Key pieces to the Saints' puzzle for 2012. Read Mike's column here.
The career of Fox 8 sportscaster Jennifer Hale changed dramatically a year ago. Hale was working on the New Orleans-based morning news broadcast with Rob Masson at the time, but due to the loss of two of the station’s sports reporters and a twist of fate, the former LSU cheerleader who had majored in Political Science in college turned into a sports anchor for the station and also a sideline reporter for NFL games for the Fox Network.
While there have been other female sports anchors in New Orleans in the past, none have ever been involved with a major network for coverage of the NFL.
“We had a couple of our sports reporters leave for other jobs and the station liked what I had done in covering the training camp period for the Saints and offered me the sports anchor job at 4:00PM and I was also involved in our weekly Saints show, “Hale said. “I had pretty much decided that the morning show and investigative reporting was going to be my niche in the broadcast field. I played softball and ran track in high school, and I always had an interest in sports.”
Hale said that Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel had seen some of her work, such as covering LSU Sports for LSU Sports.net and the negotiations between the Saints and the Mike Foster administration during the state deal for the team.”
“Greg (Bensel) told me during the summer training camp period that the Fox Network was looking for sideline reporters and he made a call for me and the next day I received a call back from Fox,” Hale said. “I have never had a break like that before in this business.”
Recently Hale came to terms with the Fox Network to work her second season as an NFL sideline reporter working on the broadcast team with John Lynch and Dick Stockton.
While Hale was born in New Orleans, Jennifer grew up in Mobile, only to return to Louisiana to attend college. After finishing up at LSU she earned a Master of Science in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Hale also studied political journalism at Georgetown University and spent several weeks in Belgium and Germany studying the German and European systems of government and trade.
While working in Monroe, Baton Rouge and Birmingham Hale also did work for LSUSports.net and participated in both news and sports.
“I loved returning to LSU and doing work for their web site and doing interviews with the players. This jump to the Fox Network was big for me, but I was determined to make it work,” Hale said. “The amount of material sent to you weekly is enormous. You get about five to six inches of paper work from the NFL and you are also getting newspaper write-ups from each of the teams you are covering. I get in touch with the communication directors each week and get information from them and I know in my position I am looking for an angle to cover that doesn’t interfere with what the play-by-play and the analysts will talk about during the broadcast. Every week the challenge is to get ready for just about anything to happen and I have index cards on every player because you never know who will be the gamechanger that week.”
Hale says each week they get to talk to the home team’s coaches and a few select players, notably the starting quarterback, on the Friday leading to the game and they get time to talk to the visitor’s coaches on the Saturday.
“It was interesting to hear the talk amongst the coaches and players and have them tell you what is on their minds that week. Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys talked to me about trying to control his weight during the season, I spoke to Tanard Jackson, the safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers right before he played his first game back after being suspended for a over a year and he was very candid about his off the field problems. Larry Fitzgerald the wide receiver with the Arizona Cardinals is a terrific football player and a real classy guy during interviews and every week there seemed to be an issue with the games I was covering with the health of one of the starting quarterbacks. In particular, the game I covered late in the season with the Detroit Lions was that quarterback Matt Stafford would be wearing a glove on his right throwing hand due to an injury. He actually was using gloves like the ones that wide receiver Calvin Johnson wears and he gave me one to show the viewers that day.”
The award winning journalist also was on the sidelines when Saints head coach Sean Payton sustained his major leg injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was on the sidelines for the heart-breaking loss by the Saints to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.
“Part of my job is to watch the sidelines to see if any injuries occur and I was on the Tampa Bay sidelines when I saw the collision with Coach Payton and Jimmy Graham and I raced to the other sideline. I saw immediately Payton’s face was ashen and he was in a lot of pain, but he insisted he would call the plays from the bench. I could see he didn’t look good and right before halftime they took him away. I was the first to report he would not return to the sidelines, but it was a real smooth transition of coaching power to Joe Vitt and Pete Carmichael. The Saints certainly didn’t play their best that day and yet late in the contest that had a chance to pull the game out.”
