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CSC Interview: Kenny Wilkerson Part Two

We now continue with with part two of my discussion with Kenny Wilkerson. Today's topics include Reggie Bush, Payton/McAllister tension and Benson's pivotal role in landing the 2013 Super Bowl.  

Thanks once again to Mr. Wilkerson for taking time to answer my questions. I truly appreciate it.  


CSC: Where do you stand on Reggie Bush?

KW: I think the same thing today about Reggie Bush that I thought when I first laid eyes on him and watched him up close and personal, especially his rookie year in 2006. Reggie is an outstanding football player. No question about it. People who say he is a bust are completely nuts. He is not a bust. He is an outstanding football player. He has unbelievable quickness, ability, knowledge and smarts.

He's got the same type of brain as Ricky Williams. People used to knock Williams, and deservedly so because of how quirky he was, but Ricky was so smart. He never made mental mistakes. Reggie is in that same category. But he's not the back that Ricky was. He's not the tank that Williams was. You can't give the ball to Reggie Bush twenty to twenty-five times a game for sixteen games   He's just not physically big enough to hold up to the pounding that he's going to take. Can you get the ball to Reggie 20 times a week? Yes. But handing it off to him? No. There's a big difference. There is a big difference between handing the ball to Reggie and getting the ball to Reggie.

Reggie is like other players that have been around for years. Warrick Dunn, Eric Metcalf, Mel Gray. He's a weapon and he needs to be used as a weapon. He needs to be used with a lot of motion. Have the defense guessing. Is he lining up with the receivers? Is he lining up in backfield? Is he lining up in the slot? He needs to keep them guessing. And they do it with him sometimes. But in my opinion, I just don't think they do that enough.

He's been knocked by a lot of critics who claim that he's not a good football player because they ask  him to do things sometimes that he's just not capable of doing. If you get him into some space and use him properly then Reggie is going to score a lot of points for you. He has a nose for the endzone and he knows how to get there but you've got to give him that room. You've got to get  him that space. I know they try to do it and they would read this and say, "Kenny doesn't know what he's talking about. We do try to get Reggie in space." And they do. I just don't think they do it enough.

I think they get too hard headed and Payton tries to give him the ball too much between the tackles trying to prove that he's right and everybody else is wrong and that Reggie can run between the tackles. He's just not that kind of guy and I think that's one of the big problems with the team. I think the problem lies in the hard-headedness of trying to do things that you're not capable of doing. Or chucking away the game plan too fast in the first quarter because its not working and they're not running the ball effectively and reverting too quickly to Drew throwing it fifty to sixty times. I think they give up too easily on what they plan to do and he gets too hard headed in trying to convince everybody that he knows what he's doing and that he is smarter than everybody else.

CSC: You're talking about Sean Payton?

KW: Yes. I believe with any organization or any team the head coach is the number one person held accountable. He's got the final say. He's got the headset on. Offensively and defensively. I don't care if it's an offensively minded coach or a defensively minded coach. He's the one who has to be held accountable. He's the one who, out of the blue, called all these trick plays and all these reverses and these very unconventional things in trying to out-smart everybody. There is a reason that Jim Fassell took away the playcalling duties from Sean Payton and they [the Giants] started playing better offensively. There's also a reason that his years in Dallas, when he was an assistant under Parcells, he was not the play caller. Bill Parcells said it when Payton first came here. The two of them are very good friends and they have a lot of respect for each other but he said something along the lines of, "He gets a little too crazy sometimes."

And that has proven to be true. Just look at what has happened in the last three seasons. There has been a ton of times where, out of the blue, he's running some kind of trick play. He's running the Superdome special. As far as I'm concerned the Superdome special worked the first time they used it in the Monday night game against Atlanta when they re-opened the Dome and every time they've tried to use it since then it's been a disaster. I'm not making up things that haven't happened. It's happened in the last three years. He just pulls these trick plays out of nowhere sometimes and I think it's one of the big things that's hurting them.

CSC: Do you think Deuce will ever play in the NFL again?

KW: No question. I don't think there's any question about it. Deuce can still play. I think Deuce proved last year that he can still play. I think it was very frustrating for him and I think it was a slap in the face that he was kept on the sidelines as much as he was. He should have been on the field more than he was. I think he proved that he was still capable of playing. Can Deuce rip off a thirty, forty or fifty yarder anymore? No. That top-end speed and that breakaway speed is gone because of injury and age. But can he still pound it in there and get you five or ten yards a pop? Break tackles? Does he have a nose for the endzone? Absolutely. Deuce McAllister has as good of a nose for football as anyone that's ever worn a Saints uniform. I think they insulted him and I think it was a slap in the face how much they kept him on the sidelines last year.

