Saints Injuries: Lattimore back to practice, Gardner-Johnson sidelined Thursday

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CJ Gardner-Johnson
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The ebb and flow of the Saints injury situation continued Thursday.

Top cornerback Marshon Lattimore was limited in practice despite having thumb surgery earlier this week but nickelback CJ Gardner-Johnson went from limited Wednesday to not practicing Thursday.

In all, seven of the nine Saints listed on the official report did not practice.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers has every member of their 53-man roster practice in at least a limited capacity.

The Saints visit the Panthers for a noon Sunday matchup between the NFC South rivals.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Position

Name

Injury

Wednesday

Thursday

LB

Kwon Alexander

Elbow

DNP

DNP

DE

Marcus Davenport

Shoulder

DNP

DNP

DB

C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Knee

LP

DNP

LB

Chase Hansen

Groin

LP

DNP

DE

Tanoh Kpassagnon

Calf

DNP

DNP

C

Erik McCoy

Calf

DNP

DNP

LB

Pete Werner

Hamstring

DNP

DNP

CB

Marshon Lattimore

Hand

DNP

LP

DB

P.J. Williams

Back

DNP

LP

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Position

Name

Injury

Wednesday

Thursday

DT

DaQuan Jones

Groin

LP

LP

T

Taylor Moton

Groin

LP

S

Juston Burris

Neck

FP

FP

S

Sean Chandler

Hamstring

FP

FP

G

Pat Elfein

Hip

LP

FP

G

John Miller

Illness

LP

FP

WR

Shi Smith

Shoulder

FP

FP

New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Is it fair to say that the threat of the deep ball with Jameis Winston like the one he connected on with Deonte Harris, does that create more space for you guys to operate going down the field?
“Yes, I think as you look at one of his strengths you would say is his ability to push the ball downfield. As teams are preparing that’s something that they are paying attention to.”

What goes into the deep ball, it’s more than just arm strength?
“Absolutely, I think it’s technique, comfort level during the week of practice working with the guys, but a lot of it is fundamentals as well.”

How different is that meeting where you guys go through plays the night before a game amongst the quarterbacks without Drew as the starter and Jameis the starter now?
“I think that obviously you go into the meetings with the same approach and go through specifically what we are putting in for our plays and the defense you are getting ready to see and the adjustments. The approach as to the material you are presenting, routine and process, that doesn’t change.”

Is that where you tailor what the quarterback feels comfortable with?
“Absolutely, I think even as you finish, otherwise, there might be things coaches go through with Jameis. You say you have these plays, let’s narrow it down to the ones that he feels comfortable with during the week and you’re putting in the plays that not just him (feels comfortable with), but the guys on the field and their skillsets as well.”

As you become more familiar with Jameis and he becomes more familiar with the system does the process become more streamlined?
“If you go through the installs at training camp, work through those, trying to find out schemes that he likes and fits our personnel, the process starts at training camp.”

Being down a few coaches, how different is the preparation process this week with the offensive players?
“The biggest difference, Sean (Payton) talked about it, is that we have groups meeting together as opposed to breaking into individuals. There’s always a process of being together and breaking up, now it’s just more guys staying into one room to go over the coaching points.”
We didn’t really see Caesar Ruiz working that much at training camp focused on working at guard. What did you think of him on Sunday?
“I think that it was early in the game where he had to move over. Coming out of the game, it didn’t feel like it was a guy that you were talking about throughout the game, doing well and feeling good about him and the way he played and his communication.”
With Erik McCoy taking calling some of the protections with Drew Brees retired, how much work did Caesar have with that as well?
“It was helpful to receive reps in the process at training camp. He’s next to Erik (at right guard) seeing how that works and Jameis does too (have experience with Caesar).”

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Thursday, September 16, 2021

You guys have played against Christian McCaffrey in past years. What kinds of problems does he present?
“A multitude of problems. Number one he’s a really good runner of the football, specifically on the outside, zone schemes, stretch schemes. I think he does a really good job of staying on course, putting his foot on the ground and finding seams in the defense. That’s probably the first thing you think about and then secondary to that, you think about all the mismatches he can create in coverages and his ability to create in space. It makes it really challenging. You can have all the schematics you want to have to take this guy away, but at the end of the day, they do a good job of trying to find ways to get him in one on one matchups and create challenges for the defense.”

