Saints have all players available at practice Wednesday ahead of playoff game vs. Panthers

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Limited Practice
DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle)
T Terron Armstead (thigh)
WR Michael Thomas (hamstring)
TE Josh Hill (shoulder)
CB Justin Hardee (foot)
G Senio Kelemete (knee)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion)


Did Not Practice
S Mike Adams (rest)
DE Mario Addison (hip)
WR Devin Funchess (shoulder)
DE Wes Horton (rib)
DE Julius Peppers (rest)

Limited Practice
DT Vernon Butler (shoulder)
T Matt Kalil (illness)
C Ryan Kalil (shoulder)
QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)
RB Jonathan Stewart (back)
LB Shaq Thompson (foot)

Full Practice
S Kurt Coleman (ankle)
TE Greg Olsen (foot)
G Trai Turner (concussion)

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

Conference Call with New Orleans Media

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How much does playoff experience matter? Do you feel that the experience of someone like Drew Brees, makes up for the overall youth of your team?

“I think playing in big games matter. The experience of doing that, a lot of these younger players kind of played in this BCS series, it is that same type of environment. Certainly Carolina has a team with a lot of experience with just two years ago being in the Super Bowl and I think we have a handful of players (with playoff experience). But I think it can be a factor and yet I think the preparation and the attention to detail, those type of things are most significant.”

You have nine players from the 2013 playoff team? Can you talk about changing up the roster continually and having a mix?

“It happens with intention in the offseason where there’s turnover and teams change from year to year, you guys know that. It’s moreso now that ever. Then what’s also interesting is to track in-season change, in-season roster change as a player goes to IR another player comes up and another player goes to IR, another player comes up. And the practice squad. There’s a moving unit there and if you just said ‘hey it’s 53 roster and it’s 11 practice squad because we receive the exemption with the London game and the London player (Alex Jenkins). And then you started at the beginning of the year and you actually charted week by week the 53 and then week by week that practice squad, you begin to see that the numbers would be more in the 70’s or 80’s on the active at one point or another and the practice squad’. I think that’s somewhat common and even leading up to this playoff game. Everyone’s listening thinking do I want to take on that project (laughter).”

With all the turnover on defense the last few years, how do you weight the benefits of getting guys who haven’t gone through the struggles with the negative of having to get new players up to speed?

“That’s a good question because we discuss that probably a lot. The player in the building or the player outside the building and that’s the comparison a lot of times. Is he in here on our practice squad or is he not in here? Can he help in the kicking game? That would be a pretty typical Monday or Tuesday discussion with some roster spots.”

With the knowledge of Carolina, do you have to keep guard of them doing some things differently the third time around?

“I know we know as a staff as we’re watching film and particularly watching film of ourselves, I know every bit of film and every hour we spend watching film, Luke Kuechly’s watching the same film as diligently. You have to have plays that begin looking like something you’ve done, and that are something different (at the same time). In other words, if you line up in a similar formation two or three times, even in a game, he’s that in-tune and is such a good communicator to (Thomas) Davis and to Shaq (Thompson), he’ll yawn at some of your formations if you don’t create some disguise and backfield depth. Every iota of your formation has to be looked at clearly, so that he’s not leaning one direction or another.”

How does prior experience of players help in the preparation of the coaching staff?

“You lean on some of your experience. You lean on your leaders. We’re routine-driven so we got assigned a Sunday game, it’s an afternoon game. Players are in here today on Wednesday and it’s that time of the year where things elevate. The sense of urgency, the clock’s ticking, here we go and yet there are parts to what you’ve done that remain, (and you) keep intact. But I think once the flow of the game gets started you understand that the prior two games really have no meaning on this one. This starts a different (game). The teams are different. Both teams are different than they were in the prior two games.”

How significant an addition for this game for Carolina is Greg Olsen who didn’t play in the Week 13 game?

“You’re talking about one of the better tight ends in the game. Not having him is significant and having him is huge. I think he’s smart. He’s tough. He blocks for the run. He enjoys competing and quite honestly, he does so many little things well in regards to zone or man that (on) third down or red zone, pick a situation, it’s just significant.”

Now being in the playoffs are there any traits of Alvin Kamara that remind you of some others in your offensive systems?

