Somebody should put up a “welcome home” banner outside Gillette Stadium for when the Saints arrive for two joint practices, and Thursday night’s exhibition game.
Two of the most powerful coaches on the New Orleans staff are from Massachusetts.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the mastermind of the Giants’ defensive game plan that ruined the Patriots’ 2007 dream season, hails from Grafton and went to Springfield College.
Medway native Pete Carmichael Jr., who runs the Saints’ high-powered offense, was the Boston College baseball MVP (he had a hit against the Red Sox in 1993 in Fort Myers, Fla.) as a senior, and is the son of the former longtime Boston College football assistant.
“Obviously, it’s a football trip and it’s a business trip, but it will be an opportunity to see my parents, my family, and have them watch the practices,” Carmichael said last week. “It’s always nice to get back up there. You just feel at home, really. I’ll enjoy the trip.”
Carmichael, 40, said he hasn’t been back to the area in some time, but his roots still run deep. His parents live in Mendon, with his sisters in Holliston and Shrewsbury. Carmichael’s wife, Tina, is from the area, as well.
Carmichael could probably use some hometown support. He’s embarking on a possible career-making season.
With coach Sean Payton suspended for the season because of the bounty scandal, the weight of the offense falls on Carmichael.
Saints owner Tom Benson had a huge picture of a glaring Payton hung in their practice facility at the start of training camp. Underneath are the words, “DO YOUR JOB.”
It might as well be directed at Carmichael.
“I’ll tell you what, it really stood out,” he said. “You walk in there and it looks like he’s staring you down. [Interim coach] Joe Vitt made the comment that everybody’s gotten one of those stares at one time or another. It was nice just to feel his presence again.”
If Carmichael is feeling the pressure from Payton’s absence, he wouldn’t admit it.
“As a whole offensive staff I think we feel as long as we continue to do what we’ve done in the past, then things are going to be all right,” Carmichael said. “We have a great group of players, guys that have been in this system, know the system, our core guys are back, and so as a group, we feel like we can handle this.”
It also helps to have Drew Brees as your quarterback. Carmichael was on the Chargers’ staff when Brees became the starter in 2002. They both landed with the Saints in ’06, and Carmichael became offensive coordinator in ’09.
Brees knows the Saints are in good hands with Carmichael.
“All I can say about that is how much confidence I have in Pete Carmichael,” Brees said. “Keep in mind that you take Sean Payton away, and yet you still have the play-caller for the most part from last year in Pete Carmichael . . . I know we’re equipped to handle whatever comes our way.”
A freak accident last season actually prepared Carmichael for this moment. When Payton broke his leg while on the sideline in October, he ceded the offense to Carmichael. And even when Payton returned, he left Carmichael in charge. Brees finished the season with an NFL-record 5,476 passing yards.
“I hate for the way that it happened, but it was obviously great for me,” Carmichael said. “There were a lot of things to take out of last season that hopefully we can carry over into this season.”
Vitt will have to step aside the first six games for his own suspension. There’s a chance Carmichael could be named interim coach, but he said he not thinking about it. The same would pertain to becoming a head coach.
“It would be my goal, but I don’t know when that time is,” Carmichael said. “I think the focus has to be on this season. It’s not something I’m in a hurry to get to. I’m not going to be out there trying to find that job. If it comes to me, then great. But I’m focused on what’s happening now and I’m in a great spot.”
After the Saints play the Cardinals Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game, the biggest year of Carmichael’s coaching career will take another big step in front of his friends and family, especially his father, who coached for 40 years in college and the NFL.
“My dad coached under Jack Bicknell and Tom Coughlin, and I had an opportunity to be around the game,” Carmichael said. “My dad was a coach not for anything other than he loved his job, he was passionate about it, he would always do what was best for the players, and he always wanted to make a difference in their lives.
“Growing up I got to be in the locker room, I got to be on the sidelines, and I’ll always remember those opportunities. I remember being on the sideline holding Jack Bicknell’s boards when Doug Flutie threw the ‘Miracle in Miami.’ There’s just something about the game of football, the togetherness of the team, that in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to get back to football.”
