New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
“I think as we talk about the end of our OTAs now, the intent of our players has been outstanding. We’ve got a lot of stuff done. We’ve got our first and second down package in with all personnel groupings. We’ve got the third down package in with all down on distances, which is something that we missed last year due to the lack of OTAs. We got into the red zone, into the tight red zone where we worked exclusively the past three days. We’ve got our short yardage packed in, we’ve got our 22 personnel package in that we use in the middle of the field and today we got to the goal line. When you take a look at everything that we have gotten in during these OTAs, it’s been outstanding. The teaching has been great. Our coaches have done an outstanding job at evaluating the personnel that we have on our team, what’s their strength, what are their weaknesses. We’ve got our training camp schedule really finished now, just knowing the players that we have and what we’ve got to work on. It’s been outstanding. I think the biggest setback that we have had so far in these OTAs was the injury to Greg Romeus. He was just running down the field and his non-surgical knee gave on him. He’s got an ACL and an MCL and he is going to miss the next six to eight months. This kid has really worked hard. The whole team and the whole coaching staff feels bad for him, but this is part of the game. This kid has put in the time, the effort, and he’s got to go through the whole process again. But we’re going to be there for him and support him. Chase Daniel hit his throwing arm thumb on a helmet the other day. We could describe this as a sprain but he’s got a little hairline fracture. He’s not going to be able to throw for the next two-and-half weeks. He’ll be ready for training camp. He’s fine. There is no surgery involved. He is in a splint. As we take a look at our roster we started this thing with Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod being limited in a lot of the things they could do and they are full go now so that is very, very encouraging. As we look at our roster right now there are going to be two guys that are not ready at the start of training camp. That is going to be Jonathan Vilma, which we knew and then Greg Romeus. Everyone else will be ready for training camp. We will need some guys back here in New Orleans over the next couple of weeks to get rehab, but we are progressing great with that and that is exciting. I would end with this - I think Sean (Payton) would be very, very proud with this coaching staff. I think Sean would be very, very proud of the job the support staff has done from the trainers to equipment men to the cinematographers. When Sean left here there was one mandate - do your job. And these guys have definitely done their job. We’re not only excited about what took place and happened in the OTAs, we’re really, really looking forward to getting to training camp. This might be the most talented football team that we have had since we’ve been here. Now the mandate is going to be to put this thing together and move forward.”
Sean Payton spoke many years ago that you legitimized this staff at a time when he was having a hard time forming a staff in 2006. Can you talk about what that means to you?
“The reason I came here, number one, for the first time in my life I felt like I could make a difference with a city that was underwater. I had known Mickey Loomis for thirty years and I knew what his core beliefs were. I first started working with Sean in 1997 so I knew what his core beliefs were. I’m not going to tell you that when we first got here it wasn’t scary. It was. We were running in and a lot of people were running out. That first year in ’06 we brought together a football team and took them to Millsaps in Jackson, Miss. We were there for five weeks because we had nowhere to come home to. We were horrific in training camp. I think our final preseason record was 1-3 and we didn’t know how many games we were going to win. Drew (Brees) couldn’t throw the ball back (very far) then, it wasn’t until the fourth preseason game (that his velocity increased). We went to Cleveland and won a game. We go to Green Bay, we’re down 17-3 with three turnovers in the first quarter, come back and win a game. And then come home to reopen the dome on a Monday night against Atlanta. It just kind of fell into place then. At the end of the season we’re in the NFC Championship, we’re 11 minutes away from going to the World Championship. When I look back on this journey, this is the best job I’ve ever had. I don’t like the food. I can’t eat the food. It just doesn’t sit well with me (laughing), but I love the people. The fans here are great. The passion for football, the resolve of this community, this is the best place I’ve ever lived. This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. So looking back on this, it has been one the best decisions I have ever made.”
What reaction are you getting from the fans now that you are the guy on televised press conferences like this, in substitute for Sean Payton?
“Listen, I wake up in the morning and come to work. We’ve been working late here the past couple of weeks. I go home and watch the History Channel, because I don’t watch ESPN anymore and I go to bed, so I’m not getting much feedback.”
Were you scheduled to have another OTA tomorrow?