“I was covering the game for Fox 8 for the San Francisco game and I hit the football field right before Jimmy Graham scored the touchdown with about a minute left and you try to be neutral, but I felt with everything that went wrong for the team that afternoon that maybe destiny was on their side. When tight end Vernon Davis made the long catch he ran right by me and I could almost feel the wind of his speed. That was a tough lockerroom to cover. Players that normally would talk to you were just sitting there speechless and many were openly crying. That was a tough moment because I knew just how much the players cared for one another and how much the city’s emotions ran on how well the Saints do.”
It was just Hale’s first year covering the NFL, but she came away with a strong impression on who were the best players she saw last season covering the NFL.
“The two players that really stood out by their performance in the games I covered were Calvin Johnson, the wide receiver with the Detroit Lions and tight end Jimmy Graham with the Saints. Both were impressive last season and the two took their game to another level and Jimmy’s story is so inspiring. I was able to do a one-on-one interview with him at the Saints camp during the season and it goes to show that you can beat the odds in making it successful in life, if you have the drive to do so. One rookie I saw that really stood out was Julio Jones, the wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons and he has a chance to be a breakout star this season.”
During the off-season Hale has worked both news and sports for Fox 8, but she really enjoyed the one-on-one interviews she was able to do with former Saints defensive back/special teams ace Steve Gleason-who is fighting ALS and Gayle Benson-the wife of Saints owner Tom Benson, and also covering the NBA draft from Newark, New Jersey.
“I really love the one-on-one sessions I do,” Hale said. “I enjoy the research on their background, trying to find the right questions to ask them and also part of being a good interviewer is just being a good listener and letting them talk. It’s something I would really like to do more of. It is an inspiration to see the courage of Steve Gleason and to see him fighting all the health issues that comes with the disease and how his wife, Michel, who is just wonderful, is handling this. Mrs. Benson was terrific and very open about her life, her faith and how involved she was in getting Mr. Benson to buy the Hornets.”
“It was exciting to cover the NBA draft. It was the first time I got a chance to see the process from right where the action was in Newark, New Jersey. Last season it was hard to give a good evaluation on coach Monty Williams because of all the injuries, the trade of Chris Paul, Eric Gordon missing so much of the season and the uncertainty of who would eventually own the team. There is clarity in that department now and they have three outstanding talents in Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Darius Miller to help put the building blocks in place for the future. Signing Eric Gordon long-term is the big key for success from everyone I spoke to who covers the NBA. He certainly was a difference maker when he came back from the injury late in the season and then they acquired a sharpshooter from Orlando in Ryan Anderson. I know expectations will be high for them, but this is still a young team that plays in a tough conference and it will take some time to mesh together. But I feel as though they will be very exciting to watch this season.”
With all of her accomplishments Jennifer Hale is humbled by being labeled a trailblazer in this area for women.
Jennifer Hale says her growth as a sports reporter has provided her many great learning experiences and some obstacles along the way.
“I have never thought of myself as pioneer for women in this area, but I know I have a lot of pride in doing the best job I can. I fully understand that being on television locally other young women see me and I hope I can inspire others to also get into this profession, if that is what they want to be. I am still learning some facets of the NFL and also the NBA and the leagues are constantly changing scheme wise and personnel wise, so it keeps you studying every aspect each day. I was surprised to some extent by some resistance on me covering sports from people I wouldn’t have expected that from. Covering politics in the past helped me get through some times that were baffling to me, but I really enjoy covering sports and also keeping my feet in the hard news part of the world also. I am a professed workaholic and I understand just how much work goes into putting on a production like the NFL. As a journalist I just want to have people say I am fair with them and give the facts the best I can at the moment with my coverage of a team or comments about players. If I can accomplish that then it is a success for me.”
NFC South teams have dramatically risen from the bottom to the top of standings. Read more of my Houma Courier column here.
In the 1970’s Penn State was considered Linebacker University. The Nittany Lions produced 19 linebackers for the NFL in that 10-year span.
Over the last 9 years when it comes down to producing defensive linemen for the NFL the top school in that category has been LSU.