Johnson breaks silence
If word count means anything, expect Chad Johnson to have a bounce-back season with the Dolphins.
After hardly uttering a word to the media during a failed season with the Patriots (when he was known as Ochocinco), Johnson let his gums flap last week in Davie, Fla.
Released after just 15 receptions in 2011, Johnson insists he’s still a viable NFL target.
‘‘Why? Because I’m good,’’ Johnson said Wednesday. ‘‘I’m really good. The odds have been stacked against me since 1978. I had a bad year. Finally. I handled my business for a decade straight. I hit an obstacle. I didn’t complain. I didn’t become a distraction. I took a bullet, worked this offseason, I’m here, still working. I’m not complaining. I’ll be back to normal. I don’t have a choice.’’
Johnson indicated the Patriots’ buttoned-up philosophy didn’t suit him.
‘‘It feels good to be able to breathe again,’’ he said. ‘‘Without getting into it, you should know what I mean. It feels good to be able to breathe. What you’re seeing now, what you’re hearing as far as how I’m doing in camp, that’s the way it used to be for 10 years straight. That’s me. That’s always been me, keeping everybody loose, including in the locker room, outside, bringing a different type of energy. But when it’s time to play, I always show up and I play.’’
Asked why he wasn’t successful with the Patriots, Johnson said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”
Oh, but it does. Physically, Johnson is still solid. “I’m fast as [expletive],” he said. If Johnson is ever to find success outside of his coddled Cincinnati experience, he’s going to show it between the ears.
That’s why he said he didn’t regret being to be traded to the Patriots: He knows deep down that his inability to learn the offense was the reason it didn’t work out.
“I did question myself, though, just knowing my ability and what I’m able to do, and not being a part of something really great,” Johnson said. “Easily the best head coach-quarterback tandem, it causes you to question yourself, question your game.
“I learned so many things . . . discipline, learned to shut the [expletive] up for a year. I never thought I could do it, but I did it. Learned watching Tom [Brady], his work ethic, unreal. Even though I wasn’t able to produce, or able to play like I wanted to, I learned a lot of things there that’s made me a better player. Some of the things that I’ve brought here, leadership, something I’ve never focused on.”
Rookie pair on job hunt
You never want to get too high or too low on a player in training camp because things can change rapidly.
In the case of Patriots first-round pick Chandler Jones, it was hard to tell where he fit because left end Rob Ninkovich had missed four practices.
When Ninkovich returned, it was easier to see that Jones is the starter at right end in what looks like the “elephant” position, and you shouldn’t expect him to yield that any time soon.
While players (Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, and Trevor Scott) come and go on the left side, Jones was consistently on the right side the second week of camp to the point where he’s now running with the first and second teams.
That would indicate the Patriots are trying to cram in as much as possible so Jones will be ready for the season.
Entering camp, the expectations for Jones were for him to start as a situational player and evolve from there. But Jones entered camp much stronger than anticipated (his 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the combine ranked 37th among defensive linemen), and his pass-rush moves are more advanced than your typical early-entry, first-round pick.
Jones’s play has dictated that he get, not only a shot at the starting job, but the job for now. The X-factor is a possible return by free agent Andre Carter after quadriceps surgery.
Dont’a Hightower was expected to grab the strongside linebacking spot early because he was at Alabama for four years, played in 45 games, and was in Nick Saban’s pro-style defense. Jones played 32 games at Syracuse, and just seven in his final season because of a knee injury.
Doesn’t matter. The Patriots look like they’ll have two rookie starters on defense.
