NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: Brian Young

Payton's injury shouldn't hurt Saints

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
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Sean PaytonKim Klement/US PresswireSean Payton will be working from the press box during the Saints' game Sunday night.
Sean Payton doesn’t need crutches.

Less than a week after tearing up his knee, the coach of the New Orleans Saints might not be walking well, but he’s got perhaps the NFL’s best stable of assistant coaches to lean on.

Payton’s injury was an accident. Tight end Jimmy Graham plowed into Payton as he was being pushed out of bounds by a couple of Tampa Bay defenders. But it’s no accident that Payton has a virtual all-star team of coaches, who began preparing for Indianapolis about the same time the head coach was getting out of surgery, to help him through what should be only a minor and temporary crisis.

Payton’s expected to return to work Thursday; he’ll be in the coaches’ booth in the press box for Sunday night’s game with the Indianapolis Colts and on game days for at least a few more weeks. And while that will mean some adjustments, this is a staff built to handle a situation like this.

One thing Payton understood when he took the job back in 2006 was the importance of surrounding yourself with a good staff. He still has eight members of his original staff, nine if you count assistant special teams coach John Bonamego, who left for three seasons with the Dolphins but returned to the Saints this year. Even the “newer’’ members of the coaching staff are very much part of the family. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former head coach, came in 2009 and brought along his son, Blake, as an assistant. That was also the same year Brian Young joined the staff, after playing defensive tackle for the Saints from 2004 through 2008.

Payton might not be strolling the sidelines anytime soon, but his system remains very much in place and everyone from the assistants to the players knows how things are done.

“We reminded the team that his absence in the earlier part of the week and not knowing how much he’ll partake in the latter part of the week is not an excuse for us to lose,’’ assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. “It’s not an excuse to not prepare. Because the excuses are out there if you want to take them.’’

The Saints aren’t going to be making or taking any excuses on Vitt’s watch. His style is that of a drill sergeant and his NFL coaching experience runs all the way back to the days when he was with the Colts, who were then still in Baltimore. He’s respected in the Saints’ locker room and all around the league.

“Ninety percent of the time in the NFL, that just means more money or a title to keep someone happy,’’ Payton wrote in his book “Home Team.’’ “But if you went to the dictionary and looked up 'NFL assistant head coach,' you’d see a picture of Joe Vitt.’’

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt, Sean Payton
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire"It's not an excuse to not prepare," assistant head coach Joe Vitt, left, said of the injury to Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Vitt, who did a stint in 2005 as interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams, was one of the first coaches Payton hired — a move that set off a celebration at the time because most veteran coaches were hesitant to move to New Orleans in the uncertain aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Other than the signing of (quarterback) Drew Brees, this was the most important acquisition we made,’’ Payton wrote about Vitt’s hiring.

Vitt is also the linebackers coach, so with he and Gregg Williams running the show, Payton’s injury shouldn’t have any real impact on the defense.

But having Payton upstairs instead of on the sideline will create some logistical challenges for the offense.

“We’re going to work through all the mechanics,’’ Vitt said. “One of the things around here we take great pride in is our preparation. We’ll see what works for us. This coaching staff has been together a long time. We need to work through these challenges for our football team to win a football game”

But the experience of the offensive staff should be able to help cushion those challenges.

“(Payton) empowers our assistant coaches a lot anyway,’’ Brees said. “I think for all of us it’s business as usual, and then if there are adjustments that need to be made along the way, then we’ll make them and we won’t even think twice about it. That’s the way we operate.”

Brees already is anticipating one change. Brees said he expects Payton will call the plays from above and relay them through offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on the sideline. In the past, Payton has communicated plays directly to Brees via radio.

“I think the fact that it’s going to be Pete’s voice now and he’ll be actually relaying the plays into me, that won’t be all that unusual for me,’’ Brees said.

That’s largely because Brees has at least as much history with Carmichael as he does with Payton. Brees played in San Diego when Carmichael was an assistant there. Carmichael came to the Saints as quarterbacks coach in 2006 and later moved up to offensive coordinator. And it doesn’t hurt that Brees is somewhat of a coach on the field.

“I’ve done that before, so you understand where the challenges are and it’s just the fact that (the play) has to get relayed,’’ Brees said. “There are a couple seconds earlier that you have to get the play out. I don’t know the setup up in the box, but I’m sure Sean will have it all laid out. I’m sure it will go off without a hitch.”

That goes for the defense and special teams as well. The only real difference you’ll see will be a few television shots of Payton sitting up in the booth.

Like always, he’ll be supervising his system with the people who put in place to help run it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Despite limited salary-cap space, the Saints continue to be active in free agency.

Mike Triplett reports the Saints are interested in defensive lineman Paul Spicer and center Nick Lickey. They also had defensive lineman Shaun Cody in for a visit last week. Spicer can play end or tackle and Cody is an interior lineman. Pursuing them shows the Saints are looking for insurance in case starting ends Charles Grant and Will Smith have to serve suspensions at the start of the season, after reportedly testing positive for a banned substance last year. Spicer also has a history with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The two were together in Jacksonville the last two seasons.

Third end Bobby McCray and Spicer could be suitable starters for a four-game stint and Spicer's versatility could help the rest of the line the rest of the season. Cody could be viewed as an upgrade over Antwan Lake, who is a free agent and the Saints could consider releasing Hollis Thomas or Brian Young if they sign Cody.

It looks like the Saints are working to shore up their needs before the draft. If they make moves on the defensive line before then, it appears there would be only one glaring need to address with the 14th overall pick. That's the defensive backfield, where Malcolm Jenkins could be a prime target. Jenkins is a cornerback, who some project as a safety.

New Orleans' biggest need is at free safety and the Saints could consider moving Jenkins or cornerbacks Usama Young or Mike McKenzie there. They've also visited with free-agent safety Darren Sharper. He remains a possibility, but no deal appears imminent.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints, who already were thin at defensive tackle, now are really thin.

Antwan Lake will not return to the game after suffering a groin injury in the first half. Hollis Thomas is out for at least several more weeks with a triceps injury. That leaves Brian Young as the only backup behind starters Kendrick Clancy and Sedrick Ellis. Bet the Saints are regretting cutting Orien Harris, who had a nice training camp and wound up landing with the Bengals.

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