In 9 seasons LSU has produced 14 defensive linemen that went on to get selected via the NFL draft and they are the only college school from 2005-2012 to have a defensive lineman selected in every draft class.
2004 Marquise Hill-DE. 2nd Round New England Patriots
Chad Lavalais-DT. 5th Round Atlanta Falcons
2005 Marcus Spears-DT. 1st Round Dallas Cowboys
2006 Claude Wroten-DT. 3rd Round St. Louis Rams
Kyle Williams-DT. 5th Round Buffalo Bills
Melvin Oliver-DE. 6th Round San Francisco 49ers
2007 Chase Pittman-DE. 7th Round Cleveland Browns
2008 Glenn Dorsey-DT. 1st Round Kansas City Chiefs
2009 Tyson Jackson-DE. 1st Round Kansas City Chiefs
Ricky Jean-Francois-DT. 7th Round San Francisco 49ers
2010 Al Woods-DT. 4th Round New Orleans Saints
2011 Drake Nevis-DT. 3rd Round Indianapolis Colts
“Pep” Levingston-DE. 7th Round Seattle Seahawks
2012 Michael Brockers-DT. 1st Round St. Louis Rams
While the Tigers have produced four 1st round picks in that 9-year frame (Spears, Dorsey, Jackson and Brockers) it has been Kyle Williams, a fifth round pick in 2006 that has emerged as the most productive defensive lineman from LSU since 2004.
Williams, a two-time All-Pro defensive tackle (2009 and 2010)was hobbled by a foot injury most of the 2011 season after signing a 6-year, $39 million dollar contract last summer and $17 million of that deal was guaranteed.
Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey says that the former Ruston High School standout defensive lineman is a “one of kind” football player.
“There are defensive tackles in this league bigger, stronger and faster than Kyle, but no one plays with more heart, more passion for the sport and has better instincts,” Gailey said. “He’s one of those guys that maybe don’t look real athletic, but he can move well and he just has a knack for slipping blocks and getting penetration from the interior. He comes from a great program at LSU and they know how to play defense in the SEC. We love those SEC guys here in Buffalo and Kyle is one of my favorite players. He is one of the best defensive tackles in the league and it is not just me saying it.”
But while LSU has a long list of former defensive linemen in the NFL it is what may hit the league in 2013 that is eye-catching. The Tigers have three defensive linemen in defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and defensive tackle Bennie Logan that I have rated in my top 15 players that could be available for the 2013 draft.
Along with the 3 probable 1st round draft choices next April the Tigers also have a potential fourth defensive lineman that could be selected in the 2013 draft in senior defensive end Lavar Edwards.
I have always believed that finding quality defensive linemen is the hardest area to find on the defensive side of the football and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis agrees.
“I agree with you 1000% on getting quality defensive linemen,” Chavis said. “Those guys are really difficult to find and we put a premium on athletic, very fast, fast flowing defensive linemen who can hit hard and attack from all angles. I am fortunate to have those type players here. There is not a better defensive end tandem in the country than Sam (Montgomery) and Barkevious (Mingo). I wouldn’t want to try and figure out how to keep them blocked and they are fast and relentless. In Bennie Logan he may be the most underrated football player in the country. He has no quit in him and he is fast, athletic, country-strong and he has a knack for quickly finding the ball. You don’t have to be a football genius to coach these guys and I love their intense nature and they hate to lose or get beat. And we got guys like Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Josh Downs waiting to hit the field for us also.”
When you look back at what defensive linemen mean to SEC schools just think about the 2007 LSU club which featured Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Al Woods, Marlon Favorite, Ricky Jean Francois and “Pep” Levingston.
In 2008 the Gators were led by Tim Tebow at quarterback, but it was the tremendous play of defensive linemen in Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Trattou-all now playing in the NFL, that help propel the Gators to the national championship.
In 2009 the Alabama Crimson Tide won the national championship led by a huge presence in the middle in Terrence “Mount” Cody, defensive end Luther Davis and one of the most talented defensive end/tackle prospects in the nation in Marcell Dareus.
In 2010 Cam Newton was certainly the most dynamic offensive player in the land, but it was defensive tackle Nick Fairley who was clearly the most dominant defensive player.