When Jameis Winston threw that 55-yard touchdown on Sunday, generally speaking when there’s a deep threat you have to account for, how does that change things for a defense or defensive coordinator when it’s a legitimate possibility?
“I think everything when you start looking at your gameplan defensively, certainly you’re thinking about how you are taking away certain threats, how you are defending a certain scheme, but the first thing you are thinking about is how am I going to eliminate explosive plays. Certainly explosive plays can come from short throws to really good athletes and then create a majority of the game in a run after catch situation and certainly if you’re just having to worry about that, there’s ways you can deploy your defense, defenders underneath, but all of a sudden when they have that threat to throw the ball down the field, you have to defend the first, second and third level of the field and that makes it more challenging on the offense for the defense on all three levels.”

Eliminating explosives was you felt a priority last week, how did you feel about your communication in the back end?
“I thought the communication for a first game was outstanding. I think it’s a product of having a lot of carryover and a lot of different positions. We have really smart players and they understand the game yet they also understand what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play defense. That was big for us in that game and its certainly good we faced an explosive offense that gets the ball down the field and we had to be good in that area.”

Is there any surprise in the confidence with Paulson Adebo given that he didn’t play last year?
”It’s a little bit of a challenging question to say you are surprised at the confidence. You don’t really know the player until you get the opportunity to work with him and certainly he has a lot of confidence in his ability. I think he’s done a great job of coming in and picking up the system and scheme and what we’re trying to do. So he understands what we’re doing. He understands what his responsibility is in this defense, so now he can let his natural ability take over. I can say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the progress that he’s made. Certainly anytime you can take the production we’ve gotten out of him in two preseason games and one regular season game, I think that’s positive. The big thing for him is to realize this is a 17-game season and that’s just one of 17 units and the challenging thing for young players is can they put those consistent performances back to back to back for a whole season.”

We saw a little bit of Tanoh Kpassagnon playing inside on rush downs. What do you look for in a player when you’re looking for that inside-outside flexibility. What do you look for out of them to put them in that position?
”They come in all different shapes and sizes. Obviously for a player to be able to do those types of things, one they have to be a smart football player that can understand concepts and be able to take things from the meeting room out to the field and be able to apply those concepts on the field. I think in all of our people that we ask to rush the passer, we’re looking for athleticism and length. That’s something that…When I say length I’m not always saying someone that’s 6-5, 6-6, I’m talking guys that have long arms and can keep blockers off of them. The vision for Tanoh when we brought him in was of someone that could play end for us, could also slide inside in some sub down situations. I think you guys know what we do enough that we’re always looking for guys that give us the flexibility, ends that can play tackle, tackles that can move outside to play end, safeties that can play in the slot and the nickel, corners that have versatility, but we’re always looking for guys that have that.”

What advantages do you guys have from that three-man front?
”I think it gives us number one, when we put these DBs on the field, it gives us flexibility in coverage and then number two when we put those guys out there like that, when you put four defensive linemen out on the field, they’re always going to identify those four and they’re going to make sure they get those four blocked. When you go with an odd package, it just creates an extra step for them to figure out exactly how they want to block it and who they want blocking who.”

New Orleans Saints Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Thursday, September 16, 2021

What are your impressions of Blake Gillikin after his first regular season action?
“I can’t say I’m surprised, I honestly worked with him the last couple of preseasons, offseasons, I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing. His biggest thing has been staying consistent. He had the first one that wasn’t that great a hit and he comes back on the redo and has a really good punt and obviously the first one we that one downed at the five-yard line. He was really good in college at that as well, getting those balls inside the 20. I can’t really say I’m really surprised. The only thing you are really concerned about is obviously that it’s his first NFL regular season game and you’re always worried about a rookie, any rookie in that circumstance or situation, but he’s pretty even-keeled guy, really good temperament but looking forward to continuing to watch him grow.”

We were wondering if he would even get to punt?
“That’s definitely a good problem (laughter). I don’t think we’re going to worry about that. No question, as a rookie, you want to get the first one out of the way.”

