After a 2012 season riddled with controversy, and a disappointing 7-9 finish, the New Orleans Saints are looking to bounce back in 2013.
With head coach Sean Payton back at the helm, and a brand new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan, the Saints like what they see so far in OTA’s. But while optimism around Saints camp is high, the coaching staff as well as the players know that there is still work to be done.
“I think you try and stay away from trying to instantly evaluate,” Payton said. “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.”
Veteran quarterback Drew Brees was all business when asked about Payton’s return, following OTA’s on Tuesday.
“He calls the plays and we execute them,” Brees said. “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.”
Brees not only has the return of his coach to look forward to this offseason, but the return of one of his favorite targets as well. TE Jimmy Graham was back at camp Tuesday after recovering from offseason wrist surgery.
“He was banged up quite a bit last year…” Brees said. “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.”
Graham became a breakout star in 2011, and after a disappointing 2012 campaign, he is more motivated than ever.
“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,” Graham said. “For me, it’s all work and doing as much as I can to be the best player I can.”
As for the other side of the ball, Saints new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is excited about the depth he has to work with this season. It was a lack of depth that helped lead to his demise with the Dallas Cowboys, as the Dallas D was plagued by injuries last season.
“The way the game is played nowadays, you need to have multiple players,” Ryan said. “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.”
Despite Ryan’s bitterness over being let go by Dallas, he was very complimentary of his new home, both coaches and players, when asked how he would make the Saints defense a more aggressive one than in years past.
“Well the first thing is we are working against the number one offense in football,” said Ryan. “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 coaching-wise but playing-wise. 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 mini camp 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.”
So far the defense has given that high-powered Saints offense a run for its money in OTA’s. And Payton likes what he sees from both sides of the ball.
“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.”
It looks as though the Saints are primed to compete in what should be a talented NFC South this season.
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