In 2011 Alabama featured the best array of linebackers in the country in Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley, but it was the stellar play of the defensive front led by Josh Chapman, Nick Gentry, Australian-born Jesse Williams and one of the most underrated players in the SEC in defensive end Damien Square, that stood out each week in their advancement to the National Championship game.
Chavis says that getting good defensive linemen is the key to victory in the Southeast Conference.
“We have had great success and the numbers prove it, but look at what Nick Saban has done at Alabama and they have had a host of very talented defensive linemen hit that campus. Cam Newton was awesome at Auburn, but in that championship year, there was not a better defensive lineman than Nick Fairley. When Florida and Georgia have had their run to the championship it was built on defense and along the defensive line. When I was at Tennessee we were very successful, but I also had Leonard Little, Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson, Aubrayo Franklin, Robert Ayers, Justin Harrell, Turk McBride and Dan Williams and all of those defensive linemen went to the NFL. It’s an easy connect the successful dot in this league.”
And for LSU it will be their ticket to play in another BCS National Championship game in January of 2013.
In 2012 when it comes down to watching defensive backs in college football all eyes will be glued on the LSU threesome of Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon, but another Louisiana and New Orleans-area product is also catching the attention of pro scouts.
Louisiana Tech’s Chad Boyd is considered one of the top senior strong safety prospects in the nation and there were over 20 NFL scouts in Ruston this Spring to get some insights on the former Archbishop Shaw High School standout defensive back.
Louisiana Tech has not had a defensive back selected in the NFL draft since the 2002 draft when safety Bobby Gray was picked in the 5th round by the Chicago Bears, but interest is high on the former prep standout from New Orleans.
“A lot of NFL teams have inquired about Chad and he certainly is deserving of the attention that is being shown in him,” said Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. “Chad is a very focused young man, you can tell he has a strong family backing, his father was a tremendous college player and Chad has the mental and physical toughness to play in the NFL. He is outstanding in run support, he is a tremendous openfield tackler, but he is underrated as a cover safety. He has the speed and coverage speed and instincts to be a real good pass defender at the next level. That position and what we want from our safeties put them in tough spots weekly, but he is always up to the challenge. I am looking forward to him being with us one more season and he is a leader on this team and his teammates respect him.”
Chad Boyd is the son of former Nicholls State First-Team All-Gulf South Conference defensive back Byron Boyd and the nephew of Glynn Boyd, another former Nicholls State graduate and an Emmy-winning television reporter and Fox-8 television news anchor Nancy Parker.
Last season Boyd earned second team All-Western Athletic Conference honors in recording 76 tackles, 3 tackles for losses, 6 pass break-ups and 3 pass interceptions. The 2008 Louisiana Class 4A state Defensive MVP as a senior is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and is geared up for a big senior season for the Bulldogs.
“I have had some problems with the shoulder and that is taken care of and I also fought off a high ankle sprain, but I am close to 100% now and I have been working hard, especially on improving my speed and quickness this off-season,” Boyd said. “I didn’t get a chance to work out for the scouts because I was rehabbing my injury, but I am a mid-4.50 speed guy and I have a 35-inch vertical jump. I ran track at Shaw, the 100 and 200 meters and in the 4x100 and 4x200 meter relays, but this is all about not losing any speed and quickness running in reverse. I know that this is an area I need to improve on and getting quicker getting out of transition in coverage spots.”
While the 5-10, 190 pound Boyd is not the biggest strong safety in the country he gets high praise from the Tech coaching staff for his excellent openfield tackling skills and his physical play out on the field.
“Chad has been an impact player for us on defense since he hit the campus at Louisiana Tech and he played in 9 games and started four as a true freshman,” said Tech defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler, who also coaches the safeties. “Chad, along with the rest of the secondary guys, works hard daily in practice on tackling, has good tackling techniques and fundamentals. Chad is a hitter and an intimidating force on defense. He has those wide receivers’ head on a swivel trying to find him after they catch the ball. Chad is a very strong openfield tackler and he comes to play with a physical presence that isn’t matched by many. I always stress that good things happen when you work hard and play all out and Chad has been outstanding for us. Chad’s also a very good cover safety and finds the ball quickly in flight. He also is a very intelligent young man and he has real quick play diagnostic skills. He normally is in the right spot to make a play on defense due to his outstanding football instincts. There is no question he has a chance to play at the next level.”
