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Payton: "Tomorrow we focus on St. Louis"

Opening Statement:

“We waived wide receiver Steve Hull, nose tackle Tyrone Ezell and linebacker Marcus Thompson.  We signed wide receiver Tobias Palmer and tight end Richard Quinn.  It puts us at 89 right now.  We will see where we are at with the last spot.  Today was a little modified.  We changed up some of the periods.  The emphasis was two minute. That was the install last night.  This afternoon we will get another walk through in and then shift our gears.  Tomorrow will be focused on St. Louis.”

Did you make a decision on Drew Brees’ availability for Friday’s game?

“Not yet.”

It looks like you turned up the dial on practice today and made it more physical with the running backs working on blocking.

“We had a period that was different.  We had a pass pro (protection) period which involved three, four different areas of the field where everyone was in some way shape or form of blocking, (and participating in) pass protection mainly with the tight ends and linebackers, running backs and linebackers trying to create game like experiences.  When you do that, you get more tempo.”

What did you think about the running backs in that period?

“It’s a good drill.  The challenge is always trying to simulate the holes the linebackers have to hit.  Often times they can become kind of allies to the running backs when you are talking about linemen.  The key thing you are looking for is pad level technique and that’s the whole thing that we are trying to work on daily is improving the technique these guys are either rushing with or blocking with and that was the emphasis with that drill.”

Why would it even be a question right now whether or not to play Drew Brees on Friday?

“We just haven’t come out and said which way or another.  We are monitoring it day-by-day.  He is feeling a lot better.  We will see.  Probably by tomorrow we will know.  I don’t want to say one thing and then all of a sudden it be the other.  I know he is feeling better.”

What about a couple of the linemen, Ben Grubbs?

“Same way, we are just going to see how they feel tomorrow.  We’ll probably make a decision tomorrow with a lot of the injured players and then that will have some bearing on whether they travel or not.”

Do you think teams are playing too many exhibition games or not enough?

“You’re at 90 (players) and are going to be down to 53 (players) in three or four weeks, I currently like what we have.  We have four opportunities there.  I don’t want to say they are just like scrimmages, they are not.  But they are opportunities for us to evaluate.  There’s going to be a player or two here, Friday night, that stands out, maybe (and) separates himself a little bit.  The easiest way to do that is in the kicking game.  And yet I recognize the challenge as you get to the final preseason game which are all typically played on Thursday.  You’re mindful of injury.  Those are the challenges.  I don’t know if that changes if you are playing three preseason games.  It’s really the distance from the last preseason game to the start of the regular season.  I currently right now think what we’re doing works.  I think the modifications we made to training camp have helped.  Look, it is what it is.  I really don’t give a lot of thought to it because it’s probably an area you don’t have a lot of control over.  I think so far this calendar has worked pretty well.  We have, obviously, a lot of time left here.”

What is the next thing you want to learn about Brandin Cooks?

“I think with regards to what he missed in the spring and where he is at now, he has picked things up pretty quick.  I think there are a plethora of technique things that we are working on.  That would be the number one thing, the technique, the position, the alignments, some of the two minute calls, some of the hand signals if you will, a lot of the nuances that come with just repetition and practice time.  I think that will be the number one thing.  He seems willing to block.  He seems like he has a toughness.  The other thing I would say also is consistency is a returner, locating, tracking and on every snap catching the ball properly, securely and being reliable that way.”

How important is it for the tight ends and running backs to develop to skill of blocking?

“There are a ton of snaps where a tight end for us might be involved in protection, often times on a linebacker or safety and sometimes with the tackle on a defensive end.  There’s a little bit of, not a guessing game, but with regards to your protection, there are snaps where the back releases right away and is not involved in any protection and then there are other snaps, quite a few, where he has to be able to block an inside linebacker.  The only way to work that technique is to create that live drill if you will because it is hard to necessarily get them the reps in team because often times there might now be a dog or a blitz.  That was one of the points of emphasis today, setting up four different drills.  The receivers were working on their blocking with the corners.  The tight ends were down here working (on) their technique blocking the outside linebacker position or the strong safety position and then the running backs were handling the inside linebacker.  It’s something that in training camp we like to get to once a week with the idea being a player might receive four or five snaps.  It’s going to come up in a game and what I don’t want is the very first full speed look for a runner or a tight end be or one of our guys involved in the pressure to be in a game.  I thought it was good.  I thought it was organized. I thought guys were going hard.”

Can you talk about how you think the NFL has handled Michael Sam entering the league?

“I don’t know that the players or the NFL contributed to how big or how little the story was.  I think I said this back at the (NFL) owners meeting and at the beginning of training camp with our players in the offseason, if you listen last year to Bill Parcells’ Hall of Fame speech, I think it’s very right on.  I think we’re in a business.  We’re in a league that is striving to win.  I think the locker room welcomes all those who can help them do that.  The history of our league has had players of every state, regardless of color and creed.  I think the same thing would apply.  I think the uniqueness is that this was a first.  Typically after the first it is probably not the same story with the second or third. I don’t know that.  Once we get into the game, I think that we use this term, they’re faceless opponents, we’re blocking assignments, and we’re playing against a team last year that finished strong and a team that gave us a good butt kicking in the regular season.  To your question, I think, certainly, my expectation would be it would not be as a big of a story line the next time it occurs.  I think history has told us that in regards to other barriers in sports.”

If you would have been drafting in the seventh round would you consider that he would be a distraction to pick?

“It would have been based on our grade.  I read partly on what Tony (Dungy) said.  Our decision strictly during the draft would be based on whether or not we felt like he could help us and whether or not we had a grade on a player.  It didn’t come up, but that’s what we would really look at.”

What are you looking for to seeing on Friday night?

“A simple thing like alignment, having the right amount of players on the field, one of the challenges for the special team coaches this time of the year, you are dealing with 90 players.  We try to break it in phases so everyone’s communicating when we’re in phase one, phase two, or phase three.  There’s a lot of moving parts in regards to the special teams.  What you don’t want to see is 10 or 12 guys on the field (resulting in a penalty).  You want to see guys getting set, getting aligned and playing fast.  That is the best chance to evaluate a player, he knows what to do.  If he doesn’t, then you are really not receiving a good evaluation. If he consistently doesn’t know what to do, you are gaining information as well.”

Have you been pleased with Derrick Strozier?

“So far he has done well.  He has a lot to learn.  The ball has been on the ground a few times.  With the pads on it is a little different.  I think for a young guy he’s handled the installation.  He knows what to do. I am anxious to see him.”

What are you going to look for out of the safeties and cornerbacks especially trying to cover Tavon Austin during the game?

“He presents challenges.  He’s a fast receiver.  He has great speed.  He’s someone they use very well in the reverses, misdirection.  He’ll play inside.  He’ll line up in a few different spots.  Obviously he’s an explosive player.  You just have to go back to one game and see him in college versus Oklahoma.  As a returner, he’s a guy you have to be mindful of on every snap.  He’s very explosive and I felt, probably, he played better in the second half of the season for them thann in the early portion of the season.  He’s a great talent.”

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