“That is a good question. He runs so differently than some of the others that I have coached. He is unique that way. His feet really do not leave the ground. He has some patience to his decision-making. He has this deceptive quickness when he hits a hole. I cannot say that there’s someone that comes to mind when it comes to his running style. Even the kick return is set up in a way and blocked very well. Mike (Westhoff) and those guys have done a nice job and when he hits it at the right time, mind you that official on the sideline is running just as fast as him and I made sure he heard that from me when you were feeling pretty good, there’s a sideline judge right there that look like he was gaining on you. But I think it is a fluid motion that there is not a lot of wasted movement. I don’t know that I can recall. You might have to give me a few days here.”

Drew said that his balance was similar to Pierre Thomas and explosion similar to Reggie Bush? Is that fair?

“No, it’s different. There is an explosive element to it. I understand that Pierre was hard to knock off his feet. There’s a run at Carolina that if you can get to the coaches end zone copy he scores late in the fourth and I’m talking about Alvin now. Look at the coaches tape. Look at the end zone version of the coaches tape. When you watch him get hit in the end zone, it shuts off and you can’t tell if he went down or not. Then you go back to the wide angle and watch it because you think that there’s no way that he’s not knocked over and he finds a way to keep his balance. Pierre had good vision that way. But they’re just two different players here. Three different players really.”

In your opinion is Alvin Kamara the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year?

“Number one, my opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to the awards. I certainly think he’s made a case with his game. I couldn’t tell you who the competition is even. I know there’s a bunch of good, young rookies in this class. I’m glad we got the ones we got. That’ll all take care of itself.”

Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera

Conference Call with New Orleans Media

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

When playing a team that you are this familiar with, how do you balance things you are good at doing versus guarding against things that are too familiar?

“A lot of things that you have to look at are things that you had success with and things you didn’t and try to figure out why. Then try to correct those things. You are going to do what you do and they are going to do what they do. There may be a wrinkle or two but for the most part they are going to do what they do. So again, go out there and understand what you had success with and understand what you didn’t and make your adjustments from there.”

How much does having Greg Olsen in this match-up change your offense?

“Well, we do some things with Greg that we didn’t get the chance to do when he wasn’t with us. Those will be the bigger differences.”

How much do you think you missed him (Olsen) in the first two games against the Saints this season?

“Well, we miss him but again we still got outplayed by Saints.”

What are some of the things that Greg brings to your offense?

“We know Greg is a pass catching threat. Good route runner and has good hands.”

Do you think playoff experience is overrated?

“I think there’s something to it and I think we sometimes get caught up in something like that. Again, they have got some guys that have been in the playoffs and they have some guys that have been to the Super bowl. I do not know how people will interpret it or look at it, but they have some very experienced guys and a very experienced coaching staff. So, I think both teams have guys that haven’t experienced it yet and our job, the veteran players, the guys that have been there, the coaching staff, the guys that have been there it is our job to make sure that everybody understands what playoff football is all about.”

How much does playoff experience for coaches matter?

“I think it is important as well. I don’t think it applies to either coaching staff, because we have all been there and again Coach Payton has taken that team to the Super Bowl and won it. We have gone to a Super Bowl and unfortunately we didn’t win it. For the most part, we are pretty much the same group and I think Coach (Payton) still has pretty good group of guys that are with him when they went.”

On the flip side, of you guys having Greg Olsen, the Saints are going to have (Marshon) Lattimore back who didn’t play in either of the Saints-Panther games as well. How does he change their defense?

“He is really one of the good young and upcoming corners in this league. The guy has had a terrific season, and when he is healthy and on the field he is most certainly somebody you have to be aware of as far as what they are going to do and how they are going to do things with their defense. It gives coach (Dennis) Allen another weapon to feature out there and what he wants to do and the way he wants to do things.”

What took you by surprise on the way the Saints played in week three against you guys?

“Honestly, nothing. You have Drew Brees. Let’s not forget they (Saints) have a first ballot Hall of Famer. The dude is special. It does not matter if they are 0-2 or 0-5. They’re going to come out and are going to play well just because of who he is, it was a divisional game. I really expected them to come out and play as well as they did. I took nothing for granted as far as that football team is concerned. I really think they are very well-coached. I think they have some really quality personnel.”

Do you think a late season performance is indicative in any way of how a team will transition in the postseason?

“I think a team is going to play way the way they practice. A team is going to play the way they gain momentum. A team is going to play the way things happen and unfold in a game. If they are well-prepared, I think they will play well. If not, they won’t. It is just that simple. I mean, you go out and you look at the opponent, and you have to give credit to the opponent once in a while as well. Not necessarily whether you played bad or not sometimes you get beat by a team that played well.”

Do you think health can be indicative of going .500 in the last six games?

