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From the Coach’s Office: Saints Rookie Minicamp 2013

One of the neat things I get to do now as part of the media is access to opportunities that are not available to the general public. It is called "media availability" where you can witness practice, talk to players and quiz coaches.

Watching practice is something I looked forward to and from which I could gain some information, more than the average media person. Even without pads, if you know what to look for, you can ascertain the progress of players.

This is especially true in a mini-camp. The number one quality that a player needs to demonstrate to the coaching staff is the ability to learn. Can a player take instruction from a meeting in the classroom and take it to the field? How many on field repetitions does it take for a player to be able to perform a task on cue?

A pupil's learning is also an indication of the quality of teaching. The teaching must be specific and the learner must be able to take verbal and visual instruction in meetings and put it into three-dimensional action on the field.

The Saints scheduled a media session Saturday, May 11 beginning at 10:15 with a viewing and shooting period for 30 minutes, interviews with Head Coach Sean Payton and assistants, and an open locker room session for player interviews. The entire session would be over by 1:15.

I had my questions ready, especially for new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. How does he designate his front seven? Is he going to play right side/left side or flip-flop personnel? How does he number his techniques? Is head up on the tight end a six or an eight technique?

At Dallas, Ryan utilized a Nose Tackle and two Defensive Tackles as his defensive linemen. His linebackers were Sam, Mike, Will and Joker. The secondary was two corner backs, a strong safety and a free safety. Is he using the same terms here?

For Payton: With your season-long "sabbatical," especially after teaching your system to a youth team, have you improved, simplified or modified your communication system?

The next availability will not be until May 23 during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at the Saints' facility in Metairie.

There were 70 players in Rookie Minicamp composed of eligible Saints veterans (players that have not amassed an accrued NFL season), rookie draft picks, rookie free agents and veteran and rookie tryout players.

Friday afternoon, May 10, it was announced that the Saints cancelled their media availability. We now have more information and video of the Green Bay Packers than the New Orleans Saints. Why would the Saints cancel a scheduled media session? I can only guess.

One reason could be that the players are not getting the instruction quickly enough. If coaches constantly have to pause and reiterate to the players what they are supposed to be doing, a lack of learning is being displayed. This can be because something is not being introduced correctly, or the players are not picking things up from the installation.

Installation in pro football is different from lower levels. The system is going in and you have to pick it up quickly. It has been described to me as trying to drink water from a fire hose. So much information is thrown at a player that it can be overwhelming. Every young player will achieve what I term "brain lock" where no matter what you do, nothing else is going in. The idea is to touch on everything, and then you will later commit things to memory through repetition.

Learning is not necessarily sequential. It is cramming at its finest.

If I can't witness practice and ask questions I can only go on my experience, observe what was done in the past on video and interpret those actions. This involves actually studying events on video; a somewhat rare event in the media. That is my niche in this business. If I cannot get direct answers, I can study and intelligently analyze results through video.

I will either get the answers directly, or I will determine the answers through analysis.

First round Kenny Vaccaro appears to be an excellent choice. The Saints need to improve the athleticism of the team, especially on defense, especially in the secondary. If you go to YouTube and view his Sports Science workout, you know the defense has acquired a great athlete.

In today's pro football, a safety is a specialized position and not just a corner that is too slow to cover. A great safety not only helps the defense deep down the middle, but helps make the players around him better. He has the ability to make the corners and linebackers better.

Think of this: All great defenses have a great safety. I do not know if Vaccaro is going to be a great player, but he improves that position greatly.

Terron Armstead, the offensive tackle from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, is an interesting case. With his athletic ability, and it appears his coachability, Armstead will at some point take over at left tackle. I have great respect for the smaller schools in Arkansas. Still, it will be difficult to make the transition to NFL caliber competition.

Returning tackle Charles Brown and free agent Jason Smith are moving into the prime of their career. The question remains whether they are competitive enough or good enough to be starting NFL tackles.

Armstead's progress will be a good indicator of the quality of new Offensive Line Coach Bret Ingalls coaching. Along with Offensive Assistant Frank Smith, Armstead will get plenty of attention. I expect him to respond rapidly.

The Saints need to improve athletically on the offensive side of the ball as well. As skilled as the offense is, there is a lack of overall speed. This allows defenses to constrict both running and passing lanes making it more difficult for Drew Brees to be consistent.

New Orleans did not have great fourth quarter stats last year. A lack of game breaking ability can in part be responsible for this decline.

This improvement may come from one of the 30 undrafted rookies invited to minicamp. The Saints have been outstanding in discovering players outside of the draft, and this year will almost certainly not be an exception. A difference maker could come from this group of free agents that have been signed after the club's rookie minicamp: DE Baraka Atkins, WR Brent Leonard, DB Korey Lindsey, K Jose Maltos, RB Khiry Robinson and G Jeremiah Warren. The club also waived undrafted free agents RB Shawne Alston, CB Ryan Lacy and veteran C/G Ryan Lee.

 

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