METARIE, La. (AP) - Saints quarterback Drew Brees has just signed a 100-million deal with New Orleans, after a lengthy negotiation process. But, he’s where he wants to be – in camp with the Saints. Tuesday he sat down and talked about a number of items, including his big contract.
Does this feel just the same as ever?
“Yeah. The offseason went by fast. A lot of crazy stuff happened obviously, but here we are- first day of training camp. Obviously we are getting in a little earlier than everybody else because of the Hall of Fame Game, but everybody is ready to go.”
Everybody else had the experience of coming here and Sean Payton not being the head coach. You just had it for the first time. What was it like?
“Well the fact that I haven’t been able to talk to him either, makes me feel that I’ve had a little bit of that (experience). Normally I would be talking to him pretty frequently. That’s going to be an adjustment, there’s no way around it. I feel like we were prepared to an extent last year when he got hurt, I believe that was week six against Tampa. There was a stretch there for about four or five weeks, especially early on, where he had had surgery and was on crutches, really was spending a lot of time in the training room trying to rehabilitate and do all those things. He was in there for six hours a day, so there were times that he wasn’t able to be present in the meetings or on the practice field or he would just kind of be on-and-off. In those situations it was Pete Carmichael taking over, calling the plays in practice, and obviously Gregg (Williams) running the defense. So I feel like we kind of just picked up and kept the train moving forward. We were exposed to that a little bit last year with Sean’s absence in that stretch and if anything I can say that maybe that was a blessing in disguise for what we are going to face this year with his absence the entire year.”
What are your early impressions of Joe Vitt as the head coach?
“I’ve known Joe Vitt for a long time. We all came in together in 2006. In fact, a lot of these coaches have been here for that stretch of time, including players. I feel like we have all been through so much together, both the good and the bad. Certainly we’ve been to the mountaintop together, and I think we all know what we’re made of. We all know what to expect from each other and we also know that we can lean on each other at times. This is going to be tough, especially during camp here and the first part of the season as we try to reestablish our identity and just kind of get into the flow without having Sean Payton here. Now listen, I’ve got all the confidence in Pete Carmichael, Joe Lombardi, Aaron Kromer, our entire offensive staff. I haven’t had the chance to be around Steve Spagnuolo a lot yet, but from everything I hear and certainly from playing against him, there’s no guy that I have more respect for on the defensive side on the ball than him. I know he conducts himself as a true professional, he’s a great teacher, and he’s got a great track record. And so as I look at our team and the systems that are in place or are going to be in place, I’m very confident with where we’re at and where we’re headed.”
We all love Joe Vitt’s wisecracks during press conferences, I assume he’s the same way around the team?
“That’s what’s great, you guys might be seeing it for the first time but we get that everyday. That’s why we kind of smile and chuckle and say “Hey, that’s Coach Vitt.” You know what you’re going to get out of him: you’re going to get an honest answer, whether you like it or not. That’s what you love about him, that’s what you appreciate about him. There’s not a guy I’ve ever been around that cares as much about his players as Joe Vitt does. He loves them. He will work your tail off, and you may hate him during training camp, but you love him in life. I know a lot of players will say that he will mold them not only as players, but as the people they become.”
On the same note, when Coach Vitt said that you couldn’t sing or dance. Was that kind of a shock to you when you heard that?
“That was a total joke, I’m sure you saw my response via Twitter. I know that I’m a better player and a more confident player and I have more fun playing this game in this job because of Coach Vitt and the time that I have had the chance to be with him, and I hope we have many many more years to come, and I look forward to this opportunity for him.”
No coach in history has been suspended for even one game. You’re losing Sean Payton for a whole season. Can you define the challenge that this is for you and your team, and how do you plan to conquer it?