Is an even keeled personality something anyone needs as a specialist?
“I would agree. It’s one of those things where you can never get too high, too low. It’s the old adage, you’re as good as your last play. If it’s a good punt, bad punt, you really have to stay flatlined. That’s a good temperament to have. It’s really what he’s like. He’s not an excitable guy, but at the same time he’s not going to get really down on himself. He’s a pretty intelligent person. All those things for him are a really good makeup.”

When you’re scouting punters on hangtime, what are some of the traits you are looking for?
“It’s interesting. The college scheme is so much different from the pro game. Most fans don’t understand that. The rules are so much different in college because you’re allowed to release as many people down the field as you want. People ask me all the time why don’t you do the college formations and rugby punts. It’s really the rules. There are very few teams that do a pro style punt and so it’s a long answer to a short question. It’s hard to evaluate these younger players these days. Same with the snappers, because they really aren’t playing in a pro system. The first thing you look for is the talent, the distance to drive, hangtime, all that. At the same time situational punting in the NFL is something that’s overlooked. Downing it inside the five yard line can lead to a turnover and those are important plays, things we’re looking for as well, directional punting, situational punting, being able to get the ball out in a certain amount of time. In college you can hold onto the ball longer, those rugby punts. It’s harder for special teams coaches to evaluate these special teams guys, meaning the snappers and punters. There’s no combine this year, you can’t go work guys out. It really makes it more challenging. The college film can only take you so far and then once you get a player in your building, you start to work with these guys and develop them in a pro setting. It’s definitely a challenge.”

New Orleans Saints Running Back Alvin Kamara
Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, September 16, 2021

Is there a guy on the team who you feel could play both ways?
“Chauncey (C.J. Gardner-Johnson) could probably play a little slot receiver. I’m just thinking about his traits. His ball security might be terrible, though.”

What about Taysom Hill? Does he have to stay on offense, or could he play defense as well?
“I think you have to keep him on offense. If you put Taysom on defense, he already does everything on offense, so I mean, would he play the 3-technique? Cornerback? Linebacker? Safety? I don’t know. Maybe safety.”

Why can’t you play defense?
“The tackling thing…y’all saw me try to make a tackle on Sunday when we threw a pick in the end zone. It’s like “I got one shot” and if I miss, then I don’t know. I don’t think I have too much time to be chasing people down. I am not about to chase me, not chasing anybody. I don’t want to.”

With the threat Jameis Winston presents throwing the deep ball, does that open things up for the rest of the guys on offense?
“Yeah, of course. Anytime you have a quarterback that can push the ball down field, defenses have to be aware of that. It opens things up a lot and creates space for us to navigate underneath and get the running game going. It provides another option. Anytime Jameis gets the opportunity to throw it deep, he’s itching for it. Obviously, it’s within the framework of the gameplan. Our defense also loves (Winston’s) ability to (throw the deep ball) because that gets points on the board. It’s great to have.”

Does that change things for you, possibly having to run the wheel routes a little deeper now?
“Oh yeah. He (Jameis Winston) can really throw it, so it changes some things for me.”

What’s the impact of being down a couple coaches this week? Does it make things more difficult than usual?
“Time don’t stop for no man. I think the coaches that are out are more stressed than us. Those guys are on my line trying to make sure we’re good. Of course, we miss them at practice, but we have to keep moving. I know they are trying to keep themselves sane by talking to us and making sure we are on point with everything, but the show goes on. It is like the next man up mentality. Coach (Zach) Strief is in there doing his thing, Coach (Jermon) Bushrod, RC (Ronald Curry), DJ (Williams), all those guys are stepping up (and) coaching. We just have to keep moving.”

We’ve seen a lot of your work as a businessman, what made you want to get acclimated in the business world so early in your career?
“I think I have always just had that itch from when I was younger, just always being curious about it. I also wanted to explore different avenues and different ways to create revenue and help the community to impact other people’s lives and families. I’m just trying to give other people opportunities. That is the main thing on my mind, just giving people opportunities they didn’t think they could have or could not ever imagine having. Right now, my mind is going about 100 miles per hour about stuff I’m doing right now and things that are in my head that I want to do. It’s incredible what you can do when you put your mind to something. I think that I have been blessed in that area to go where my heart wants to go and try to branch out and do different things I felt like weren’t attainable when I was younger. Now, I get to shoot my shot, go for it and hopefully it sticks. If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board and try to draw something back up to make it work.”

