In a question-and-answer session after Sunday's practice, he talked about Drew Brees, Gregg Williams' tearing down rookies before he builds them up, becoming an All-Pro safety and married life.
Coach Payton said that some guys “just get it more quickly than others.” Now going into your third year, you seem to be one of those guys. Can you talk about your successful transition to the safety position and if you’ve never looked back.
“Well there are some things that I’m still learning. The things I have learned, I’m definitely applying on the field. It’s training camp, so you get to take more chances than you normally would and feel out your position. I definitely think I’ve learned a lot over the past two years and, going into my third year, I’m a lot more comfortable at the free safety position than I was at this time last year and I think its showing.”
There was a lot of uncertainty last year: you didn’t know if you were going to take Darren’s (Sharper)’s place, and you responded well. This year, you are the starting free safety. Is there a different feel to this training camp?
“Definitely. I don’t feel that urgency of having to make plays to keep a spot. Last year I was still learning the position, but I knew in my mind that I had to make some plays if I want to keep this position when Darren comes back. I don’t have that pressure, but anything can happen. I’m still getting better and trying to learn the position. I definitely wish I still had Darren here to teach me some more things. But, as we go along and get more reps, I think I’ll continue to get better.”
When you look back to your early time here, you played more cornerback than safety. Can you draw from that experience? Does that make you a better safety?
“I think so because I know what a corner is facing and what his techniques are, so I know when I need to help more or lean that way or I know what he sees. So it, as far as the camaraderie in the defensive backfield, it makes us that more together because we all know what each other are thinking. I know what they see. They might not know exactly what I see, but I know how to help them which makes me a little bit faster. It helps me when we want to change things up and when I go down to cover somebody I have the ability to do that as well using the skills I learned at cornerback.”
You’ve had a couple of interceptions of Brees here early on in camp. Is there sort of a competition you have going on with him right now?
“No, not yet. I’ve always learned that if you pick Drew Brees off, it’s nothing that you did; he probably made a mistake. You just take it and be quiet because, if he targets you out it’s going to be a long day for you.”
How much time have you spent watching film of last year’s games on just your position specifically?
“I’ve probably watched each game from last year about three times throughout this off-season, just looking at different plays I could’ve made or what could’ve put me a step closer to making a play here or there. I’ve definitely been taking notes and I’m trying those things out now as we go through this training camp and see what I can do to get better. When you work in the off-season, you study yourself. That’s how you know what to work on once you get to training camp; those are the things you try to improve on.”
How have you been able to balance studying film with your marriage?
“Well, she’s been in school. My wife has been in school pretty much the whole off-season, so we both kind of have our study time. But she just went to Chicago, she will be there for 11 weeks finishing up school there. So I have a little bit of time to get into my own regimen and routine of film study, but when she gets back I might have to cut down a little bit.”
Did you ever envision yourself playing safety? I know it’s probably not exactly what you had in mind.
“Well, when they brought me in, they strictly talked about cornerback. We never really talked about playing safety. I played a little bit of it in college, so I always knew I had the ability to. But I’m the type of player- you can put me where you want- I’m going to give you everything I’ve got and learn how to play that position the best I can.”
Can you talk a little bit about “keeping the band together” as far as Shanle coming back, Harper and some other guys coming back?
“I think it’s big. We made some big strides last year, defensively, and it’s due to having those veteran guys in the lineup who have been in the system and have learned it a little bit better. I think having those same guys back is going to do a lot for the camaraderie in the locker room. You have veterans who have been in this defense and know the defense, so we can keep developing and continue to play well.”
Do you block out a certain amount of time per day for film study?
“During the season, we’re usually here most of the day. I normally watch 2-3 hours of film per day once I get home. You know, that’s pretty much every day during the season. Film study is definitely a big part of my daily schedule and it definitely helps me out when I get on the field.”
Do you study Drew Brees?“Yes. I have studied Drew this off-season…tried to. He’s smart enough to change some of his tendencies. We like to compete against Drew a lot, so I’ve definitely studied him this off-season. Drew is one of the three or four quarterbacks in the league that is smart eno
enough to look off and really manipulate a defense with his eyes and his shoulders and things like that. So I know if I can defend Drew, 9 times out of 10 I can defend any quarterback in this league because there aren’t many quarterbacks who can do what Drew does. Being able to prepare for Drew has definitely helped me to prepare for other teams.”
Has anyone, in this league in particular, that you respect ever told you that if you keep progressing you can be a top safety in this league?
“Probably Gregg (Williams). He’s probably inspired me the most. When they were trying to get me before the draft, he told me that from what he’s seen on film and through my work ethic, he thinks that I can be great as long as I keep that edge. I try to stay hungry, continue to learn (and want to learn), and not get complacent, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Does he try to tear you down first, before building you up?
“Absolutely. Any rookie, it doesn’t matter who you are, he’s going to curse you out every single day, for a whole year. We told Johnny Patrick to just get used to it, be strong-minded, let it roll off your shoulders, and continue to get better because he will coach you up. Once you get through all the hoopla, there is a good point at the end.”
Do you end up laughing at it sometimes?
“Oh yeah. If you don’t laugh at it, it will drive you crazy. You have to laugh at Gregg sometimes. Just let him talk, and move on from there.”
Do you think you can be an all-time great for this team?
“I mean that’s the goal. I’m still working, I’m still learning, and I’ll meet that goal when I get there. Right now I’m just trying to get better, trying to continue to learn this craft, to learn this position, and we will see when the time comes.”