“I don’t know. It’s hard to define the challenge at this point just because this is uncharted territory for us, just like it would be for any other team. I mentioned last year no having him for that stretch, and that was weird. But now, just to know for a fact that he’s not going to be here, not even to talk to. At least last year we could
go in the training room after hours and have an hour-long conversation about scheme or what have you, while he’s getting his leg propped up or whatever, but now I can’t even talk to the guy which is unfortunate because he’s a friend and he’s a mentor. I also think that at times maybe a guy isn’t fully appreciated or the measure of how valuable he is isn’t until he does step away, and then you see how he is able to influence others (players and coaches) to then just fill the role. A lot of times people say that about a CEO: when he leaves the company, how does the company do? Well, if they continue to succeed, in a lot of cases you could say because he helped mold, develop, and mentor those that would take over after him and I believe that that’s what Sean Payton has done for all of us here, coaches and players alike. “
How do you approach this training camp after missing time during OTAs and with contract negotiations? Now that you are here, can you describe the overall feeling of being back?
“I’m excited. I’m always excited and I love football, I love to compete. The last three off-seasons have been weird for many different reasons. The first one was after the Super Bowl, last season was the lockout, and then this year. I’m excited about the unknown because in a lot of ways we don’t necessarily know what to expect, and with all this stuff swirling around us, all we can worry about is what we can control. We focus on the process and the result will take care of itself. I know the type of guys we have, I know the type of coaches we have. I’m excited to watch it all come together during training camp, as it always does. You’re going to have your good days and your bad days, but I know what we’re made of. I know where we’ve been, we want to go, and there’s no greater opportunity than what we have in front of us.”
Talk about the Drew Brees when you got here, and the Drew Brees you are now.
“Oh man, that feels like light years ago, it really does. Football is really like dog years you know because it’s such a small span of your life, and if you’re lucky to play it for- this is my 12 th year, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but it’s gone by so fast. I’ll leave this game and I’ll still be a young man at whatever age that is and I will still have my whole life ahead of me. The fact of matter is that it is just a small span and I feel like we have accomplished so much in the time I’ve been here. I’ve been a part of so many good teams and been around so many great people. It’s been ups and downs, but I value every second and don’t take it for granted, and just try to enjoy the moment because you never know when it will end or when it can be taken away and so you worry about today and that’s all you can worry about.”
You usually have a personal battle going on with Jonathan Vilma during training camp. Number 51 is not here, is there someone on the defense that might fill that role?
“I don’t know if you can fill that void or that role. Vilma was Vilma. He was such a charismatic leader. He worked as hard as he talked, you know? I’ve never seen one of those guys who was such a great player himself, spend so much time helping to develop younger players. I was amazed last year during the lockout when we staged our own off-season over at Tulane, at the amount of time he put in with the young players like the young linebackers, installing the defense and getting a lot of young guys to show up to that thing, guys who had not stepped foot in our building yet. He had put playbooks together and he was sitting there installing the defense everyday for six weeks. His commitment level to football and the guys he plays with is immense. He’s such a talented player, such an instinctive player. But beyond that, he’s a great mentor and a great leader. It’s hard to replace a guy like that. If you’re forced to do that, you’re forced to do that. If he were ever to get hurt, or if anybody is ever to be gone, we have always done a great job of guys stepping up and filling a role, filling a void, and you just adapt. You evolve. I would say that’s how a lot of guys that are mainstays on this team got their first start. Pierre Thomas barely made this team in 2007 as a special teams guy. And wouldn’t you know, sixteen weeks later he’s starting the last game of the season against the Chicago Bears and sets a record for 100 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing. That was his opportunity and he took full advantage of it. I believe that there are a number of young guys and a number of new starters that are going to get that opportunity, maybe in the absence of Vilma or somebody else, and they’re going to make the most of it.”
There’s a situation on offense with Robert Meachem gone, between a number of receivers. What do you tell the young guys who are fighting for that job? What do you say to them before camp opens? What do you say to them as the quarterback as to what you’re going to be looking for and what you expect to see from
“I didn’t get the offseason; I’d say that’s going to be the biggest thing for me. A guy like Nick Toon and some of these other young guys, young offensive linemen and that kind of thing, I’d say just spending a couple of days getting to know them off the field, watching the way they work, watching their approach, and then just trying to find a way to communicate with them and let them know the sense of urgency and how I see them fitting in and pulling them to the side and working with them maybe before and after practice. That’s fun and exciting for me, but it takes time. Certainly throughout camp they’re going to have their good days and bad days, but certainly it’s my job as quarterback to make sure that they develop and they find their role on this team.”
