The Drew Brees-to-Jimmy Graham combination continues to be the most effective offensive passing plays of the offseason in mini-camp, as it has been thus far in the OTA's.
Graham looks to be in mid-season form. The tight end made a lot of catches during the morning practice to open mini-camp including one for a touchdown.
“I feel good. It was a good first day of red zone out there, first day of minicamp. Everything feels good having Sean (Payton) back and having Drew (Brees) here this offseason. It’s all been great,” Graham said.
Brees was certainly glad to see Graham healthy again after an injury-plagued 2012.
“He was banged up quite a bit last year, in his defense. He’s had an offseason now to recover and be on the mend," Brees explained. " He feels a lot better. He’s juiced up and ready to go. It’s great to see."
Charles Brown lined up with the first team at left tackle and seems to be healthy again, for now at least.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis was absent after spending the night in the hospital with what was said to be a stomach problem though not thought to be serious.
Tight end Ben Watson was limited. The veteran offseason addition missed team drills.
Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead left in the middle of practice and was on the sideline with a wrap around his mid-section.
Some highlight plays of the mini-camp:
Andy Tanner showed good hands including a fine play on a leaping catch on the sideline. The first year wide receiver who was on the practice squad last year continues to prove reliable.
Good news on the defensive front including moments where a good pass rush on Brees was evident. Junior Galette applied pressure to Brees on one standout play and forced a dump-off pass to a running back.
Brees hit Lance Moore who made a nice catch with safety Malcolm Jenkins on his back in tight coverage. Wide receiver Jarred Fayson from Illinois continues to make plays. The rookie made a leaping catch from a quarterback Luke McCown toss for 30 yards.
Cornerback Rod Sweeting, a rookie free agent from Georgia Tech, picked off McCown.
Quarterback Seneca Wallace, who looks to be in the lead for the backup quarterback so far, hit tight end Josh Hill who bobbled the ball. The deflection was picked off by safety Isa Abdul Quddus, the first of his two picks in the practice. Quddus also picked off a ball bobbled by running back Travaris Cadet.
Wallace, who will turn 33 during training camp, showed he is still elusive. The former Iowa State star avoided a good pass rush and hit tight end Hill for 20 yards. On another play, he avoided the rush and took off for a 15 yard gain. That pressure was again from Galette, who looks to be a nice fit at outside linebacker.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had positive words for Galette, who may have an inside track at significant snaps at his new position. "He is a smart and hardworking kid. He has come such a long way with Bill Johnson. We are excited about him and his progress. He is working really hard, competing and that's everything we like."
Defensive captain Will Smith is another older veteran trying to make the big change from end to outside linebacker. Galette and Smith seem to be the ones with the first crack at playing time.
"Now they have all of these moving parts and that's a real chore but I think a smart guy like Junior (Galette) can handle this and Will Smith (as well). Both have done a real fine job (and) they are working hard," Ryan explained.
Ryan Griffin, the rookie quarterback from Tulane, is called RG-4 by his teammates (his jersey number is 4). He threw a nice ball that resulted in a fine catch by wide receiver Jarred Fayson in tight coverage. Griffin came back with a nice pass on the sideline to receiver Preston Parker.
"I think it’s important for all of these receivers, the younger ones especially (that they) are making sure they are painting the right picture for the quarterback and learning the nuances of what we do offensively,” Saints head coach Sean Payton noted after the morning practice.
Brees threw a lot of play-action passes and was effective. He hit running back Pierre Thomas for 10 yards and found Graham for eight yards.
Brees completed a quick hitter to receiver Nick Toon for a nice gain but later the pass rush showed up again. Brees held the ball as long as he could and then overthrew Joseph Morgan.
A McCown pass over the middle was broken-up by linebacker Chris Chamberlain. McCown's next pass was off the hands of fullback Austin Johnson and intercepted by cornerback Corey White. who took the pick down the sideline unmolested.
Payton is watching all three newcomers at quarterback closely as they try to learn the system. "I am anxious to see them progress through the offense. They are both picking things up well," Payton said. "Luke has been here before and (this is) Seneca’s first time, but so far they have handled it well.”
Rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson hustled while showing off his athleticism. The sixth-rounder batted down a pass from RG-4.
"He is doing well. He is a big, young kid and he has a lot to learn," Ryan said regarding Johnson. "We are playing this young kid from Tarleton State and changing positions is the first thing he is doing. So, he has a lot on his plate but talent wise and physically, this kid is going to be good."
