Six players once again sat out practice for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday ahead of their home game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The list includes running backs Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Jed Collins (toe), offensive tackles Charles Brown (left knee) and Zach Strief (right ankle) and defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins (knee) and Corey White (right knee).
Meanwhile, the Saints are trying to focus on ending a three-game losing streak and finishing what feels like a lost season on a strong note.
"This is not Drew Brees. This is our football team," said Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt on Thursday about the struggles of this star quarterback. "The only one that has been a shortcoming on this team is me. I've got to do a better job preparing our football team. When we lose, we lose as a team. We don't point fingers."
Any finger-pointing by Vitt is directed at the NFL itself. He remains firm that his players - specifically the four who were suspended before they were overturned in appeals - did not intend to injure opponents as accused.
"To the day I die, I'm going to defend the intent of these football players," Vitt stated.
Vitt was fiery in his response to the bounty saga as it stands, proclaiming that perjury charges in court will be the end result for those he says lied about the actions of himself, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and players (See full transcript below).
Meanwhile, rumors that Sean Payton has been discussing the chance of having his suspension lifted before the Super Bowl have been debunked by the NFL. League spokesman Greg Aiello says discussions are internal at this time.
Former Saints defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, who offered key evidence to NFL investigators as they worked to uncover proof of a pay-for-performance bounty system within the New Orleans organization, made his first public comments on the case in the form of a letter sent Thursday morning to former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Post-Practice Media Availability
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Opening Statement: "Charles Brown did not practice today. Corey White did not practice today. Malcolm Jenkins did not practice today. Zach Strief did not practice today. Chris Ivory did not practice today and Jed Collins did not practice today. Today was our third down day and defensively Tampa Bay is going to give us a lot of different looks and some unique pressures that we have to deal with and make sure we are making the correct mike identifications on what they're doing. They're going to come with five and six man pressures and they do a good job of attacking protections. Offensively, they're still doing a great job of protecting the quarterback. This quarterback has great field vision. They have big play receivers on the outside lanes, so that's going to be the challenge. Our ability to win on third down is one of the earmarks of this football team. Number one, ending an opponent's drive to get the ball back to the offense and then offensively extending drives to enhance our field position. So, we're going to have to win that battle for a chance for us to compete on Sunday."
Do you have any thoughts on when a story came out yesterday where Gregg Williams said he tried to stop a pay for performance program where you wanted to keep it going?
"Yesterday I was asked that question and I said specifically I wasn't going to answer a question yesterday, because we knew that the scuds were going to come. We knew that there was going to be a leakage of information and it was like clockwork, like 60 Minutes, the thing ticking. But we knew that this was going to come out and here it comes. It's here and it's a shame. Number one, in my testimony, I was never asked that question, whether or not I wanted to keep a bounty program going. I was never asked that question. I was told that accusation was made and I volunteered at the time in front of commissioner Tagliabue to take a lie detector test that afternoon to deny that allegation. So, if anybody's keeping a scorecard here, let's take a look at this. I said back in April in my first interview with the press and the media that at no point in time did our players cross the white line with the intent of injuring, maiming or ending the career of another player. That never took place. I testified before a federal judge with my hand on the bible. Now what's going to happen now? All participants in all these accusations are going to go to a federal court and they're going to go to a judge and from top to bottom she's going to hear testimony and the penalty for perjury with her is going to be jail time. So let's stop. That's the scorecard right now. Our players have already been cleared by three bodies of work; Judge Berrigan, a panel of three judges and Commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue. Myself, Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) did not have that right. Now until the day I die and I think I'll be able to find six pallbearers, I'm going to defend the intent of our football players. I am going to defend the integrity of this organization and the high moral standards that our Owner (Tom Benson) hold us all to and that's just the truth. With that I think that I've covered all bases."
Is there anything you and Coach Payton can do?
"What I and other coaches can do is do what we love to do and try to find a way to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's what we can do. I'm responding to an allegation. And tonight there's probably going to be another scud that's going to be launched over the bow and tomorrow our response will be quick and exactly like we're doing today. These can go back and forth or we can go back to football or we can keep talking about this every day. I've already served my time. Mickey's already served his time and to be quite frank with you I don't know what door to knock on on Park Avenue to get my reputation back. But again, I'm going to defend our players, I'm going to defend this organization and I'm going to defend our Ownership."