Big gamble being taken
Expect the lockout of officials to become more of a topic with the exhibition season starting Sunday night. Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a stop in Green Bay that he’s fine with using replacement officials. “That’s why we’ve been training them for the last two months and why they’re on the field now, is to make sure they’re prepared, they understand the rules,” he said. If the lockout continues, one interesting aspect of the dispute is that the NFL would be sacrificing some integrity and allowing an opening for some people, such as gamblers, to pervert the game. “Back whenever I first applied to the NFL it was five years that they spent, not only scouting me, but going through the vetting process of looking into my background, talking to people who knew me,” referee Walt Anderson told Fox 26 Sports in Houston. “They wanted to know a lot more about my character, my work ethic, the things that you were going to do off the field from that standpoint. The whole integrity of the game is put in our hands and the last thing [Goodell] wants to have out there on the field are people that are of potential questionable character.”
1. You’d better believe Goodell is serious about football being an Olympic sport. The NFL knows what the Dream Team did for the global popularity of basketball. The NFL market in the United States is about at its peak. The league is going to want that foreign money.
2. Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick, still hasn’t signed his contract. The Jaguars want protection in case Blackmon, who followed a 2010 DUI arrest with one in June, gets in trouble again. Uh, hello, Blackmon? You put yourself in this position. Take your medicine.
3. We all know the Jets talk way too much, but Rex Ryan has an argument when he said he looks at himself “as the best defensive coach in football.” Bill Belichick and Dick LeBeau certainly have better résumés, and rings. But Ryan is in the conversation because in this pass-happy league, few confound the top quarterbacks better. Ask Tom Brady.
4. The fights at Patriots camp are a non-story. I’ve heard they haven’t happened much here in the past, but they go on at most camps. Plus, the Patriots, especially on defense, could stand to show a little more fight.
5. Remember 5-foot-8-inch Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley, who said he doesn’t like to be compared to Wes Welker because he has more speed? He left the team because his “heart isn’t in football right now,” according to the team website.
New England update
At this time last year, former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was just trying make the Giants. Now he’s competing with Chase Blackburn for the starting middle linebacker job. “So far, he hasn’t disappointed,” coach Tom Coughlin said . . . With tight end Brent Celek (MCL sprain) out, the beneficiary in Eagles camp has been undrafted UMass product Emil Igwenagu, a fullback/tight end from Boylston. The Eagles have yet to sign another tight end, and Igwenagu has been getting more time with the first team. “We thought we’d move him over and just give him a shot there, give him an opportunity to get some more reps,” said coach Andy Reid. “I think he’s done a nice job with that. Smart, smart kid. He will pick all that up. It’s a tough thing to do, but he’s handling it and doing a good job.” . . . Jordan Todman’s chances of making the Vikings were hurt Thursday when he suffered a mild ankle sprain. The North Dartmouth native and two-time Globe All-Scholastic is battling Lex Hilliard for the No. 3 spot at running back behind Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Todman will need to shine because Hilliard has experience on his side (48 games with the Dolphins).
The Titans, the only team to show any interest (no offer) in Patriots center Dan Koppen when he was a free agent, are without their top two centers — starter Eugene Amano (triceps) and Kevin Matthews (concussion). With Nick McDonald off the PUP list, the Patriots have four players that Belichick said the team was “really confident” could play the position: Koppen, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and McDonald. Trade, anyone? . . . The 49ers have been working a lot on red-zone offense, for good reason: San Francisco ranked 30th last year (touchdowns 40.7 percent of the time). ‘‘We didn’t have enough time on task last year to be where we wanted to be in the red zone,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It was a matter of execution more than anything.” . . . Running back Doug Martin, taken 31st overall out of Boise State, has been one of the standouts of Buccaneers camp. He reminds coach Greg Schiano of a back he had at Rutgers, Ray Rice of the Ravens. ‘‘I think what allows him to have a chance is he is a stout guy,’’ Schiano said. ‘‘If he was 5-9, 185, I would say not. He’s close to 220 pounds, and he’s pretty rocked up.’’ . . . The Panthers have competition at both kicking spots, a rarity during a training camp. Veteran Olindo Mare, who had some critical misses last season, is battling former CFL kicker Justin Medlock. And sixth-round pick Brad Nortman is dueling with 12-year veteran Nick Harris at punter.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.