Boyd says he has worked hard on trying to perfect his man-to-man and zone coverage skills knowing that the position he plays dictates him being just as good a cover man and is run support.
“I played a lot of cornerback at Shaw and then later in my high school career they moved me to safety and I have played that spot the last three years at Tech, but when you look at the teams in our conference like Hawaii, Fresno State, Nevada and Boise State you know they will throw the ball 40 times or more a game. I have good man-to-man skills and I have had some really good coaches, including my dad, Byron, who taught me good backpedal techniques. I have improved my zone coverage skills also and I know that the position of safety has changed as much as any position on defense the last few years because so many teams want to throw the ball the majority of the time. I love the physical part of the game and I am a big hitter, but I like going one-on-one against receivers in pass situations also. For me it is all about taking good angles to the ball and reading and reacting with no hesitation toward the ball.”
While football is something Boyd has excelled at, he also is a third degree black belt in Karate.
“I started Taekwondo when I was five years old and was able to win a number of awards in tournaments across the country. My brother and I run a Karate School on the West Bank. Karate taught me a lot of self control, discipline and being mentally tough. It helps with your body balance skills and also improves your hand quickness. It also taught me to have respect for your opponent and yourself. Sometimes on the field someone does something that gets under your skin and Karate has taught me self control and I am able to deal with it better.”
Boyd says that playing at Tech has given him an opportunity to play against some of the best competition in college football.
“We went up against LSU my freshman year and we played them pretty tough. The last few years we have gone against some really good Boise State teams and Doug Martin, who the New York Giants selected in Round I in April, is one of the toughest guys I have ever gone up against and the best running back due to his relentless style of play. Greg Salas, the wide receiver from Hawaii, who the St. Louis Rams selected in the early rounds last year was the best receiver I have gone up against and he was tough to bring down in the openfield.”
“But the toughest place to play and the toughest player to go up against was Nevada and their quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nevada doesn’t have a huge stadium, but the fans are really into the game and real loud. In Colin, (who the San Francisco 49ers selected in the second round of the 2011 draft), he was so tough to play against because not only did he have a strong arm, but if you had the receivers covered he would just pull the ball down and take off running. He had great athleticism and you could tell he was a natural as a leader.”
The 5-10, 190 pound strong safety, who is projected to be a 6th or 7th round pick in the 2013 draft, has been favorably compared to another former Shaw graduate in former LSU and current Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark.
“My former high school coach Scott Bairnsfather told me that a few times. I know from watching Ryan he is about my size and he is a really tough player. You can see he loves to get physical with receivers. People have also compared me to Jerico Nelson, the former Destrehan High School and Arkansas safety, who just signed with the New Orleans Saints. There is no question my dream is to play in the NFL, but I am just worried about getting ready for the season, playing all out on each play and helping Louisiana Tech and Coach (Sonny) Dykes win games. For me winning is the most important thing.”
Hidden Gem for LSU
It’s rare that the LSU football team would recruit a junior college player and much less a player not nationally ranked, but the Tigers landed a tight end not on a lot of major publications’ radar when they got a verbal commitment Saturday afternoon from Northeast Mississippi Junior College tight end Logan Stokes.
Stokes, a 6-3 ¾, 240 pound tight end from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was mulling over a few Division I offers and a host of small college team offers, but when the Tigers and Les Miles offered Stokes this weekend he immediately accepted the scholarship offer for 2013.
Stokes was rarely used in the passing game, but the Tigers coaching staff was very impressed with his physical style of play and his excellent in-line blocking skills. The former prep defensive end is making the adjustment to the offensive side of the ball, but the coaches at Northeast Mississippi praise his eye-hand coordination and his ability to catch the ball, despite him not putting double-digit numbers for catches in his first season fulltime at tight end.