Is there anything you and Sean Payton can do in regards to Roger Goodell?
"There's nothing. It's history. Now, we're all (going to be) before a federal judge. That's coming. The one great thing about this country is that the truth is going to prevail."
At any point were you or are you considering civil action?
"I'm not going to talk about that now. I really do want to talk about football. I think my comments are as clear and as black and white as they can be. Like I said, we'll hunker down and wait for the scud to come in tonight, something to discredit me."
How much of an advantage will you have if Sean Payton is reinstated prior to the Super Bowl?
"It's huge. Sean's the head coach of this football team. Every player, coach and member of this organization misses him. The spark that he's going to give us and leadership he's going to give us...We're talking about a man that's already won a Super Bowl and he's got Hall of Fame credentials. He's got the chance to be the fastest coach ever to reach 100 victories in the history of the National Football League. His body of work and credentials speak for itself."
Are teams doing everything they can to take Jimmy Graham out of the game?
"They're doing a good job. They're chipping him as soon as he comes off the line of scrimmage. Nobody's giving him a free release. I think Jimmy has really come on the last four weeks. He's gaining some confidence. He had some early season injuries that were nagging him. Nobody works harder than Jimmy Graham at practice to be the elite player that he wants to become. He had a great workout today. He has a great attitude, a great future in this league and on this football team."
Were these things not happening previously?
"Absolutely. He established himself last year as a premier go-to tight end. He is in everybody's game plan now to disrupt him off the line of scrimmage as often as possible. Pete's (Carmichael) done a real good job of moving him around. You see him more on the outside lanes lining up to get a matchup on corners and things like that and it's new for Jimmy, but he's really done a good job with it."
Is there anything you can do as a coach to help Drew Brees with a rough stretch?
"Drew knows the respect we have for him as an organization, from a players standpoint and a coaching standpoint. This is not Drew Brees. This is our football team and the only thing that's been a shortcoming on this team has been me. I've got to do a better job of preparing our football team. When we lose, we lose together. We don't point fingers around here and we'll never do that. I need to coach better. We need to rush the quarterback better. We need to defend on third down better and everybody needs to play better. When everybody plays better, Drew will play better too. But, no, there's nothing I can do for him except to be there for him. We give positive reinforcement around here, not negative criticism."
How do you separate Tampa's pass defense and run defense?
"If you look at their film, you wouldn't think that. Number one, they are stopping the run with a seven man front and a shell safety, their two-high look. I think they do a really good job of disguising their coverages and I think that there's been some quarterbacks who have made some outstanding tight throws on that secondary. Their secondary does play with real good technique. They're physical and they tackle well. So, I think that's (pass defense rankings) real misleading. It's not like they're playing in eight man fronts and just giving up the pass. I think there are some things that have happened to them that have been unfortunate, but I think they're playing pretty damn good."
Where have you seen Akiem Hicks grow the most?
"I think number one we see a big athlete that we know is going to play in this league and can be a disruptive pass rusher. I think all young guys in their first year get to that Thanksgiving, Christmas time of the year where their college season is over and it now becomes the grind here. It's going to be his ability to finish this marathon and understand what it takes to finish the season and what it takes to work through December to get to the next level. I think we can all see the size, athleticism, one-two and the disruptive pass rusher he can now be. He's really in the growing stages of a marathon season that he's never been through before."
Has he exceeded expectations based on where he came from?
"I said it on the day we drafted him. Mickey (Loomis) and Rick Reiprish did a great job of stacking the board where we were going to pick. We had his name on the board and earmarked five days before the draft. All of a sudden that's the guy we thought would fall to us. Now, you do an exhaustive search on film. Now the film was tough to watch from Regina College. You try to go back and see as many all-star games as you can and do as much background information as you can (get). We were excited about drafting the player, like we said. I don't want to say he's played beyond our expectations. We expected this of him. I think that people that looked funny at us when we drafted him aren't looking funny at us anymore. He has earned the right and respect of his peers."
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