Carmichael doesn’t foresee slowdown in Saints offense
METAIRIE — If you think the New Orleans Saints’ record-shattering offense is going to change in the absence of suspended coach Sean Payton, you’re mistaken.
And, like a lot of people, if you think there’s no way the Saints can even get close to producing the numbers they put up in 2011, or will struggle mightily because Payton will be gone for the entire season, you’d better think again.
Almost as fast as Darren Sproles can rip off a 15-yard run or Drew Brees can victimize a defensive back with another well-placed pass, the Saints will tell you nothing much changed this past offseason — just like if Payton had been there.
Neither will anything change when the regular season begins.
After piling up an NFL record of 7,474 total yards as a team, which included Brees’ single-season passing record of 5,476 yards, most of that cast is back and looking for more under offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
Like Brees, Carmichael has been joined at the hip with Payton since 2006 and is capable of running it with the same efficiency Payton did in producing more total yards than any other team in that six-year span.
“We’ve been with him for six years now and the offseason has always been the same,” Carmichael said. “So for us, when he left, it was the same when he told us to do our job.
“He said, ‘Listen, guys, the system is in place. The program is in place, the way we do things, just follow that.’ It’s always been there for us.”
While acknowledging it’s been different without Payton, who received a season-long suspension for misleading NFL investigators looking into a bounty program the league said Saints defenders participated in, Carmichael said things are rolling along as usual.
Even though Brees didn’t participate in the offseason program because he was negotiating a new long-term contract, the offense hasn’t wasted any time trying to regain its form early in training camp.
“Obviously, there’s been some good and there’s been some bad,” Carmichael said in assessing the first week of practice. “We have to get better. It’s still early in camp, but we expect close to perfection here offensively. That’s kind of how we’ve set the bar here.”
Carmichael, of course, helped set that bar.
In addition to helping formulate the weekly game plan, he called the plays last year when Payton fractured his leg and carried out those duties for the remainder of the season even after Payton returned to the sideline.
Carmichael doesn’t get upset when he hears the experts predicting the Saints won’t be nearly as good as they were a year ago, that the offense will not be as prolific and Brees can’t possibly duplicate his gaudy 2011 numbers — which included hitting 71.2 percent of his passes and throwing 46 TDs.
To do anything but think they’re going to be that good again would be counterproductive.
“It’s a different year, it’s a different team,” said Carmichael. “You don’t think about (taking a step back). The most important thing is winning. As long as we’re winning, all those other things take care of themselves.”
The Saints certainly have a chance to be that scary again on that side of the ball with Brees coming back along with all but one starter — All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks.
Nicks bolted for the Tampa Bay Bucs in free agency, but the Saints signed former Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Grubbs, a Pro Bowl pick in 2011, to take his place.
Also, No. 4 wide receiver Robert Meachem left for the San Diego Chargers, but the Saints have more than enough weapons to offset that loss as well.
Carmichael, 40, will be the first to tell you that having Brees back makes his job easier as a play caller, even though he had never done it at any level before Payton was injured.
Having wide receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson, tight end Jimmy Graham, and running backs Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Sproles at your disposal doesn’t hurt, either, Carmichael said.
It’s like holding all the cards at the poker table.
“We have good personnel, and you know when we call a play Drew is going to make it right and get it to the open guy,” Carmichael said. “The way he spreads the ball around is another unique thing about our offense.
“We don’t have any selfish guys complaining whether they’re getting the ball. These guys are about the team and what’s best for the team. It’s just a matter of putting those guys in a position to make plays.”