“Oh, very much so. I think health plays into a lot of things. I think it changes a lot of things that happen. But again, sometimes it is dumb luck, sometimes an unfortunate play or two that happens against you. So again there are a lot of reasons to go through games and determine why things happen, why they won or why they lost. I would say this to, and I mean this. Nobody should have sold Tampa Bay short. We watch how they did things against Atlanta, the way they played against us (Panthers) and the way they played against New Orleans. I promise you, those guys at Tampa Bay wish they had about five more games left to play. They’re playing very well. To sit there and say, New Orleans has not played well, maybe the team they played against played pretty good.”

Why do you think your team has been inconsistent at times?

“Making plays and missing opportunities. I think that is a big part of when you have a loss. You are going through and you can break the entire season down. We had opportunities to win games. New Orleans came in a beat us pretty good the first game. Then we turn around and win a game. Then we come back and play Philadelphia and have a chance to win. We had a chance to win all the way down to the very end. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We didn’t make the play. We go to Chicago and we have two turnovers that go for touchdowns. I mean who would have thought that. There are a lot of things that go into what happens. There really is no one reason. That is why we do film study in terms of breaking games down afterwards and try to find answers and see if we can get those things corrected.”

Would you guys take confidence being that you guys beat two of top three teams in the league?

“No. I don’t think that is overplayed. I think that is a reality, but at the same time we are playing against a team that has beat us twice. We again have to play well. As I said earlier, have to figure out what went well and improve on that and (figure out) what went wrong and correct that.”

New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees

Media Availability

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

You guys have had significant roster turnover since 2013, the last time you were in the playoffs. Is that a necessity in the NFL, the turnover? I think you guys have only nine guys left from that team.

“I don’t think it’s a necessity. We lost a lot of guys after that 2013 season. Guys that had been here for a long time, guys that had been great leaders for this team, and really a mainstay for this team. A lot of those guys had been a part of the 2009 championship run and, certainly, the 2010 and 2011 playoff teams as well. We went through a bit of a roller coaster ride in 2014 and 2015, obviously, with the roster turning over and just trying to find ourselves again, reestablish what we had built when Sean (Payton) first got here in 2006. I think that’s what was realized. We need to go out and acquire the right type of guys and really value character, toughness, and intelligence in the way that we draft and the way we go out and look at free agents. That’s really been the process over the last two years. You look around the locker room, and you see those types of guys, and it’s why we’re successful.”

How special is this for you after the last couple of years?

“To be playing, to be in the hunt, to be making a run, absolutely. This is great.”

Did you have enough time to look at film with what you had earlier this week?

“Yes. Absolutely. I’ll be prepared.”

What was it like for you emotionally starting this week off?

“It was, obviously, very sad with the passing of my grandfather. I really came back energized from the last two days. Just being with my family, and with friends, and with guys that played for my grandfather, and just listening to their stories again. Just reemphasizing to me what a great man he was, and what a wise man he was, and just a true American hero, but not only that, he was my hero. I learned so much from him and it just reemphasizes all the important things in life, and the values and morals that I want to live by not only in the way I conduct myself as a family man and in the community, but also as a member of this team. It was a powerful few days, obviously very sad at times, but also incredible just to remember his life and his legacy.”

Did you try to put football aside for a few days?

“No. I brought what I needed to bring to prepare. In-between, I did what I had to do to prepare and get ready.”

When you play the same team three times in one season, how much do you need to shake up patterns?

“With division opponents, there is a level of familiarity because you’re playing each other a lot. We have all been going against each other for a long time, but in these games, there’s wrinkles on both sides. You always try to prepare for, or at least have the ability to make adjustments on the run when you need to. They are a very good football team, they’re a very good defense, they have a lot very good players, (they are) very well-coached. For us, it’s do what we do, do it very well, execute it to perfection, and make the plays when you have the opportunities.”

Is Luke Kuechly as good at that cat and mouse game with you as anyone you’ve gone against?

“He is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever seen, been around, or had the chance to go against. Yes.”

When you look this team’s film, they have wins against New England and Minnesota and they’ve had some tough losses also. Is it consistent when you look at it? Is it inconsistent with what they have done and how they have done it this season?

“I think, overall, they’ve been pretty consistent. I think every team, just like us, you could look back on a few of those games and wish you would’ve done a thing or two different or felt like there was a play or two that would’ve made the difference. The bottom line’s we are here now, we are both in the playoffs, we’re hosting them, and it should be a good game.”

