their stuff on film. We got the Vegas Raiders there as well. So it allows you a little more time to where, you know, those two hours that you’d be practicing during OTAs, you really have to look at next season’s opponents or do research on other teams that you’re looking at schemes that they may be doing offensively as well.”
Just one more on Alvin. I don’t know if we actually touched on this, but is he motivated by the way last season went for him, just with the injuries to kind of show that he’s a better player than he was in the field last year?
“Absolutely. That’s all the players. You either get better or get worse. That is always been something I’ve known as a player and a coach and something I preach and you don’t always stay the same. And I know deep down that he’s going to eat. He’s going to put his best football out in front of him. And, you know, that was the goal of season ago, two seasons before that, and when he walked in here as a rookie, that he was going to show he’s better than what we saw when he played his last year of Tennessee. So, it’s, when you start kind of sitting back on your past stuff that, any player, any coach, any anybody in the business world then you’re getting comfortable and that’s when stuff goes a different direction.”
What have you thought of Alvin’s new interest in NASCAR?
“I think it’s awesome. In conversations in the past, I’ve done Indy cars when I coached at Purdue and it’s a whole different world as far as what we do football-wise. I haven’t talked to Alvin yet since he’s gone to the race, but I imagine obviously he had a little more VIP treatment as far as the track, the ability to get behind the scenes and see the tactics and everything that goes into a race, instead of just watching on TV and you see cars going around in circle. Because that is the furthest thing from what you really see on TV. So I’m excited to talk to them and see what his take is on it, but I’m sure he had a blast.”
Just one quick follow up on Ty Montgomery in case I missed this earlier, but when you look at how he’s been used in these last couple of stops, do you see a running back? I know he came in as a receiver. Or do you see somebody who kind of can be sort of positionless and move around on th offense?
“That’s exactly – I see a Swiss army knife, so to speak. I mean, it’s, how are teams going to view him when we start putting personnel out there? How are they going to view him when we put Alvin out there? Are they going to treat it as a nickel package and they didn’t go dime with it, treating them as wide receivers? Well, that’s something we’ve got to see is how he’s going to be viewed as well. But, I see a complete (back) in all aspects, as far as the run, pass, catch, the ability to block. The worst thing we could do right here today is, is sit there and pigeonhole and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be put in this position and that’s it.’ Something that Sean (Payton) talks about all the time is our job as coaches is to find out what they can do well, and that’s what maybe we haven’t seen something on film because he hadn’t been put in a situation with these other teams that hopefully we can maybe dig out a little bit more and find out just hopefully that he has not touched the ceiling, that he has got more room to grow, which we feel he does.”
Having used Taysom (Hill) in the way you guys have the last couple of years, does that kind of force you to look at every player that way? Or is this something that always happens?
“I mean, Taysom my thinking is like the ‘Aha’ moment. Like here we go, as far as, um, the ability to do a lot, almost everything. Everybody jokes, I’m just not going down that road, but, you know, with, with Ty, and I think any player, I think we’re always trying to find a way to really get the best out of that person, whether it’s Ty lining up in the slot, Ty lining up in the gun, Ty lining up in the backfield, seven yards deep. Things we do with Alvin, I can see Ty coming in and hopefully challenging Alvin in some of those spots as well, making competition there as far as some of the route running stuff.”
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