“Yes, we are going to have a team activity tomorrow. We are going to see how far some guys can drive a golf ball. We do it every year. It’s something that Sean (Payton) did. We’ve done paintball, go-kart riding, so we’ll end with a little team scramble tomorrow.”
What do you tell your players as they get to enjoy some time off for the summer and what’s your feeling at the end of OTAs?
“We had that discussion at the end of practice today. What has happened to this football team is unprecedented. If we are going to do something that has never been done before then we have to do something that has never been done through the offseason. We’ve got to come back in the best shape that we have ever been in. The commitment has to be stronger than it’s ever been. We’ve got to do a good job as coaches making sure that we’ve got the proper evaluations and making the proper play selections and ask our players to do things that we can do, but our players and coaches know exactly what we are up against. This is going to be a challenge and they know it.”
Was tomorrow a scheduled outside activity, did you surprise them or did they know it?
“I just told them. It had been scheduled.”
What has Johnny Patrick done over these past couple of weeks to show that he is ready?
“I think that when defensive backs come in as rookies, they have historically made their biggest jump from year one to year two and you can really tell that with defensive backs. Johnny has come back in great shape, he has really come back and learned a new system for the second time in two years. He’s got confidence. You can really see his athleticism. He has outstanding ball skills and he’s come back in here to win a job. The maturity level of him is on the rise. He understands what is expected of him and he has earned the respect of his teammates, which every rookie in here should try to do and he’s done that.”
Any regards to what will happen when you are not here at the beginning of the season and do you think that it will be an easy transition?
“I don’t think that there has been anything that has been easy this offseason. I don’t expect that to be easy. I don’t think anyone around here thinks that it is going to be easy. To this point, we have not talked about it. It’s like I told you guys that the beginning of OTAs, we wanted to have great OTAs with great teaching sessions. We wanted to have great participation by our players and when this phase is over we will get into the next phase of training camp. That evaluation process will take place. Mickey (Loomis) will make that decision with Mr. Benson who best suits the needs of our football team, but that has not been discussed yet.”
Is the team going to announce soon if the Saints will be going to go to New England?
“I got a fax from Bill Belichick this morning. We are taking a look at that. I think that is something that will be decided in the next 24 hours.”
Can you evaluate some of the guys that you have drafted, such as Corey White?
“We like him. He has good balance, a second gear, and good eye coordination. He’s done a really good job of grasping the system so far.”
How about Andrew Tiller?
“I think if you talk to Aaron Kromer he is going to tell you that this is the best crop of offensive linemen that we have had since we’ve been here. He likes their mental capabilities, (and they have) good balance. These guys know this and I know this because of the nature of the OTAs right now that evaluation process is going to mean a lot more when they get the pads on. But so far those offensive linemen have done a good job. We are proud of them. Aaron is really happy with them.”
The defensive line has really come along, how is Cameron Jordan?
“I think that Cameron (Jordan) is one of those guys that is in his second year in the league, so we are going to see a huge growth spurt with him. I think that when you put him into a system like this that growth spurt can even be more. The evaluation process for the linemen is not as clear-cut as it was a year ago because of the CBA. You’ve seen the maturity level with Cam, his attention to detail, and interaction with teammates. He has done a good job at picking up this system too. We’re expecting big things out of him and I don’t think that he is going to disappoint us.”
How much of an accomplishment would it be to win it all this year, despite what everyone has been through?
“All we can do is evaluate and be realistic about where we are right now. Everyone knows what the goals are. We are going to take one game at a time and when we get to that game we are going to take one snap at a time, one possession at a time, one quarter at a time, one half at a time, and one game at a time. Then you take your body of work, group it together, and see where that leads us. And if it leads us where we all wanted to then that will be a great accomplishment. If not we will all be disappointed. I don’t know how else to tell you that.”
I didn’t see Darren Sproles out there, was he excused?
“He was excused. He had to do something with his foundation. It was excused when Sean (Payton) put out the schedule.”
Can you talk about David Hawthorne and what he’s brought to the table so far?
“He’s been pleasantly surprising. When we evaluated him on film, we evaluated him as one of the top linebackers in the league as a middle linebacker. When you saw his foot speed, knee bend, pad level, his plays on the perimeter and then his plays versus the pass, and now when you get to meet him in person going through the process you really like the person. You see him digest a new system like he has over the last six weeks and really becoming a great communicator in that system and detail his work. This is icing on the cake. You’re always rolling the dice on stuff like that. David has been everything we’ve thought he’d be and then some. He’s done a great job for us. He loves football.”
