What are your early impressions of Coach Spagnuolo and the new defense?
“I think there’s a big difference. There’s a lot more zone. It’s a lot different than what we’re used to with Gregg Williams’ defense. I don’t think there are many defenses like his, but it definitely takes a lot of pressure off of our corners and a lot of stress off of our back end guys. There’s a lot on me and Roman to kind of have eyes on the quarterback and play left-right so we can both be in the box and in the backfield. I think it brings some challenging things to quarterbacks as far as figuring out who’s coming. The zone packages are pretty fun.”
What are some of the biggest adjustments going to be in this new defense?
“Last year we played a lot of man-to-man and a lot of matchup. This year we’ll still be playing some matchups, but there will be a lot of zone schemes with zone pressures and things like that. Being able to transition to those kinds of things and knowing where your teammates are going to be at (is new.) It’s going to be an adjustment. It seems to be going pretty well. I think guys really like the adjustment. Like I said, there’s a lot less stress on the back end and it allows us to keep our eyes on the quarterback. Hopefully, that will result on making some more plays on the ball.”
Coach Spagnuolo said he wants his safeties to be making tackles as close to the line as possible. Are we going to be seeing you play closer to the line than you did last year?
“Yes, I think so. In the last couple of years, we preached to have our safeties back deep. I think we started off at 20 yards just so we could play downhill. A lot of times, if the ball got to me it was a bad thing. This year, we’re playing a lot closer to the line of scrimmage. Like I said, Roman (Harper) and I are basically playing the same position. We could play left or right, so we could both be down within linebacker depth. If they continue to go left-right, you’ll continue to see me closer to the line of scrimmage. Even when I am deep, it’s not going to be the 20 yards that we’ve been playing. It will be closer to 15 or 12 yards from the ball.”
Do you think playing closer to the line will give you more opportunities to be a playmaker?
“Yes, definitely. I think instead of it being a clean-up role like it’s been in the last couple of years, I’ll be closer to the ball and that’ll give me some more opportunities to make some more plays. It’s a lot less stressful making a tackle at nine yards as opposed to 19.”
With the fast pace of practice that Gregg Williams used to have, do you think that’s going to carry over into this season?
“Yes. Those are the things that helped us out a lot. Those are the types of qualities that we want to keep and the type of coaching we want to keep. When the ball is on the ground, we want everyone hustling to it, picking it up, trying to score, trying to block and using that relentless pursuit to the ball. Those are the things that our team has built on over the last few years and those are the things we plan on keeping.”
Is it different trying to adjust to a different coach’s personality?
“It’s definitely different. It’s a lot quieter and there’s a lot more teaching and other stuff going on. Spags still has a way, and we were talking about it earlier, there’s not a lot of cursing or anything like that, but he has a way of letting you know when he’s serious and when he’s disappointed. It gets across. I think the veterans know what he expects of us and we know what we expect of ourselves. We’ll do a good job of governing ourselves in regards to the tempo of practice, what we expect out of the young guys and holding them accountable as well as the new veterans. I think it’s a good balance and, as I said, it’s really good because we’re learning a new defense. They’re allowing us to go through some growing pains, but at the same time as we get further and further into these OTAs, they’ll kind of shorten the chain.”
Can you tell if going through this offseason turmoil is going to bring this defense closer together?
“I think so. I don’t think it took the offseason turmoil to bring us closer together. I think just the fact that we have a new defense and the way that we finished off the year last year and the season overall, we gave up too many big plays. Coming off that kind of year, coming off a playoff loss and having a new defense, I think that was just enough to kind of bring this unit back together. We’re already a close unit, but to really kind of get back to the basics and redefine our identity and start learning this all together because everybody has to prove themselves again. When you get a new scheme and a new coach, everybody has an interview and every day is an interview. We’ll treat it as such.”
What do you think of Jonathan Vilma suing the commissioner?
“I didn’t really think much about it. I don’t really know much about it with the ins and outs, but I know the kind of person Jonathan Vilma is and I know the kind of people in our building. We’re behind each and every one of them. We support them 100 percent. We wish them luck in their endeavors and stuff like that. I think the focus on the team really is on the things we can control. We have some great opportunities to look forward to with a new defense and with the schedule coming out and having the Super Bowl in New Orleans, there are a lot of things to look forward to. We don’t have time to dwell on the past. Things have started off well. We’re happy to be back to OTAs and just really taking those steps towards putting together a winning season.”
Were you surprised the NFL Players Association fired back at the NFL?
“It’s unfortunate what the relationship between the commissioner and the NFLPA is now. That’s really not how it should be, but I’m not in the situation. I definitely support Jonathan (Vilma) and everything he’s doing, but we have bigger things on our plate and a huge task in front of us. That’s all we’re focused on.”
Have you guys been talking a lot about the Super Bowl being in New Orleans?
“How can you not talk about it? Especially with the team you have, you know you can be there and we’ve gotten close. We were a few plays from having the NFC Championship here at home last year. We won it two years before that. To know that you have the pieces to make it work, that’s what we’re focused on right now. That’s our goal. No one has ever done it in their own city, and I think the pressure is on us, at least internally, to have this be a huge year. I think everyone knows the importance of it and how huge of a deal that would be for us to get that Super Bowl. That’s what we play for, that’s what we get paid for and that’s what we live for. I think to try to ignore it and act like it’s something you’re not thinking about is wasting your time.”
Do you think anytime there’s a big hit delivered by a Saints defense that it will be scrutinized or looked at closer than ever?
“Of course they’re going to make a big deal about it. The thing I’m more excited about is hearing how loud that dome will get when we hit somebody. I’m pretty sure everybody is going to play with the same intensity and the same fire and passion that we’ve played with over the last few years. I know that dome will get loud when we do lay a clean hit on someone. I don’t think anyone is really worried about us getting scrutinized, but we’re going to go out and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and the way we know how to play it.”
Do you like the approach that Coach Spagnuolo takes to his defense?
“Spags’ defense isn’t a sit-back defense. It’s still aggressive. It’s not your all-out pressure that you get from a Gregg Williams defense, but he does have a lot of pressure coming from a lot of different places and he preaches playing fast and playing downhill. So you’ll still see the same aggressive style of play with everyone swarming and everybody getting to the ball and different blitzes with everyone coming from different places, but you might not see all of this all-out pressures and things like that. I think he takes a little bit less risk, but it’s still aggressive most of the time. I think we’ll enjoy it.”
What kind of reception do you think your team will get going into visiting stadiums?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we got booed. It’s been talked about, and I think there’s no other way to take it but to have that us against the world type of thing. That’s what it is anyway. I don’t think it will bother us. The reception that we receive at someone else’s stadium is really the last thing on our minds. All we’re going in there for is to win games and that’s what we’re working for now. I think we’ll win a lot of them.”
Do you think you guys are viewed as villains?
“I don’t know. That’s not for me to really worry about.”
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