Despite growing up in Alabama, Stokes says he is not a big Alabama fan and is excited to play for LSU.
“I never was a big Alabama fan and they did show some interest in me, but when Coach Miles offered me a chance to play for LSU I immediately accepted, “ Stokes said. “I love the campus and the people here and this weekend with the Bayou Picnic going on and Countryfest it was really special. I look forward in putting on the purple and gold next year.”
Stokes ran a (4.70) 40-yard dash last month and he posted a 30-inch vertical leap in individual testing. He has three years to play two seasons for LSU starting in 2013.
Tez To the Pass Rush Rescue
This past week I had a chance to speak to workout guru Wyatt Harris at the Terrebonne Brothers for Christian Athletes Brunch and he had some strong comments for his protégé and New Orleans Saints outside linebacker turned defensive end in Martez Wilson.
“I had a feeling the Saints might give “Tez” a shot at defensive end,” Harris said. “He is a phenomenal athlete with great speed and initial explosion off the snap. He is a natural as a pass rusher. He has played the middle linebacker spot most of his career, but when they finally gave him a spot to rush the quarterback in the later stages of the playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers he made a difference. His explosive qualities and closing speed to the quarterback are things no one on this defense has today. He is going to make an impact as a pass rusher, if they give him a chance to do so.”
For 27 years Rick Venturi had just about every job on the defensive side of the ball you could imagine in the NFL. He was a position coach, assistant head coach and a defensive coordinator in the league, but he has a unique perspective on what awaits Saints linebackers coach and assistant head coach Joe Vitt as he enters his first phase as the team’s interim head coach for 2012.
On two occasions, in 1991 with the Indianapolis Colts and in 1996 with the New Orleans Saints, Venturi had to step in as an interim head coach and he has great knowledge and strong thoughts on what awaits Joe Vitt and the Saints coaching staff as they embark on a unique and unprecedented walk into the 2012 NFL season.
Venturi, now a sportstalk host on WXOS radio with Zach McCritel in St. Louis, says he knows Joe Vitt very well and what he will have to quickly establish as the head coach.
“I know Joe (Vitt) very well and in many ways his coaching career has mirrored my own,” Venturi said. “Joe is a tough guy, enthusiastic and motivated each day, he’s been a “lifer” sort of speak as an assistant and in many places in a position of authority and he is an old school coach. It is said many times, but it is not a right, but a privilege to play or coach in this league and Joe represents that as much as anyone. Where I think he will have a leg up on most interim coaches is the fact that he has done it before and he is not taking over a bad team. Joe is taking over a very good New Orleans Saints football team and one of the elite players in the game in Drew Brees.”
Venturi says experience running a team under crisis and having time to plan out the small details that goes along with running an NFL squad is in Vitt’s favor.
“Most times when you take over a team as an interim guy you have inherited a team in crisis and they are really bad teams,” Venturi said. “The Saints have had a lot of adversity this off-season, but they are really talented and I really feel the road to win the NFC South will still have to pass through New Orleans.”
“You normally have a week or if you catch a bye week, maybe 10 to 12 days to prepare for a game as a head coach, but in Joe’s case and having a very experienced staff around him, it is an entire offseason and that it will make it easier. Joe Vitt having done this before, when he did to fill in for Mike Martz when he had health issues in St. Louis, will help him. Despite maybe the record not showing it I was a lot better coach in New Orleans than I was in Indianapolis. When I got my first shot with the Colts it was a dress rehearsal sort of speak for me and being a hometown guy, if we would have had success, I might have had a shot to be the head coach the following year. In New Orleans I knew I was the caretaker for someone else. I didn’t have issues in New Orleans like I did in Indianapolis. In New Orleans we were a team in transition, we had lost some very talented defensive players and we didn’t have a lot of playmakers on offense, but we were a disciplined team. That was just the type player Jim Mora would have on his team, but we just weren’t real talented. Joe Vitt will understand how to handle things better in New Orleans based on his experience in St. Louis and what happened last season for a short stretch in New Orleans when Sean Payton was injured.”
Venturi said that despite the talk of Joe Vitt being a substitute coach or caretaker when the practices and games start, someone has to be the leader of the New Orleans Saints without Sean Payton running the football show.
