I think he is one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever had. He is a true pro. He is everything you would want in a teammate, a football player, a man, in a leader. Obviously, he is going to be missed. He has been a mainstay for this team and this offensive line for a long time, especially during our time here. I have had five great years with him. He will always be one of my close friends. I wish him and his family the best. I am not sure what is next for him, but I always love that man.
Were you surprised when you received the news?
Yeah. I guess not, in a bad way, because I think at times you hope that these times will last forever. Especially since we feel like we still have so much to accomplish. The last five years have been unbelievable, especially with him and him being a huge part of that. I guess that’s it. It’s the reality of the game we play. There is a time where it comes to an end for all of us. I guess the fact that we have all been together for so long, you just feel like it is one more guy who is all of a sudden no longer a part of this team anymore for this year. He will always be one of the greatest Saints to play just because of what he brought to the team and the city and the type of person that he was.
Is tempo something that the offense is working closely on right now?
Here is the thing, we are in those dog-days of two-a-days where everyone is tired, dragging, legs are tired, arms are tired, you are just trying to gut it out yet you can’t forget about the type of football that we play. That is a high intensity, high tempo type brand of football and we can never forget that. Even on the days you are dragging, you are tired, you have to find a way to suck it up and continue to play with the intensity that we are known for.
Do you feel good about the team’s tempo?
I feel good about some things and then again I know there are other things I need to improve. I am not there yet. It’s a journey, especially through two-a-days. It’s a marathon.
Did the offense feel like it needed to perform as well as they did today because of the high level the defense has performed at?
It’s been back and forth, as it is every camp with our defense that led by (Jonathan) Vilma and some of those other veteran guys like Will Smith and then some young guys and Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt, Billy Johnson and everybody else. It’s an intense atmosphere and so we are always at each other’s throats. In the end, I think that is what makes us better.
How do you deal with the release of a long-time teammate? The minute I heard today about Stinch, the biggest emotion is that you thought this journey was going to last forever. Like I said, it comes to an end for all of us at some point. Some sooner than others. Jon had a great 8-year career. He was a Pro-Bowler, he was a World Champion and a starter the entire time we have been here. He has been a main-stay. He embodies everything in a teammate you would ever want. He is tough. He is hard working. He is smart. He is a great leader. He is positive. I just miss coming in to the locker room and seeing his face every day and telling stories and laughing and joking around, then going out on the field and going to battle with him. You miss all that stuff.
With the accelerated pace of camp, can you even say goodbye to such a good friend and teammate in Jon Stinchcomb?
That’s the thing. We are saying goodbye to him as a teammate on this 2011 team. We are not saying goodbye to him as a friend. We will always be very close. He is one of those guys that is just a rare breed.
Are you comfortable with Zach Strief coming into the starting role?
There is no question. Zach is another one of those guys that has been here for all five years. You talk about kind of a renaissance man on the o-line. He has played just about every position. He has come in at both tackle positions, at times, and started games. He has played tight end in a lot of situations. Goal line, we have even thrown a pass to him, although don’t bring that up with him. He is a guy that I have a lot of confidence in. I know he has been biding his time, waiting for his opportunity and I am excited for him. I am excited because I know how hard he has worked and he deserves to be in the position he is to fight for that job.
What growth have you seen in Jimmy Graham?
It’s easy to spot just raw talent, which he obviously is. Then, to actually play the tight end position with a knowledge and an understanding of the bigger picture and understanding that I have an important role in the blocking scheme, I have an important role on certain routes where I’m not getting the ball, I am the go-to guy a lot and I understand how they are going to start playing me. He is in a position now, especially when you go through a camp like this where he is running around a lot, he is doing a lot of physical things so he is getting beat up a little bit, you have to fight through a lot of that stuff and understand what it is to play tight end in the NFL. He is a guy who loves football. I think that is one of the most important things, he loves the game. He wants to be great and he is willing to work to do that. That is everything that you would want in a guy. He listens. He is one of those guys that thinks that he is better athlete than everybody else and he can go out there with just raw talent and just beat you. He is starting to understand how important technique and fundamentals are. He has a great mentor in David Thomas, who has helped him tremendously throughout this entire offseason. I think he has a good group of veteran guys around him that help steer him in the right direction.
Is it a wake-up call in the locker room when a veteran, like Jon Stinchcomb, gets released? Yeah, definitely. Here is a guy who is two years removed from a Pro Bowl. Obviously, he has been a five year starter. I think, for everybody, it goes to show that each and every year you have to prove yourself. There is always somebody clipping at your heels. I think, for all of us, our goal should be just to get a little bit better and find ways to do that. At some point, when guys get later on in their career, it becomes the balance between what you can do physically and what you bring mentally from a leadership stand-point to the team. I think, at some point for every guy, the physical skills start to diminish a little bit. That’s where you really have to rely on your technique, your experience level, and your understanding of the game. A lot of guys get by at the end of their career just on their smarts, their experience level, and their technique. You are constantly fighting that battle for playing time. You are fighting for a job, fighting for a role on the team. The unfortunate thing is that we are starting off with 90 guys, but we have to pull it down to 53. There are a lot of guys that won’t be on this team, and yet they are fighting tooth and nail out here right now trying to make the squad, trying to be a contributor. It’s the fight that everyone faces every year. You can’t get complacent. Certainly, that is something that makes you think a little bit.
