I broke down several of the most noteworthy nuggets from Sean Payton’s media session at the NFL owners meetings throughout the past two days. But there was plenty more from the New Orleans Saints coach’s hour-long interview. Here are some of the leftovers:
On whether it’s tougher to reach the first Super Bowl or to get back again: “I think they’re equally difficult. I think when you win that first one there’s that sense of excitement. You kind of caught the chicken proverbially, and then you let it go and you start chasing it again. I think they’re both challenging. I know this, though, once you’ve tasted it and had a chance to experience it, you recognize how special it is and how much it’s worth it in the journey.
“You kind of remember it a little bit. You think you do. But this is an entirely different team. It’s unique. It’s not just us. It’s the entire league how quickly in five years how a roster just moves. I don’t know what the average attrition is every season. I mentioned earlier there aren’t any players on defense now from that team (2009), and there’s probably half a dozen left in its entirety. It happens quickly.”
(NOTE: He’s correct. Only six Saints remain from that team – Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, Pierre Thomas and Thomas Morstead. Receiver Robert Meachem remains unsigned as a free agent).
On the speech given during the meetings by former NFL player Wade Davis, who later came out as gay: “It was outstanding. Some people have a unique command in a room and he’s one of those speakers. I think it’s a difficult group to speak to your first time when you look at all of the owners in our league, general managers and head coaches. But he was very confident, very honest. ... It’s probably one of the most meaningful or productive portions of this week here."
On former Saints player Jonathan Vilma expressing concerns about how some players might feel about having a gay teammate: “[Bill] Parcells said it best last year. He said winning teams and winning locker rooms open to players of all diversity. They really do. It can help them win. Their doors are wide open. They tend to push out those players they feel like can’t help them win. I mentioned to Troy Vincent after he spoke yesterday to really go back and grab Bill’s speech. I really thought it was one of the better Hall of Fame speeches that I’ve heard. Not just because I’m close with Bill. I thought it was outstanding. As an organization and as a locker room, we look at diversity to include a gay football player. I just know how our locker room is, and it’s something we spend time on. The respect of others and the mission statement being winning. And if those things are pointed in the right direction, then the other stuff is not that important really.”
On moving training camp to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia (up until the second preseason game): “I do like the idea that it's a change. We've been in Jackson [Miss.]; we've been in Oxnard [Calif.]; the team's been to Wisconsin for a number of years. I think the climate is very conducive to training, and the facility that's being built is amazing. The opportunity to have everything right there, two grass fields, artificial surface field, locker rooms, meeting rooms, cafeteria, right across the street from the hotel. … It'll give us a good balance of heat. I don't want to say optimum conditions because it's pretty warm anywhere you're at, it's just a little cooler than the humidity we might get for the full five weeks in Metairie.”
On the Saints’ track record with small-school draft picks: “I think players in our league can come from all different shapes and sizes when it comes to school size. They come from the East Coast, the West Coast. There’s more that come from the bigger schools than the smaller schools. There’s more that come from the SEC than some small conferences. That’s just statistically fact. And yet two things: you don’t want to bias yourself against a small school player and yet you don’t want to create what you think is a small-school gem.
“So the challenges when it comes to evaluating a player like Jahri Evans is, ‘Ahhh, that was an amazing block, but who was he blocking and what’s that guy doing now?’ ... So that process is difficult when one is playing Iowa or Illinois, Michigan and the other one is playing Shippensburg or whoever they play. …
“We’ve been fortunate with our guys and our roster where we’ve had a lot of guys from smaller schools, and yet we don’t specifically target them. We just acknowledge that they exist and a good football player can come from anywhere.”
On re-signing right tackle Zach Strief in free agency: “Number one, we felt like he had his best season of his career. He’s a leader in that room. He’s was awfully productive. He probably graded out as high as any right tackle in the league last year. He’s a player that our locker room respects greatly. He’s smart. There’s a physical presence that comes with him. His strength and all of his skill sets, we put a high value and premium [on]. … That was an important sign for us.”
On backup linebacker Ramon Humber, whom the Saints re-signed in free agency: “He probably had in our opinion his best training camp last year. Not just as a special teams player, but he was running and tackling and hitting as well I had seen in a while. He is a good teammate, very good durability and position flexibility. He can run and hit. He’ll play in team and sub-packages. He’s a guy that’s really fit with us and done a nice job.”
On the defensive turnaround under Rob Ryan: “I know our players welcomed the change with open arms. There was that anticipation and excitement of putting in a package that was different. Obviously the year prior stung a lot of guys, hurt a lot of guys. That wasn’t just one coach. You have a season like that, and there are a lot of dirty hands. That’s just a fact. I think that anticipation of a new defensive package and someone that was added to our organization that I feel like is a real good assistant and someone that works well in the office with his peers and gets along with everyone, is loyal. Those things were important.”