Sean Payton returned to New Orleans Saints practice on Thursday after working from home Wednesday with an illness, having previously tested negative for COVID-19. The team generally ramps up activity on Thursday after installing the game plan on Wednesday, so it’s good to have the head coach back at the Saints’ Metairie training facility.
Assistant head coach/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen led team meetings in Payton’s absence, per the Times-Picayune | Advocate’s Jeff Duncan, which makes sense; his elevated job title and heightened responsibilities played a big part in the Saints retaining Nielsen when former LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron tried to hire him away earlier this year. Nielsen is very likely to become an NFL head coach sooner or later as Dan Campbell did before him.
Still, it’s not like the Saints put everything on Nielsen’s shoulders. They have experienced leaders on staff like defensive coordinator Dennis Allen (who was the then-Oakland Raiders head coach from 2012 to 2014), senior offensive assistant and wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson (former Tulane Green Wave head coach from 2012 to 2015), running game coordinator/tight ends coach Dan Roushar, and secondary coach Kris Richard, as well as former players like quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry and offensive line assistant Zach Strief.
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi also have lengthy experience in those roles, so the team was in good hands while Payton took a sick day. But now Payton’s back at work crafting a game plan that should — hopefully — be wily enough to take down the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Buccaneers.