There were times in the 2007 season when similar things were going on. There were times in the 2006 season when things like that were going on. For example, in the 2006 season there was a game near the end of the year when Deuce had a big day rushing the football. There was one particular series when the Saints started deep in their own zone and they gave the ball to Deuce. Deuce pounded the ball down the field. Play after play after play. Give it to Deuce. Give it to Deuce. Give it to Deuce. He was killing people. He mauled his way down the field. They get into the red zone and they pull him out and put Reggie in to score and get the touchdown. Sean Payton even said to his coaches, "Let's get Reggie in there. I want Reggie to score." Deuce was astounded. He was befuddled. He had done all the work and they were letting Reggie go in to score the touchdown.


CSC: What was going on there?

KW: I think that it's Sean Payton trying to convince the world that Reggie Bush is a star and a great player. Trying to feed his ego. They had half the team standing there wondering what the heck is going on and it had Deuce extremely ticked of. But Deuce, being the pro that he is, never said anything. Deuce never complained. Never complained publicly, nor will he ever. He never said anything. To his credit, it showed how big of a man he really is. Deuce McAllister is not only the best player that I've ever seen in a Saints uniform that had a nose for football but, in my opinion, is the number one Saint of all time and has taken over the title from Archie Manning. I think he is the most beloved Saint of all-time right now. Now, Drew Brees may become that in years to come and there are some other people that may come along that may take the title but Archie held it for an awfully long time and I think that title now goes to Deuce McAllister. The most beloved player.

Why Sean Payton has that insistence on trying to get Reggie the ball and trying to get Reggie into the end zone? Why he did that in that season? I have no idea. If you asked Payton why he did that he would look at you like you had three heads and deny it. That happens a lot with Payton. People are not stupid. They can tell. Fans can tell. People know what's going on. I'll let you in on a big secret about what goes on in the NFL...Ninety percent of the things that the fans talk about and say amongst each other, good and bad, the players are also saying to themselves as well. They are people just like everybody else and they say the same stuff that the fans say. Ninety percent of it.

CSC: Did Payton dislike Deuce?

KW: Deuce carried a big stick in that locker room. Deuce didn't talk much but when he talked, they all listened. Deuce was the leader of that football team, he just didn't talk a whole lot. When he did, everybody went along with what he had to say. I think when Deuce McAllister did open his mouth, he had a more powerful voice than Sean Payton. And I think Sean Payton couldn't deal with that and he wanted him gone.

I think a very similar thing happened with Joe Horn. It wasn't that Joe couldn't play anymore. It was that Joe was outspoken. Joe had a voice and did open his mouth a whole lot more than Deuce. He carried a lot of weight in that locker room. He had a lot of respect. And people listened to him. Over the years Sean Payton has cleared out practically everyone from the old regime. Not everyone, but most.

Look at Mike Karney. You're talking about the consumate pro and they got rid of Mike Karney. Karney had a voice. He carried some weight and had respect in that locker room. Did they upgrade by signing Heath Evans? Getting Heath Evans could very well have been a move made because he fits better into Sean Payton's offense. He's more versatile. But there are other issues to be addressed on this football team rather than tinkering with a position that was fine. There was nothing wrong with Mike Karney. That's the question. Do they really have enough good football players that they have the liberty to tinker with a position like fullback? There are more needs. More lineman, more secondary. And the biggest thing, in my mind, is linebacker.

They landed a stud in Vilma. But he's on the field with other players that are just B players. Nothing against Scott Fujita. He's a great guy and a consumate pro but he's not an A+ player. And they're still playing with Simoneau and Shanle. Guys that they got off the street a week before the regular season started in 2006 because in training camp of 2006 they realized they had no linebackers. And they're still playing for them. It's not that I have anything against Mark Simoneau or Scott Shanle but these are guys that were pulled off the street that are still, especially Shanle, a big part of their defense.

It's all about linebackers. It always has been and it always will be. Linebackers are always the key to a powerhouse defense. You get good linebackers and then you build forwards and you build backwards with lineman and secondary. But if you don't have outstanding linebackers - and not just one - if you don't have at least two or three outstanding linebackers you are going to struggle. Teams are going to be able to do whatever they want against you. That all goes back to my comments about Gregg Williams. He still has a lot of the same players. I know they've brought in some other people like Darren Sharper and that may make a difference but he's still going to be coaching basically the same group.

CSC: How do you feel about New Orleans getting the 2013 Super Bowl?

KW: It's tremendous. There are not enough good words in the english language to congratulate the city and Mr. Benson for getting that game. And make no mistake about it, that game was awarded to New Orleans because of Tom Benson. The sports foundation and the city put together a wonderful proposal and did a great job. They always do. But Tom Benson went in that room and told the other owners and the group he'd really like to have the game and nobody was going to tell Mr. Benson no. He has not asked for a game in a long time. A lot of games have been awarded over the years because of owners in particular cities telling other owners they'd like to have the game and they give it to them. Now there have been a lot of games awarded to cities because they shell out the money and build new stadiums. But that game was awarded to this city because of Tom Benson.