Saints reveal offense led by Payton understudy Carmichael

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FILE – New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and head coach Dennis Allen, right, look on during training camp at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., on Thursday 28 July 2022. Since 2006, all but one year, recently retired Saints coach Sean Payton has overseen the offensive game plan and generally announced plays on game days. This weekend in Atlanta, the Saints make their debut in an offense now led exclusively by longtime Payton understudy Pete Carmichael Jr. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

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In the 16 years New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. worked under Sean Payton, they often looked like they were watching a different game from the same sideline.

The fuel Payton paced with an intense gaze, his emotions welling up in disordered gesticulations and sharp-tongued exclamations. The bespectacled Carmichael was the picture of cold, calm calculation, rarely raising his hoarse voice.

But there’s style, and then there’s substance.

While Payton established a reputation as an offensive guru as Saints head coach from 2006-2021, Carmichael was one of his most trusted assistants.

“I always felt like Pete was an unsung hero on that offensive staff,” said retired quarterback Drew Brees, who became the Saints’ career leader between the 2006 and 2020 seasons. “His personality is such that he’s just not as vocal sometimes, and yet that spirit is always working.”

Veteran running back Mark Ingram compares Carmichael to a “mad scientist” whose “fingerprints are all over the DNA” of the offense.

As Payton and Brees led the Saints’ assault on offensive records, “Pete was there for it all,” Ingram said.

When Payton retired after last season, the Saints promoted defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach. Allen held off Carmichael, saying he expects New Orleans’ offense in 2022 to be “very similar to what it’s looked like here in the past.”

The first test comes on Sunday, when the Saints visit Atlanta – and Brees predicted Carmichael would be ready.

“There is no one, ever, who has been better prepared than Pete Carmichael, and I say for every meeting, for every practice, for every game,” said Brees, whose relationship with Carmichael dates back to 2002, when they were with the Chargers in San Diego.

Both moved to New Orleans in 2006 — first Carmichael as the Saints quarterbacks coach, then Brees during free agency. In 2009, the season of the Saints’ only Super Bowl triumph, Payton promoted Carmichael to offensive coordinator. That title means so much more now that Payton has moved on, replaced by a head coach who oversees defense.

“Obviously Sean was the biggest part of what this program was about,” Carmichael said. “It’s different now, but you’re accepting this challenge. You’re excited about it.

Carmichael’s elevation to New Orleans’ head offensive coach should go smoothly, if 2012 is any guide.

That year, Payton was suspended as part of the NFL bounty investigation. Carmichael oversaw the Saints’ offense, whose 410.9 yards per game ranked second in the NFL behind New England. The Saints’ 28.8 points per game ranked third.

Carmichael also called plays for a number of games in 2011 after Payton’s leg was broken in a sideline collision at Tampa Bay. This offense averaged an NFL record 467.1 yards per game.

Carmichael is “going to do well, because he did it,” Payton said. “It would be different if it was his first mission.”

Brees said Carmichael is as quick and decisive in his game as any coach he knows.

“That says a lot about his ability to anticipate what the next play call will be,” Brees said.

Meanwhile, Carmichael’s approach to calling a game is nuanced in how he considers not just tries and yards to go, or how opposing defenses deploy personnel, but also the need for pace and pace. confidence from his quarterback, Brees said.

For example, Brees explained, “You have to know as a play caller, ‘Ah, you know what? I have all these great plays on the call sheet, but our QB is having a little trouble and I just need to play a game that I know he knows by heart.

“It’s kind of the route to getting the confidence back before you start dialing in those other things,” Brees said.

Carmichael minimizes his influence, emphasizing the contributions of other staff members.

“We all come together. We all have ideas,” Carmichael said. “It’s just about whittling down this list to how much you can do for this game.”

Payton’s system was inspired in part by the “west coast” offense of the late former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh. The scheme expanded defenses by giving quarterbacks several passing options from different distances, including offloads to running backs.

“The base of (the Saints’ offense) from 2006 to now, there’s a good percentage that’s still the same – just evolving and maybe changing to fit your players,” Carmichael said.

This season, the Saints expect to have a strong running game led by Alvin Kamara. They also have the potential — thanks to the return from injury of top receiver Michael Thomas and the additions of receivers Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave — to open up the passing game with QB Jameis Winston.

“The Saints have done some amazing things with Pete Carmichael on the mic,” Winston says, referring to when Carmichael’s voice was the one that came through Brees’ headset earpiece a decade ago. “So we all believe in him.”

Notes: Thomas trained on a limited basis on Friday and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game as he returns from a hamstring strain in mid-August. Safety Tyrann Mathieu has also been listed as questionable after missing practice on Friday due to illness.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

This story was originally published September 9, 2022 6:32 p.m.

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