Being a rookie in the NFL is a unique experience. But being one during a lockout year is even more peculiar. That's what I learned yesterday after spending some time on the phone with former Illinois linebacker Nate Bussey, the Saints final selection in the 2011 NFL draft. I quickly realized that Bussey is a great kid who is ready to attack his new job opportunity, whenever that finally presents itself (Thanks, NFL).
Below, I present you part one of our conversation, in which we discuss Nate's journey through college and his draft day experience. Warning: Cowboy-haters may want to skip the first two questions. Be sure to check back later today for Part Two, when Nate tell us some of his personal favorites.
A sincere thanks to Nate for taking time out of his assuredly busy schedule to talk with all of us, the fans. I wish him the best of luck and health as soon as the season actually starts (I won't forget this, NFL).
Dave Cariello: You grew up in Washington D.C. so were you a Redskins fan growing up?
Nate Bussey: I watched the Redskins play. But my oldest brother was a Dallas Cowboys fan so I mainly watched the Cowboys on Sunday more than the Redskins.
Dave: Oooh, the Cowboys?
Nate: That's only because my brother was a fan.
Dave: You actually played high school and college ball with Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn. Do you still keep in touch with those guys?
Nate: Yes sir. I keep in touch with those guys. They both called me when I got drafted and congratulated me. We definitely stay in touch.
Dave: You actually started your college career as a safety. Why and how did you make the switch to linebacker?
Nate: When I first got there I started as a defensive back, as you said. In my Junior year we had some linebackers go down and they just needed someone to help out that could contribute right away so they asked me if I could do it and I told them whatever they needed me to do I would do it. I got a couple of starts the last six games of my Junior season. They thought linebacker would be a good fit for me. They said "You're an athlete and you can do whatever you put your mind to," and I believed that. So I moved to linebacker and had a successful finish to the season followed by a successful Senior season. So I think linebacker was a good fit for me now that I look back at it.
Dave: So it was like you were destined to play linebacker...
Nate: Right. It was just like that. I played safety because I palyed in H.S. But linebacker was a better fit for me and was going to give me the most recognition and the most playing time so linebacker was definitely the spot to go to.
Dave: No regrets? You don't wish you still played safety?
Nate: No. I don't regret any decisions I've made or coaches have made for me throughout my playing career.
Dave: I believe I heard in another interview that you had a conversation with your agent late in the draft before getting picked about preparing for undrafted free agency and you said the Saints were on the top of your list of teams you were interested in. Why did you want to play for the Saints?
Nate: My agent called me in the middle of the 7th round and we were talking about what teams I wanted to go to and I definitely said the Saints were on the top of my list if I had to go the free agency route. I did my research on the New Orleans Saints and Gregg Williams does a lot of stuff that we did at Illinois scheme-wise and I found myself in a position where I can contribute given my assets. Coach McMahon reached out to me and said he's been watching me play the last four years and I'm a special teams lover. I love to play special teams. A guy like coach McMahon, with the background he has, I told him I would love to come down and play for him. Those are two of the main reasons. Gregg Williams is one of the greatest defensive minds of the NFL, so playing for those two guys, Greg McMahon and Gregg Williams, would have been a great opportuniy for me to fulfull my dream, which is playing in the NFL.
Dave: What, in particular, in Gregg Williams' scheme is similar to what you guys did at Illinois?
Nate: The only difference is that the "Sam" position in our scheme at Illinois is run a little different than the "Sam" scheme here in New Orleans. I will be playing the "Will" in this scheme but they do the same kinda things, ya know, they've got to sometimes check down receivers, hook/curl drops and just being a ball player. The defense is really fast, they've got fast linebackers so I knew that with my speed and the way I like to run and hit that this would be a great place for me to come because that's how the Saints defense is recognized.
Dave: Coach McMahon, who coached at Illinois, was influential in bringing Pierre Thomas to the Saints. Did he play a role in you getting drafted?
Nate: Yeah, he definitely played a major part in bringing me to New Orleans and I thank him for everything he's done now that I'm here. Especially wanting me to play on his special teams unit and contribute right away as a rookie. And talking to coach Payton, he told me he knew what kind of player I was and I know what kind of player I am and that's what he liked most about me.
Dave: When you got the call that you were going to be drafted, where were you?
Nate: I was at home in Washington D.C. watching the draft with my family.
Dave: Who was on the other end of the line?
Nate: I can't remember his name. He called me and he said, "This is the New Orleans Saints," and I got excited before he could even tell me that they were about to pick me. He said, "I'm pretty sure you know what this call is about. We're about to take you with the next pick. Just hold on one second for coach Payton." I talked to coach Payton right after they put my name up on the screen. I talked to coach Payton and he was basically telling me, "I can hear that you're excited. I can't wait for you to get down to New Orleans. Just be ready to go once everything is settled. Be ready to come in and work." Those were the most inspiring words I've ever heard.
Dave: Before the draft did you come down for an interview or a private workout with the Saints?
Dave: Did they talk to you at all during your Pro Day?
Nate: I talked to them, like, a day or two after my Pro Day. They just verified some information like my draft day number and where I was going to be and things like that. I guess that's just what all teams do with players that are on their draft board. So that's how I really talked to them. I knew the area code was from here [New Orleans].
Dave: So have you even had the chance to meet coach Payton and coach Williams yet?
Nate: No. I haven't met any of the coaches. I haven't met any of them, just heard their voice over the phone. That was just on draft day.
Don't forget to check back later this afternoon for Part Two. Thanks, once again, to Nate Bussey.