On special teams, the kickoff return men were Darren Sproles, Lance Moore, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram.
New kicker Jose Maltos looked good on field goals, but the rookie Mexican international's kickoffs seemed to be shorter than preferred.
All-in-all, it was a good practice, but time will tell about the offensive and defensive lines, because this work was not in pads.
Minicamp Media Availability
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
“We held out Benjamin Watson, Ryan Steed, Keenan Lewis and Terron Armstead, we took in midway through practice, so those are the four guys we are talking about. Overall today (practice) went really well. We installed red zone for the first time today and we got to third down as well.”
How good is it having Charles Brown back?
“I think it’s important with the snaps, that he is able to receive as many as he can, especially mentally, just being out there with the protections and the different looks we are getting from our defense.”
Is it too early to tell if the defense is making any progression?
“I think we have good competition, especially in the periods when we are in the red area and tight red zone and we finished practice with third down so, there was an even flow back and forth, but I thought overall I was pleased with the tempo and the competitive nature of the periods.”
What have been the challenges for Joe Vitt?
“He has coached a lot of time, he has coached and seen a lot of football. He is invaluable to what we are doing. There are so many different ways to skin the cat if you will or call defenses or offenses. Often times there are things that carry over, but his experience is important with what we do, certainly his leadership.
Can you talk about the backup quarterback competition?
“Obviously Ryan Griffin is the young guy from Tulane and then the two other players have both seen snaps in our league and have experience, Seneca Wallace and Luke McCown. I am anxious to see them progress through the offense. They are both picking things up well. Luke has been here before and (this is) Seneca’s first time, but so far they have handled it well.”
What did you think about the aggressiveness of the defense today?
“Well we are working on it a lot, you’ve seen pressures, you are seeing drop eights, and you are seeing a lot of different things that we are trying to begin to install. There are going to be at times some protection challenges and I think the key offensively is to settle in and know how to handle the different looks you are getting, but I think that’s good, especially now. I think the importance of the mental aspect of what we are doing is something we emphasize.”
How important is it for the rookies and undrafted players to catch your eye right now during minicamp and OTAs?
“I think it’s a process, it started already and I’ve said it to them in meetings though; the positions and the roster spots won’t be made until we get into pads. With that being said, everyone is trying to prepare themselves as best as they can for when we are in pads and we are in training camp, and that’s not only on the field, that’s in the weight room too.”
Can you talk about Nick Toon and his progress?
“I think last year he was nicked up and missed a lot of snaps because of his injury, so it’s just the experience in getting out there and functioning as a receiver. He has good size, which I like in length and it is just a matter of getting settled in and again, once we get into pads, (him) establishing himself as someone who is consistent. I think it’s important for all of these receivers, the younger ones especially (that they) are making sure they are painting the right picture for the quarterback and learning the nuances of what we do offensively.”
How do you evaluate the offensive line when they are not in pads?
“I think you try and stay away from trying to instantly evaluate. I think you are able to see, assignment wise, are they on the right guys, do they go into the right spot and are they on the right person? I don’t get really caught up as to whether the defensive lineman or the offensive lineman blocked him or didn’t block him because really it’s kind of a catch 22 out here without pads on. But you do get a feel of how they are transitioning with the assignment element, and then again, the emphasis being training camp when they have a chance to truly win those spots. This is an important mental aspect of what we are doing because a lot (of the offense) is going in.”
What do you like about Terron Armstead so far?
“He is athletic and you see him handle the speed pretty well. I’ll be anxious to see how he handles the power when we are in pads. You can’t really see him like that now, but you can see the speed rush. He is someone that is long and he has good feet.”
How do you feel about the linebackers?
“I think there is a lot going in and I think they are handling it well as a group. Certainly it’s a different scheme. So far they are doing a good job.”
Do you have any Deacon Jones stories?
“I don’t but he was a special player.”
When you have a new coordinator, do you sense that players need to prove themselves to the new coach?
“I think the competition right now is more or less proving themselves to all of us. There are 90 guys out here right now, so we know the roster is going to get down to 53, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. So again, it’s taking care of your body, getting yourself in the best shape possible, so when the time does come you feel like you are ready. When you know what you are doing, your chances of executing go way up.”
Can you talk about Jimmy Graham’s progess?
“I thought he had a good practice today. I think certainly getting him back after his offseason surgery (is a plus) and I know that he is anxious to get started on this year, but I thought his practice today stood out. I think we had a handful of guys that played through some injuries and we had a handful of drops. Certainly I think his expectation level is high, just as ours is as well and I look forward to watching this upcoming season and him progress.”
