New Orleans Saints  

 

Strief says Saints will dedicate 2012 season to Payton

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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Sean Payton won't coach the New Orleans Saints next season, but offensive lineman Zach Strief wants to ensure the team's leader isn't forgotten.

Strief said Friday that players "owe it" to their embattled coach to come closer together, live up to the standards he set during the previous six seasons and do everything they can to win in his honor while he's away on an NFL suspension.

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"This season is going to take on an us-versus-the-world mentality," Strief told The Associated Press. "The perception at this point is not positive with us. We've worked very hard, I know as players, to gain respect, not only as a good team but as a good group of guys. That perception will go completely out the window now, and I think that'll be kind of a rallying cry for us.

"It will give us a chance to kind of come together closer than we've ever been and say, 'Look, nobody wants us to even win anymore, and we're going to win for each other, and for coach Payton and Mickey and the guys that essentially took this fall.' "

The NFL announced Wednesday that Payton was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season for ignoring instructions to shut down the team's "bounty" program and misleading the league about its existence. Payton said in a release Friday that he accepted full responsibility for his role in the system and promised to be more vigilant.

Strief noted that the Saints already had a sampling of what it's like to operate without their coach, with Payton being less present in the weeks after he broke his leg last season.

"He couldn't get off a (trainer's) table for like three weeks," Strief said. "He wasn't in meetings. He wasn't at practice.

"There's a tremendous amount of faith in the offensive staff. Even after he came back, I think he really kind of gave a lot more responsibility to the guys that had been doing it. He really kind of said, 'All right, you've been doing it, you're doing a good job, go ahead and keep going.' "

After losing the game at Tampa Bay in which Payton was injured, the Saints finished the regular season 9-1 with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. calling plays in to quarterback Drew Brees. The offense set numerous NFL records, including for total yards and yards passing.

"Our offensive staff last year really worked very much more independently than they ever had before," Strief said. "So I think in that respect, we're somewhat used to that already."

Strief said Saints veterans have been with Payton long enough now that they know how he likes the structure and tempo of practice, and they even worked to simulate that during last year's lockout, when Brees gathered players together for offseason workouts at Tulane.

"When I was hurt last year, for me to watch a game on TV was miserable. I can only imagine what it's going to be like for (Payton)," said Strief, who sprained his right knee and missed part of the season. "And I know that for me personally, he will be a big motivating factor in working hard and being a better player because he deserves to have us do that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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