Do you take any leadership among the offensive line? Each position group has their own chemistry amongst the group, just because they spend so much time together in the meeting rooms and that kind of thing. We, as quarterbacks, spend a lot of time with the offensive line. Obviously, on the field, in the meetings, off the field, o-line dinners, hanging out, and just around one-another. Obviously, those guys do a lot to keep me clean and keep me healthy. I think, as a unit, it’s one of the toughest groups to get all on the same page because it is the group with the most guys on the field at one time. There are five of those guys on the field at all times. It’s not like d-line that might rotate every now and then. There are five lineman and they are in every play. They are grinding it out, no matter how tired they are. Every situation they have to be ready for and they have to be able to work together and communicate so well. It’s the group that takes the longest time to mesh, to gel. This group has been together for a long, long time. Now, you look at it this year, Olin Kreutz comes in as our new center. He is a veteran guy who has been around a lot, played a lot of football, six time Pro-Bowler. Now it is, potentially, Zach Strief or Charles Brown or whoever is going to compete for that right tackle position. Zach Strief has been here for five years, going on six. He knows this team. He knows those guys. They know him. I am very confident, very comfortable, in the group that we have despite the fact that we have had to say goodbye to both Jonathan Goodwin and Jon Stinchcomb. Obviously, I take a big interest in it.
Former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert has two sons playing college football in Louisiana this season. There's Beaux, a 6-4, 215-pound freshman quarterback at Nicholls State, and there's T-Bob, an interior lineman at LSU. T-Bob's real name is Bobby Joseph Hebert III...But my name of the week: Jake Stoneburner, one of those Ohio State's tight ends...
Interior linemen are more important in the Saints offense than tackles. That's why they pay them more. Left tackle Jerod Bushrod makes $1 million per year and Zach Strief and Charles Brown will compete for Jon Stinchcomb's former job. Strief is scheduled to make $1 million in base salary and Brown has a base salary of $450,000. On the inside, guard Jahri Evans has a $3 million base salary and fellow guard Carl Nicks earns $2,611 million. The Saints signed veteran center Olin Kreutz for $2 million. The Saints list Drew Brees' height at 6-feet. But ESPN sports columnist Pat Yasinskas said he stood next to the quarterback when Brees was wearing cleats and he's sure Brees is more like 5-11 or 5-10. The writer said when you have a that size quarterback in the pocket, you need dominant interior linemen who can keep defenders from getting any penetration. If they do, they're going too knock down a lot of his passes. If Bree's is 5-11 or 5-10, how tall is shorter backup Chase Daniel? Both could beat Darren Sharper in a height contest.
Do you approach the game against the Houston Texans any differently than the game against the San Francisco 49ers as far as getting them ready to play? It is the same approach. It has kind of been the same approach for most of our preseason games. Most of the week, we are working on installs and working against each other. The last day and a half, we switch gears to plays that are geared toward the opponent. That would hold true this week.
So the lockout doesn’t change your preparations? I don’t think it changes. I don’t think it changes the way we approach. We have so much that we are working on that the last day, the day before, we will focus on a Texans game-plan.
Can you point out what kept the team from being successful on offense early on? We had the penalty on one. We had a big play to (Robert) Meachem that we weren’t able to convert on and we ended up punting after that. Those were a couple things. On offense, if you take a penalty then your percentages of scoring on a drive decrease dramatically. We’re just trying to stay ahead of the chains and stay on schedule. Those are some of the things that you look at right away.
You talked about pressuring on 18 of the first 22 plays. Over the course of the game, was that number higher? The total snap count, I don’t have. I know, going in, we had talked about this being a good game to work a lot of our pressure packages from the get-go. It just kept coming. It was good work for us. It was good work for our players. There were some things that weren’t perfect. The intensity level, the hustle, and the energy made up for some things that we will clean up. It is a tape that we can put on with the defense and say, here are the things that we did real well and here are the things we can clean up. It was good tape, and it was encouraging.
Was there anything that you didn’t like? I thought the sideline was clean. I thought our organization was clean. I didn’t feel like it was sloppy. I think the one aspect was scoring early on. That is the one thing that you come away from and say, ‘I wish we had more success early while Drew was in there.’ I liked the effort, I liked the energy. I thought we came out and we were physical. I was real pleased with the way we handled the blitz packages defensively and I was real pleased with the kicking game.
by Ed Staton