Can you talk about the evolution of a two tight end offense in the passing game?
“It's a position you need depth at. We have been fortunate to have guys (for it). We’ve found them in the draft, we’ve found them in free agency, we’ve found them as unsigned veteran free agents, so we value that position as well.”
Can you talk about joining Twitter?
“It (activity) has been very minimal. My arm was twisted, both arms (by) my children (who) brought me up to speed with how to even begin.”
Did any of the young guys catch your eye?
“We will look at the film, (where) it will be easier for me to just go in there. I thought Jarred Fayson made a couple of good plays and we will see how they do. This afternoon will be more of a walk through.”
Minicamp Media Availability Transcript
June 4, 2013
How do you work towards a more aggressive approach to the defense then it was last year? How do you begin to instill that kind of culture during a mini camp like this? Is there a way to do that?
"Well the first thing is we are working against the number one offense in football. They have the (some of the) best coaches. I think Sean Payton, Pete Carmichael, and (Joe) Lombardi are three head coaches. So we have our work cut out for us not just coachingwise but playingwise. There’s a lot of talent over there. We have to do a better job than what we did today. We had some substitution problems which seems to always follow me on the first day of a minicamp but that’s just who I am. We will run multiple personnel groups and sometimes it takes a couple of days to figure that out, but I am excited with our guys. They play hard and have been well-coached so it’s an easy transition."
What has Rufus Johnson showed you so far?
"He is doing well. He is a big, young kid and he has a lot to learn. We are playing this young kid from Tarleton State and changing positions is the first thing he is doing. So, he has a lot on his plate but talent wise and physically, this kid is going to be good."
You guys looked at defensive backs early in free agency and even after you signed Keenan Lewis, you guys kept looking at more. To fit this system, did you want to target more depth, more physical corners? Is it part of your defense to have a lot of guys available?
"The way the game is played nowadays, you need to have multiple players. I think, if anyone follows me, we were number five in the league ten weeks of the season until every single player on the team was hurt and I got fired. We should have been number one but I learned that you can't have enough good players. We have a lot of talented guys here. This secondary is extremely talented, probably the most talented group that I have been a part of, but that still doesn't mean we don't want more. We always want more players and that’s what gets you beat and fired when you don't have enough.
What do you think about some of the guys getting interceptions today? Is that a good sign to see right now?
“Absolutely. We are going up against the number one offense in football and like I say, they have the best coaches over there. Pete Carmichael and (Joe) Lombardi are outstanding and are future head coaches in the league. We are just going to battle them every day and see what happens.”
Talking about Junior Galette, what did you see in him to think he could make that transition to linebacker?
“He is a smart and hardworking kid. He has come such a long way with Bill Johnson. We are excited about him and his progress. He is working really hard, competing and that’s everything we like.”
How hard is that transition to make?
“I think he knows football so it’s not as hard as you would think. I think it’s hard on a college player when they come in and they don't know anything about the National Football League. Now they have all of these moving parts and that’s a real chore but I think a smart guy like Junior (Galette) can handle this and Will Smith (as well). Both have done a real fine job (and) they are working hard. We have a lot of football in here. We have a lot of defense in. We may not have had a lot of practices in, but we have a lot of defense in so they have done a good job mentally.”
On paper, what is the ideal outside linebacker for what you are looking for?
“DeMarcus Ware. That’s what we want (in terms of characteristics). That’s the guy.”
Is that an example of the ideal skill set?
“Absolutely, skill sets, size, strength, speed, he has everything. He led the league in sacks and would have done it again (in 2012), but he got injured. So that’s obviously the guy in mind (when you evaluate outside linebackers in a 3-4). That’s the guy you measure (other players up against).”
Minicamp Media Availability
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
How’d it go out there today?
“It was good. Minicamp is as close to training camp as you get just as far as the schedule of getting here early with the meeting time, getting on the field and putting together a little longer of a practice. Now we’re going back to meetings and going back through a walkthrough. It was just kind of a full day of all football. I thought today was good. We’re in our red zone installation, so (we’re) just kind of making our way through our installation both offensively and defensively. (The) defense is throwing a lot at us and offensively we’re trying to fine-tune some things. It’s competitive and fun watching these young guys develop as well.”
You’ve been through OTA’s so this isn’t foreign to you at this point, but the fans see you and Sean Payton back together going through the offense that you guys do. What is that like for you guys?