It seems like the last couple years, it feels like you’ve had injuries on the offensive line, but you’ve never skipped a beat. What do you think is behind that?
“I think we have the best offensive line in the NFL. All of those guys are always ready. Erik (McCoy) goes down and Cesar (Ruiz) hops in and acts like he’s been playing center the whole time, but he has not taken a snap at center (in a game) since last year and he does not miss a beat. Guys come in and move all around the line. Maybe not Terron (Armstead). We talked about him playing right tackle today and he did not like that. Those guys come in and take pride in being able to adjust and go with things on the fly. They’re the foundation of our offense. Without them, we don’t really have anything.”

It seems crazy that you haven’t played Christian McCaffrey in a football game since 2019. When you go into a matchup against another superstar running back, does that add a little more juice to a game like this?
“Not really. We’re cool. Obviously, we know each other. I always get this question about other running backs in the league and who I think is the best, but honestly, it’s just respect. I don’t want to see him do well against us because I want to win, but I love and respect Christian’s game. We came in the same draft class, and he does some incredible things. Hopefully, I can lend an ear to the defense on how to stop him, but I don’t think that would work. I’m not really in competition when we’re playing them (Carolina). When he has a good play, I’m usually running down to the defense yelling “y’all can’t let him do this”. He’s an elite player and he’s going to make some plays. Hopefully, I can do what I have to do too. I’m not too worried about what he’s doing. Great player, though.”

New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Deonte Harris
Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, September 16, 2021

What’s it like running a deep ball route with Jameis Winston as your quarterback?
“It’s different. No disrespect to Drew (Brees), but a lot of the deep balls last year weren’t active. You kind of knew you might not get (the deep ball) on a play, but with Jameis it’s always an option because he can throw the ball deep down field. It’s always about being ready for it because you never know (when it’s coming).”

Did you figure the deep ball play was coming and you just had to be ready for it?
“We knew we were going to run that play depending on the coverage. Obviously, I’m always active, but once I saw that safety cut, I knew (he was coming to me). He told me on the sidelines, ‘just be ready, you never know’”.

How beneficial is the offseason work you put in with Jameis? How much time goes into hitting one of those deep routes?
“Any extra reps are always good. Obviously, we get our work in during practice, but for us to be in the same location in the offseason to get timing down, the routes and concepts we want so we can maximize our time during training camp and during the regular season.”

You got to return one punt the other day, but Green Bay kicked the other two punts out of bounds. How frustrating is it for you when punters kick the ball out of bonds away from you?
“I mean, it’s boring considering that’s how I started my career. Hopefully other teams don’t have that same mindset where they’re trying to kick it away (from me). Hopefully they’re trying to have their players make plays. It’s definitely frustrating and annoying.”

Do you respect that teams are already doing that at this point in your career?
“Oh yeah, definitely. I definitely feel like I have my respect, but I wish they didn’t respect me so they would kick me the ball.”

How do you feel your game has evolved since you entered the NFL?
“It’s just about me understanding the offense. The first year I really struggled, my second year I got into a rhythm but got down because of injury. But now, working with Jameis and understanding why we do certain things, talking with Coach C.J. (Curtis Johnson) in the offseason, getting that extra mental work so that when I came in this year I was ready to go.”

I remember talking to CJ (WR coach) the first two years where every coach wanted to get their hands on you. Have you been able to focus more on the offensive side of things?
“Definitely. Obviously, I have to work with catching punts and kickoff returns, but after the catches, it’s god given ability. It’s about me focusing and locking in on route concepts and learning the offense.”

How are you guys handling this week without CJ in the WR room?
“It’s just more adversity we’re going through. We’ll still talk to him every day. He’ll text us and we still FaceTime him going through the game plan. Obviously, we want him to be back and healthy.”

Was Coach Curry (QB coach) mainly spending time with you guys or is it more of an “all-hands-on-deck” approach?
“It’s more all-hands-on-deck. Usually after practice we’ll go meet with the quarterback, but it’s been every position now besides the offensive line, so it’s really been all-hands-on-deck.”