What is the timetable on Jonathan Vilma?
“That’s tough to say. I think he’s made as big of strides in the last three weeks where he’s to the point now where he can do some jogging. I think that’s all positive and I know he feels good about where he is. With Vilma, you have to keep the reins on him because if there’s a game tomorrow, he wants to play in it. If there’s a game in the parking lot, he wants to play in it. We have to be smart with him, but he’s made great strides. I’m not sure that I can accurately give you a timetable on him, but he’s getting better.”
Can you talk about Zach Strief coming back?
“Zach (Strief) is fine. Zach tweaked his ankle a little bit the other day. He wanted to practice, but we didn’t let him practice. He’s fine. The offensive line is intact and they’re ready to roll.”
Now that OTAs and minicamp are over, do you feel like you have a better grasp of handling coach Payton’s duties?
“I have a better grasp, but I have a long way to go. I’ve got to get better. I have a real sense of responsibility to this football team, coaching staff and our organization. I’m going to work to get better every day. I think I know our football team better than I’ve ever known it because I can stand back and watch and interact a little more with the offense than I ever have before. We’re integrating a new defense. I’ve got to get better at that.”
What are the pros and cons of the new CBA rules in the offseason?
“I think the pros are this – there’s a lot of physical contact in football games and they play 16 of them and if you can get to the playoffs and get to the final games, you’re playing 19 or 20 of them. I’m in full agreement with the helmet-to-helmet contact in the offseason, as long as everyone is doing it and complying with it. The downside is the evaluation of offensive and defensive linemen. The downside is that maybe you have to change the structure of your protections a little bit earlier in the season to protect your quarterback. But I’m all for it. We’ve come out of this thing (healthy), besides Greg Romeus. Our guys are healthy and ready to go. We’ve gotten better and I’m all for it.”
Did the rules prevent you from doing anything you wanted to do?
“You guys have all seen practice before and you’ve been out there. We’re more conscious about helmet-to-helmet contact. I don’t think the practices are as quick or as crisp because of incidental contact that you have to look out for. These are things that we’ll have to integrate when we get back to training camp with the pads on, but we’re being conscious of it and we are going to stay within the guidelines.”
Did it place a bigger emphasis on installation?
“Not really. We decided our installation and teaching progressions are going to stay the same. They’re going to stay the same as long as Sean is the head coach here. So no, it really hasn’t.”
Do you spend less time with the linebackers due to your increase in responsibilities?
“I’d say this because I try to keep track of it - over the course of all these OTAs, I’ve probably had about a total of an hour less than I would’ve normally had. When I get to training camp or when we get ready to go into training camp, I’ll have my schedule down that my full time will be with the linebackers. This is kind of a practice period for me also. I’m looking forward to coaching. It’s going to be exciting.”
Is that still important to you to have as much time as possible with the linebackers?
“It’s important to me and it’s important to this football team. That’s what I am. That’s what I do and it’s what I love.”
Are you still confident Drew Brees will be here in late July?
How often do you talk to Drew Brees?
How big of a difference will the average fan see with defensive players approaching how they play defense based on the schemes you have?
“We think we’re going to make a big improvement. I think you’re going to see more of a pressure package with zone behind it, whereas before when we had a pressure package there was man coverage behind it. Number one, the quarterback has to diagnose what type of zone it is. Is it a two-deep zone? Is it a three-deep zone? Is it a roll-up zone? I think quarterbacks can obviously identify man coverage quickly and know where to go with the ball. Now they have to get the ball there. With these zone pressures we have now, they can come from all different places - open or closed. You can bring a safety or linebacker. You can bring two linebackers. Now, they have to diagnose the coverage, which gives you a little more time to get to the quarterback.”
Do you think this will be the toughest team to make at the end of training camp?
“I think so. We won 41 games over three years and 14 games a year ago. It’s already a tough team to make. I think our personnel people have done an outstanding job with the acquisition of talent that we’ve brought in here with (Curtis) Lofton, David Hawthorne and (Brodrick) Bunkley. With the draft, I think you saw Nick Toon making catches out there today. This is going to be a tough team to make and it should be.”
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