“He calls the plays and we execute them. That’s our job, but obviously it’s great to have him back out there. I know everybody wants to keep talking about that, but it’s kind of old hat for us. He’s back and here we go.”
Drew you’re seeing, I’m assuming, a lot less of Joe Vitt than maybe you did last year because he’s back in his element. Do you get the sense that he’s one of those elements that is back to normal?
“Well it’s funny because prior to last year, when obviously he was the interim head coach, you knew he was doing his stuff with the linebackers and just exclusively defense and I’d see him every now and then. But we kind of had our moments where he’d grab me and say ‘man I haven’t seen you in awhile’, and we’d kind of hug it out and talk for a little bit. Obviously, last year the roles were a little expanded and things were a little different. He’s been a ball coach for a long time. He loves the game. He brings a fire and a passion and we all love playing for him. Despite the circumstances that thrust him in that role, I think that being back to just Joe Vitt, linebacker coach and assistant head coach, it helps and everybody’s back into their role now.”
Are there any rookies on defense that have stood out to you so far?
“Kenny Vaccaro has been getting a lot of snaps and a lot of time. I think he can play a big role in this defense. Some of the young guys up front, I don’t really watch them as much. I pay more attention to what’s happening in the secondary. Just seeing guys like Martez Wilson, whom I know isn’t a rookie, but kind of finding a role. Some other guys are starting to stick out and you can see how they can fit into what we’re doing defensively and how we can utilize some of their strengths and it’s fun to see that.”
With Devery Henderson not around can you see a guy like Nick Toon being at that level of receiver?
“I think we’ve got a great group of young receivers that really all have a chance to make their mark and find a place in that group. You’ve got Marques Colston and Lance Moore, who are the two veteran guys left. Joe Morgan coming off what he did last season and now what we’ve seen this offseason, I see him continuing to improve. Beyond that I think it’s wide open in those spots left. Andy Tanner is a guy that’s been here for a while that continues to impress. Kenny Stills is showing a lot of promise. He’s a young, talented guy. All those guys understand that they are going to get some opportunities and they have to make the most of them and see how they can fit into this offense. At the end of the day we don’t know how it’s going to shake out but there’s a lot of time between now and cuts at the end of (training) camp. Whoever earns those spots will deserve it.”
Jimmy Graham looked to be in vintage form today. Do you think there’s room for him to improve this year?
“He was banged up quite a bit last year, in his defense. He’s had an offseason now to recover and be on the mend. He feels a lot better. He’s juiced up and ready to go. It’s great to see. He’s like a kid out there a lot of times, running around and telling me to throw him the ball and he’ll go get it for me, which is great to hear from a big tight end.”
Drew who do you like in the NBA Finals?
“I don’t know, obviously the Spurs have had some time to rest now so that will help them out a little bit. I’m sure it gets to be a grind at the end of this thing and everyone’s just running off adrenaline. Miami was back and forth and finished strong in that series last night. They made it (to the finals) three times in a row now and maybe feel like it’s their last time to make it with that core group they have there. Although, you can say they have some pretty salty veterans on the other side, Tony Parker, (Tim) Duncan and (Manu) Ginóbili have been together for a long time now. I don’t know. It’s going to be a heck of a series. It’s going to be a fun series to watch, I don’t have a prediction.”
What are your early impressions of Ryan Griffin? How much does him having played in the same system at Tulane last year help him?
“I think it definitely puts him ahead of the curve, but still the nuances and some of the requirements at this level are a bit different than college, and you also are dealing with the speed of the game and what you’re seeing defensively. There are a lot of elements to it, but I think he’s done a great job picking up the system and doing some things that are beyond the years of just a rookie.”
When you guys talk on the field, is it just normal what you do for any quarterback?
“I just tell him to throw it to the open guy and make the play. We have a great dynamic amongst our quarterbacks. Everything we do, we do together, whether it’s in the weight room or on the field. There’s constant dialogue and communication in the meeting rooms. We’re all there to help and push one another.”
When it comes to the installs that you guys are putting in, how much of an evolution does this offense make from one year to the next?
“I wouldn’t say it’s a drastic evolution, there are certain things that you do that you do well and it’s second nature. You feel like within the framework of that concept we have answers for everything. It’s not necessarily the way you draw it up on the blackboard. I could show you a piece of paper showing you what the play looks like but I could show you ten different coverages where that play looks slightly different depending on what the coverage is, what I see, our guys see and how we react to it. Every offseason you find new little tweaks and wrinkles and not all of it sticks. Sometimes you try something and you say this isn’t us and other things you try and you say this can help us in the right situation and right gameplan.”