You mentioned struggling in your first year, how much trouble did you have learning the offense and what specifically gave you trouble?
“It was the terminology. I came from a college (Assumption) where we didn’t have play-calls like this. Everything was just signals. For me to come here and have to learn a whole new playbook and terminology system was difficult for me considering where I came from. I wouldn’t say the physical part was a struggle, but the mental part was.”

How important was it for you to add that receiving element to your game?
“For me, it was a need. I did not want to be labeled as just a return-man. I felt my ability could be shown more with the ball in my hands on offense as well. I just wanted to help the offense whichever way possible. I felt my job was to do more than just be on special teams.”

We have seen you run deep balls in the past. Has your role changed this year compared to the past with running less jet sweeps, short passes, and things like that?
“I have a combination with them just trusting me more and being able to get open. I think they wanted to give me more to see how I could handle it. So far, I’ve been able to handle (the responsibility). Hopefully, the further we go, the more responsibility they give me.”

New Orleans Saints Center/Guard Cesar Ruiz
Virtual Media Availability
Thursday, September 16, 2021

How challenging was switching to center mid-game on Sunday? It looked like a seamless transition.
“It was easier than I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t really time for me to think about it, it was about going in there and doing what I had to do.”

How much did that change things for you switching to center? Why did you think it would be a challenge to make that switch?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it would be difficult, it was just that I hadn’t played center in about a year. I hadn’t done it, so I was wondering what was going to come up and what wouldn’t. All my rules (from guard) transferred over. All camp, Coach (Dan) Roushar told me to prepare for a situation like this, so I was prepared.”

How much work had you had at center during training camp and during the game how many snaps did it take for you to snap back into (playing center)?
“I didn’t have any center reps in camp. Really, it was the first play that snapped me back into playing center. I didn’t have any time to work things out. It was just getting in there and going to what I had to do.”

Do you think it was best for you to not think about it and just go in there and play the position again?
“Yes, especially in a game like that and situation like that. The last thing you want to do is come in the game and be thinking too much, especially in a situation like that. I just was like “let’s do it”. I couldn’t think about it, I just had to go in there and do my job.”

What was in your mind getting those five or six practice snaps with Jameis Winston before that first play?
“Believe it or not, the official only game me one snap. One was enough. What was really going through my mind was “let’s go”. That’s all it was. I wasn’t thinking about anything, I was just playing my football and going to do my job. The only thing going through my head was “let’s go, let’s do it”.

How is that transition, though, from guard to center as far as calling out reads and having to make snaps?
“As many of you know, I’ve been snapping a football for a long, long time. Snapping is just muscle memory at this point. It’s just natural. My main responsibility was making my IDs for the protections and making sure I played them correctly.”

Was that transition from guard to center something you guys have worked on in training camp in the event that Erik (McCoy) did go down with injury?
“That’s what coach told me, just be ready to play center in the event something does happen to Erik. I knew in the back of my head that if something had happened that I’d go in and play center. It wasn’t like a surprise that I would have to go in and play center. I knew something had happened to Erik and it was time to move over and play center.”

Was Erik McCoy in your ear a lot during the game? How much have you leaned on him in this transition?
“This week I’ve been talking to Erik as much as I can and trying to get as much information as I can out of him. During the game, Erik was in the locker room, so it was really just me talking to the other guys up front and making adjustments there, seeing if everything was cool or if we needed to fix some things if something was off. Things were all good.”

Where do things go from here? Do you work full time at center or are you splitting time at guard and center?
“I’m just going to do whatever I’m told to do. If they tell me to play guard, I’ll play guard. If they want me to play center, I’ll play center. Whatever they want me to do is what I’m going to do.”

What was it like shifting your mindset from spending all of your time focusing on the guard position, only to switch back to center five plays into the season?
“My goal was to improve overall as a football player, but overall, as a guard as well. I was ready to show my hard work at guard and show people everything I did to improve. Before you know it, I was right back at center. After the game, my teammates and I all had a laugh about it, but I was really just out there having fun.”

Did the guard preparation help you on Sunday? If so, how?
“Yes, it did. Really, just understanding the guard assignments helped so I could know to tell them the different combinations when I went back to center. It was not a whole lot of thinking. The rules carried over as far as technique-wise. Obviously, it’s different playing center than guard but a lot of stuff carried over as well. It was a quick transition and I just ran with it.”

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