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Payton keeping evaluation to a minimum at OTAs

He’s looking for improvement, not perfection.

A lot of media interest after OTAs on Thursday was what Sean Payton thought about the Nuggets as the city’s basketball team was getting set to play Game 1 of their first NBA Finals.

Though the new head coach has hardly had time to become a diehard Nuggets fan, he had a good answer for a question about “team traits he admired.”

But he did have to rely on a conversation with former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski about the two teams facing off tonight.

“I asked [him] the question, ‘How do you like the match-up with the Heat?’ He mentioned culture with both teams,” Payton said, adding that he sees that with the Nuggets and Heat as well. “It’s why they are the last two teams remaining. From a beginner’s perspective, when I watch them, you feel that and that’s impressive.”

What makes that relevant to OTAs is very little but it does give another glimpse - or at least a reinforcement of what is important to Payton. It’s not about the stars; it’s about whoever can contribute to helping the team play well.

This is probably why Payton has a reputation for getting the most out of players - even those not considered having the highest potential.

Payton recalled a wide receiver he drafted with the Saints in 2006 in the seventh round with a compensatory pick - Marques Colston. The Saints had also drafted a Fred Biletnikoff Outstanding Reciever winner in the sixth round - Mike Hass.

The head coach remembered Colston coming in a little overweight and slightly injured with back spasms. Meanwhile, Hass was performing magnificently during OTAs.

“Then training camp came and all of a sudden, we began to see a little different player in Marques,” Payton noted. “He began to pick things up and by the time we got to the start of the regular season, he was our starting ‘X’ [receiver].”

Payton’s point? You can’t be too quick to evaluate too early.

And the worst thing for good overall team play is casting them aside too soon and/or putting players in a position of uncertainty to not perform well.

“You just want to be cautious not to judge too quickly or evaluate too quickly. You’re working on their improvement,” he said, adding that pads often define a player. “When the pads come on, you get a better feel for your team. That’s important, too. ...The No. 1 thing is, ‘Does he know what to do?’ The worst thing we can do as a coach is confuse a player and then he’s playing at percent speed because he’s uncertain. That hinders the evaluation.”

Marquez Callaway is another good example of that philosophy playing out.

An undrafted free agent to the Saints under Payton in 2020 and reunited with Payton in Denver in March, Callaway is a wide receiver Payton believes can add something to the Broncos’ offense.

“You’ve heard me say this, once they get here—once we’ve drafted [players], we’ve signed free agents and we’ve tried players out—once they get here, how they got here is of no importance to us,” Payton said. “Marquez made a real strong impression. ... he’s someone that found a niche and then all of a sudden, he’s in the starting lineup. He’s in a good group. I think we’ve got some depth there, and we’ve got good competition there.”

With all the young and new talent to work with, Payton is encouraged that the team trajectory is still going in the right direction.

“Now ultimately, they have to get it and sometimes it’s not for everyone; it’s just too much,” he added. “But they’re picking it up. I’m pleased with that. It’s gone well so far.”

And Payton isn’t worried about players’ past experiences in college or on other pro teams getting in the way of understanding his system.

“Players are resilient. They’re going to learn. It’s something that’s talked about a lot. Coordinators are going to change and position coaches are going to change. These guys are picking it up,” he said. “Players will learn it.”

Including Russell Wilson, of course.

“He’s doing well. Today I thought was a good day. Today was [a] third down [practice],” Payton said, explaining the challenge during a third-down practice. “You have to contest every throw. Within the framework of OTAs, it’s hard to do that. They understand it. I’ll whistle them and just talk about the period. We can see if there’s a sack, we can see if the [defensive backs] are in position. Generally speaking, especially on those early yards, we’re contesting every throw. It’s a little bit less challenging when you’re in first and second-down playing zone defense.”

But Payton is keeping that evaluation low-key.

“He’s doing well.”