In reference to Jonathan Vilma, have you submitted an affidavit or do you plan to testify on his behalf?
“At this point I do not have any intention on being there. However, I did file that sworn affidavit on behalf of Jonathan Vilma because I believe in the person he is and what he means to this team and to this community.
Given the season that you had last year and the contract that you signed, is there a pressure to match it or even somewhat surpass it?
“Yeah I’ve been down that road and I don’t do that. I do make this goal every camp, every season: I want to be a little bit better this year than I was the year before. You can’t always measure that with statistics. It will be hard to ever match last year’s statistics. There’s a lot of things that have to come together in order to do that. Statistics don’t always equal success in wins and losses and playoffs and championships. Last year’s did, because it was just one of those seasons. Do I feel like there is still some left in the tank for us? Absolutely. Can we get better? Absolutely. Can I get better? Absolutely. I have those things in my mind that each day I am going to approach practice and approach my work with a purpose and to try to improve upon those things. You can’t always measure that with statistics.”
Is this the best talent you’ve been around since you’ve been with the Saints? If that’s the case, does that raise your expectations of how well you think the team will perform even in the absence of Sean Payton?
“Keep in mind that I haven’t been here this off-season so I haven’t seen any of the young guys other than just practice film and that kind of thing, I haven’t seen them in person. I know the type of team that we have coming back, and I know that from the free agents that we signed and the hype around the young guys. I can’t sit here and tell you that this is the most talented team, but when its all said and done, this team will have been through the most if you gauge it off this off-season. You’re always going to face adversity during the season; it comes in different forms. You don’t always know when its going to come but every one of the championship teams during the history of time had their rough stretches during the season. During our Super Bowl year we won thirteen in a row and lost the last three in a row. Everybody was talking about how no team has ever won a playoff game after losing their last three in a row and we debunked that theory and won a championship. I’m all about doing things that have never been done before. But on a talent level, that’s not what’s going to define this team.”
How big a loss is not having Sean Payton here, and what kind of an impact does it have on you?
“Not having him at least to talk to, as a friend, as a mentor, I’ve always known that when I walk into the facility I would see his face. That’s difficult, that’s tough. At this point, I don’t know how that’s going to go down because it’s the first day of training camp and I haven’t been here all off-season. I know it’s going to be adjustment. All I can say about that is how much confidence I have in Pete Carmichael. Keep in mind that you take Sean Payton away, and yet you still have the play-caller for the most part from last year in Pete Carmichael. You have a new defensive coordinator installing a new system, there’s not a more well-respected defensive coach in the league than Steve Spagnuolo. You’ve got your two play-callers on either side of the ball in place. You’ve got Joe Vitt with over 30 years of experience, who’s been an interim head coach before, who has been an assistant head coach for many years, who’s been extremely involved in the important decision making on many different teams throughout his career. It’s not like we’re walking into this with a bunch of rookies. We’ve been down some interesting roads before, now this is uncharted territory. I know we’re equipped to handle whatever comes our way.”
Going back to your CEO analogy, can you describe some of the traits of Sean that you will miss by his physical absence?
“Yes, just fundamental things for me as a quarterback. I’ve grown to know when comments would be coming from him in regards to my fundamentals. If I miss a throw
for whatever reason, I know what he’s saying. It would be “elbow up, get your foot out in front, get your hips around, front shoulder down.” I’m going to get a comment based upon how I miss the throw and what type of throw it was. I know its coming before it comes, and now his voice is going to be in my head whether its coming out of his mouth or not, so he’s present even though he’s not present.”
What kind of reflection have you done about the season you guys had offensively last year?