So it just depends of the creativity of what you want to do each year?
“Yes, there are at least a few things that we’ll go in with, run game, pass game and protections that are a bit different and there are some things that we practice and we do well and we say these things can be a part of what we do.”
Minicamp Media Availability
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
How are you feeling?
“I feel good. It was a good first day of red zone out there, first day of minicamp. Everything feels good having Sean (Payton) back and having Drew (Brees) here this offseason. It’s all been great.”
How about your health specifically? How does it feel to be back out there?
“Everything is going well. I’ve been in rehab and I’ve been getting stronger. Right now I’m almost 100%. Going into camp, I’ll be 100%. It just feels good. It just feels good to be healthy finally and back playing like myself.”
Can you talk about the fan support out at practice today?
“It’s crazy how hot it is out there and our fans show up. I got here at about 6:30 this morning and there were fans waiting in line to get in. That’s just how it is here. We definitely have a special group of fans.”
How much do you think your injured wrist affected you last year?
“I don’t use excuses and I can’t blame it on that. I think everyone in this room wished they could have plays over and wished they could have changed the outcome of last year. That is the past and that year is over. Now I am healthy and just looking to the future and looking to get back in the playoffs.”
You mentioned Sean (Payton) and (Drew) Brees being out there. You guys have answered this question a lot but, but is it to the point now where it really does just feel normal like everything is back to the way it should be?
“It definitely does on the offensive side of the ball. It feels like it did two years ago. We are right on pace and guys are learning. We have these installs and are running them really well. I’m definitely excited for what is going to happen this year and for everything to start to count.”
Coach singled you out for having a good practice today. Just talk about bringing that intensity to the practice field and not just gamedays even in June right now?
“I’m a hungry player and this is probably the hungriest I’ve ever been to kind of right the wrongs of last year, prove what this team can do, and to maybe hush up some of the naysayers. For me, it’s all work and doing as much as I can to be the best player I can.”
Is that just team or is that individually you feel like you want to right some personal wrongs?
“I think team and individually. Every man has taken a long look in the mirror this offseason and put whatever we can on our own shoulders. First, you have to get better and you have to prove yourself. You have to correct some of the wrongs that you did last year and then collectively as a team. So, I’ve done that, looked at myself in the mirror and I’m ready.”
Is there anything in particular that you want to focus on?
“Just all-around being more aggressive. From day one, being the aggressive player that I am and bringing the energy that I bring.”
Is having (Nick) Toon here almost like having another draft pick for you guys?
“I’m defiantly happy to have him back healthy. He is a big receiver who runs great routes, has great hands, and to see him back healthy and the improvements that he has made is awesome.”
Looking at the 3-4 defense from your perspective playing against them, can you compare it to what you saw last year, what you’re noticing different, and what’s it like out there flying around?
“There’s a big difference as far as just run blocking. You've got some big outside linebackers there just holding the edge. They seem to be doing a lot of stand up lately. Sometimes that gets difficult whenever you’re trying to figure out who to block, who to pass protect against, who is going to jam you, and who isn't. They have really been doing a great job of mixing it up. With their coverages today in the red zone, they were doubling three guys sometimes. It’s definitely been a mix up for us and sometimes even we struggled against that kind of defense with San Francisco and what not. It’s great practice for us even. It’s defiantly been different and it looks nice.”
Do you think, from what you’ve seen, we will see a drastic improvement even though we are only in June?
“I hope so. I know that, just like our offense is, our defense is righting the wrongs from last year. So far it looks great, it really does. They have done a great job and they are really mixing it up.”
Did you say there were people here at 6:30 this morning?
“6:30 in the morning. It was already 80 degrees and people were drinking Gatorades and waiting to get into practice.”
How do you feel as a player? Since this is your fourth year, you are a veteran.
“I guess I’ve been here the longest as far as tight ends go on this team. That’s defnitely different. I’ve always had an older guy. I've always had a David Thomas or a Jeremy Shockey. I’ve always had somebody there to kind of teach me and to kind of follow them. Now it’s a little bit more on my shoulders but I do have Benjamin Watson and Michael Higgins. All these guys have been in the league a while, so its definitely a different feel. I’m definitely getting a little older, I’m learning a lot more about defenses this year, and I think that’s what is going to help.”
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