“All that talk is for the fans and the media about being a substitute coach or warming the seat for Sean (Payton), and you can say it is Sean’s team, it is his system, his schedule and his way of football life, but as the head coach you have to establish yourself as the leader immediately. That team has to know you are in charge from Day One. That leadership role on the field and off the field has to be filled and that responsibility falls on Joe Vitt. Once the football bullets start to get fired you can’t turn to Sean and ask what to do next. Joe understands that better than anyone and it will be on his shoulders to be the leader. You need to make sure that everyone in the building understands you are in charge and that is from the practice field, to the staffroom, to the weightroom and then on gameday. Someone has to grasp that leadership void and there will come times if you are making a critical third down call or what to do on fourth and short, when to throw the challenge flag, situational spots to insert players or if it is off the field problems or player personal issues, the players need to know you are in charge. You have to establish a system on a daily basis to have the players know you are the boss. If it is for 2 weeks, 6 weeks or 16 games the most important thing for Joe Vitt, and if it is Aaron Kromer or Pete Carmichael or whoever runs the team when Joe isn’t there, has to be something set in place to firmly establish a leadership base. There can’t be a leadership void on this team when Joe Vitt is not there for the first six weeks. It has to be established and put in stone that there is a boss on this team.”
Venturi says that the one assistant coach that will have his role changed more than anyone is offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr.
“I believe that Sean Payton is the most talented state of the art offensive coach in the game today. There is no one that can create mismatches, find the open spots in a defense and put a rhythm in place like he can today. Pete did a very good job in his absence when Payton injured his leg last season, but now that responsibility falls on Carmichael for 16 games and maybe more, if you get into the playoffs. It is no longer a short term position. Pete was the buffer guy between two real strong personalities in Sean Payton and Drew Brees and he played that complimentary role as well as you could, but now the way this team is built around this high powered offense and Brees it will be Carmichael’s role that will change the most. He is no longer the “buffer” guy and he now becomes the guy to make those critical offensive calls. No compromise position now. He is the man called upon to drive the offensive train now and there is no doubt about it.”
Venturi still spends a lot of time watching film in doing his job in sportstalk radio and he kept a close eye on new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo when he was the head coach with the St. Louis Rams.
“I am not sure Sean Payton could have done any better selecting a defensive coordinator than Steve Spagnuolo. He didn’t have great talent at St. Louis on defense, but I am telling you that he kept opposing offensive coordinators up at night because of his scheme. He is aggressive, very creative and in many ways he wants to attack the quarterback like Gregg Williams did, but with some subtle differences. He will try and find different angles to attack the quarterback, but you can’t change your style because of what happened this off-season. In this game you have to be smart on defense, but you also have to be very physical, fundamentally sound and find a way to disrupt the opposing teams’ passing rhythm. You can’t let these talented quarterbacks throw the ball over the field without giving them different looks, a little different way to get pressure on them and you have to get turnovers when the opportunity comes your way. Steve has an attack personality, but right now he has to figure out which personnel mix works right out on the field. The other thing that is important to remember is that no matter what a player says if he believes in that the scheme he is playing is giving the team the best chance to succeed they will play harder. Sometimes that light comes on at different times for defenses, but if you put some doubt in their minds, it might be subliminal, but they won’t go all out for you. Once you have them sold and certainly talent is important, they will play real hard for you on a weekly basis.”
Venturi says the Bountygate issue and other players feelings that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was too harsh on the Saints will not have any effect on play out on the field defensively for New Orleans.
“Once the regular season starts and it is for real no one will feel sorry for you and you have to be a very tough and physical defensive team. Everyone has their own problems to deal with on and off the field and while the Saints were headline makers it won’t mean anything to someone else. It’s like that Travis Tritt song, “Here’s a Quarter and Call Someone Who Cares.” With the additions at linebacker of Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne I know they will be better at linebacker and a more physical group. Despite everything the New Orleans Saints are still a very good football team. The issue now for the Saints is to focus on football work, establish a leadership base and sign Drew Brees to a longterm contract.”