Do your third down conversion rate numbers make sense to you as research it this year? This offense seems to be efficient in a lot of areas, but that hasn’t played out on the third down numbers.

“I’m not going to make excuses. I think that if I pulled up all the third downs, I could certainly pick out one or two in each and say, ‘that was one we should have made’ for whatever reason. If we make those, tack on the percentage points and we would be the number one third-down offense in the league, which is where we are used to being. There’s some instances in there where it’s third and 15 and you’re on the plus-40, your mindset is, ‘let’s make sure we get in field goal range.’ It’s not important to get the first down here and risk getting knocked out of field goal range or we took a knee, in victory (formation), on third down. I’m not worries about that third down either. There’s a few of those where if you tack those on it looks a little bit better, but the bottom line is I’ll focus on the ones that I know from game to game (where) there was one or two that we should have had there. Obviously, when you talk about attention to detail and room for error, when you get into the playoffs, you want to be as efficient as possible in those areas because that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

You talked a lot this year about still not playing that perfect game or at different times of the season. When it comes to you specifically and the passing game specifically, what’s something that you feel hasn’t been perfect yet?

“Again, just like third down, you can turn on the film and say ‘I feel like that was a play I felt we should have had’. That gives us an extra first down or gives us an extra seven points or three points or whatever it might be, possess the ball for another five minutes. Those are the things that again you talk about playing as close to perfect as you want to play those are the things you want to make sure you’re hitting on.”

First home playoff game since the 2011 season, any expectation for the atmosphere this Sunday?

“I’m sure it’s going to be crazy. Our fans know what a difference they made in that Atlanta game. Obviously we stressed the importance of that. I don’t think I need to stress the importance of this one. I think our fans know and I think they’ll be ready.”

What do you tell the rookies on your team that are doing well and this is their first playoff game? How do you help them get ready?

“You tell them it’s all about the preparation during the week. I think they felt, they got a taste of what that atmosphere can be like from a few weeks back with that Atlanta game, just the importance of that and where it put us in the division. So we’ve got a great group of veteran guys, great group of leaders. That’s been communicated throughout the week and will continue to be as we get ready for Sunday just the importance of preparation and how that carries over to gameday and then what it’s going to be like on gameday.”

You mentioned the roller coaster after 2013, you know your window is closing naturally since you are getting older. So how much of a sense of urgency has there been for you and how do you make that a priority and not dominate all of your thoughts?

“I approach every game the same way. I prepare like every game could be our last or it’s a playoff game or I have something to prove, that I’ve got an edge. So it’s not like ‘oh the playoffs are here so let’s ramp it up. Things are a little more important. It’s always important, so for me the preparation is no different.”

It seems like obviously a simple concept. The run game and the defense are a quarterback’s best friend. Is this sort of the year you’ve been waiting for or hoping for where you only needed to throw for 4,400 instead of 5,400?

“It sure is nice. Does it change the way I prepare? No. Does it change my mindset going into the game? No. It is just when you add up the number of throws, I do not know what it was, but it was probably my fewest attempts in a long time…If you take away five, seven, ten attempts a game and those are going to the run game, that means you are doing something right in the run game. It probably means that you are playing good defense because you’re not in a position where you have to throw the ball and make big chunks. Still, my mindset doesn’t change in regards to preparation. Or the efficiency at which I want to play at. I still think positive plays. I still think taking care of the football. All those things but I think at the end of the day, what has it done for me? It doesn’t force me to take as many chances.”

How are you a different player now than say maybe 10 years ago? Is it the mantra older but wiser?

“Yes, I think so. Just the ability to manage a work week, understanding what is really important. There are certain things like I spend a lot more time taking care of my body now than I did 10 years ago. That’s just means I have to be uber-efficient with everything I am doing in the classroom, with the film study. I know how I learn the best. I know what I need to do in order to put the days’ worth of work behind me so I can move on to the next day’s installation. Yes, older, wiser, more efficient.”

Why do you think the week three game against the Panthers seemed to be a turning point for you guys?

“I think it validated a lot of our preparation up until that point. It’s disappointing to start the season off 0-2 and listen to you guys tell us about our 0-2 start. But we knew that we were just that close. So much closer than I think that most people give us credit for. And you just needed the validation of going out there and getting the W as a result. Really I think there was like a two-game stretch there, we were on the road and then flying to London and there’s that Miami game, then the bye week and it’s like ‘all right we rattle off eight in a row’. I think it is just the confidence to know the process is good. We’re doing something right here. It’s something to build on.”

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