“It’s been a while since I’ve reflected about that besides the ESPYs the other night. The award was given for record-breaking performance and you see the highlights that bring back a lot of emotions from that night and that season and all the guys that were a part of that. It would’ve taken me all night to name the people that had something to do with that, and there was so many that I tried to name as many by nickname as I could. Listen, that was special. That’s in the history books. That’s there forever. Nobody can take that away from me until somebody else breaks the record down the line, which I hope they do because records are made to be broken, but it still doesn’t take away the moment. Just like the Super Bowl moment will always be there, just the 2006 reopening of the Superdome moment will always be there, certain moments will be frozen in time. Even though life goes on and you continue to set goals and aspirations towards creating more of those moments, you still have those moments to look back on and smile on, that kind of thing. And in the end that’s why you play the game, is to experience moments like that.”
How can you personally fill some of the void that has been created by Sean Payton’s absence from the team?
“I know Sean has said this, and I’ve said this too. It’s easy for us all to say “Hey we have to pick up all this slack,” and put this undue pressure on ourselves. The fact of the matter is that the pieces have been put in place in this organization since 2006 to withstand anything that will come our way. You create the environment, the culture, the belief, and the faith. You go out and get the individuals: the coaches and players, so you can withstand anything that is thrown your way. I think it would be easy for us to sit here and want to lump too much of that pressure on us in Sean’s absence. But in the end, it really is just about doing your job and fulfilling your role and focusing on the process, and knowing that the end result will take care of itself if you can just do that. I can throw all kinds of clichés at you, its one day at a time. At the end of camp I’ll probably have some better answers for you, but at this point you’re reestablishing your identity. We are going to see how it flows during these three weeks, five weeks, and we are going to be better off for it.”
Going back to 2006, what’s the most important thing you learned that season?
“‘06, I wasn’t sure if we were going to win a game to be honest with you. I think a lot of people would say that. We were still finding ourselves big time. We were just a group of vagabonds that were kind of got pulled from all across the country. A bunch of castaways brought to New Orleans and kind of put together. We were the ultimate team. I think we defined that term in the way we played and the way we all came together and sacrificed for one another. We weren’t the most talented, but we pulled it together and found a way to win a lot of games. I think we were, in a lot of cases, carried by the emotions and the spirit of the city and everybody coming off of Katrina. I believe that here we are six years later and we’ve established ourselves as one of the contenders in this league. Each and every year when people see the New Orleans Saints on their calendar, they’ve got to get their mind right because we’re a team that believes we can win every time we step on the field and should win every time we step on the field, no matter who we’re playing against. Whether we’re outmatched physically or talent-wise or whatever it might be, we believe. We’ve been through too much at this point. We have too much invested to not believe that. That’s the mindset that has been created. I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
You just signed a major contract, tops in the NFL. What does that mean to you and how much additional pressure has that placed on you?
“It’s not pressure, it’s a sense of responsibility. I’m careful not to put that extra pressure on myself. There might be plenty of reasons where that would be easy to do given all the circumstances – Sean (Payton) not being here, (me) not being here during the offseason, the big contract. The fact is that I just need to be me. I know the things I need to improve upon to get better at. I know the type of leader I need to be. I know the type of example I need to be. I also know that it’s a process and that it doesn’t happen overnight. To me it’s business as usual. I’ll be honest. You might look at me and think I’m
crazy, especially after the way the whole contract process went this entire offseason, the ups and downs and how it was dragged out to the last minute. But for me, I could not wait to get back here, to get back to work, to get back to playing football, to get back being around the guys in the locker room, on the field, with the fans and just soaking it all in again and enjoying the moment. And thinking about each day trying to improve and helping to fulfill my role to take this team where we want to go.”
You were a $60 million man in 2006, you’re a $100 million man now. What’s the difference?
Nothing. Somebody asked me what I did right when I found out that the contract was done. It was two Fridays ago. … The minute I got off the phone, I changed Bowen’s poopy diaper. I then went downstairs and did a little whites in the washer. And then I went upstairs and put Baylen’s lunch in the refrigerator. That was pretty much standard operation every day during the offseason so nothing changed. Didn’t jump up and down. Didn’t do anything. Was I excited that it was done, was it a relief? Yes. But other than that, I had the same mindset every day. I was preparing like I was here or like I was getting ready to go to work every moment.