Saints coach Curtis Johnson adding extra fire to training camp
Competitions between players are the most important aspect of NFL training camps, but perhaps the most exciting battle in each day of New Orleans Saints camp is between two coaches.
Wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson and secondary coach Aaron Glenn have known each other since 2008 when Johnson was in the same role and Glenn was a cornerback with the Saints. Johnson remembers pushing Glenn as a player, but since the duo became coaches on the same staff last year, their competition has reached new heights.
"When the coaches compete, the players can't help but compete," Johnson said.
The competition is apparent each day when receivers and defensive backs go through one-on-one drills. While Johnson and Glenn are both quick to tell their players what they did right or wrong on a play, they frequently chirp at each other when one of their players has an obviously win in the drill.
"We don't want to hear C.J. talking to our coach, talking smack, so if I can break a pass up and let my coach talk smack, that's what we want," cornerback Arthur Maulet said.
The coaches will talk smack to the players in the other position group, too. During last Saturday's practice, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Coleman were both yelling across the field at Glenn after one play. Cornerback Justin Hardee broke up a pass from Tom Savage to wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, but Ginn and Coleman were sure Hardee committed pass interference. Glenn responded by telling them it was an incomplete pass, thanks to Hardee's coverage.
"It just makes the practice go a little better when the secondary and receivers get riled up," Ginn said.
Now in his 12th NFL season with his fifth team, Ginn said he's never seen position coaches as boisterous as Johnson and Glenn in practice, and part of that competitive nature comes from the uniqueness of the two coaches.
Glenn began coaching in 2014 after a 15-year playing career. Since joining the Saints staff in 2016, Glenn's expertise has helped the secondary make significant strides after a stretch of seasons in which it was the worst group in the NFL.
A stretch of plays Sunday showed just how Glenn gets through to his players. During one-on-one drills, Maulet had broken up passes on back-to-back plays, but after the second one, Glenn was critical.
"Even though I made the play, he wants me to be great and he wants me to be sound," Maulet said. "That's what I love about him. Even if you make the play, there's still something you can work on."
Meanwhile, Johnson has been coaching since 1984, and his raspy voice makes him the most easily recognizable coach on the field. His attention to detail and care for his players also helped him become Tulane's head coach from 2012-15.
After his time at Tulane, Johnson spent 2016 coaching receivers for the Chicago Bears before coming back in 2017 to the Saints, where he'd previously worked from 2006-11.
Cornerback Ken Crawley, who's been with the Saints since 2016, said Johnson's return has led to more exciting one-on-one drills.
"I know it was kind of quiet before," Crawley said. "You like that out of those type guys. We're playing for our coach, and they're playing for their coach. We like that competition."
Coach Sean Payton said all coaches have to bring energy to practice, and Johnson and Glenn do well to pump up their players. Part of what sets this duo apart, though, is their decade-long relationship.
"The reason why (Glenn) lasted in the NFL so long is he's smart, good person, good human being," Johnson said. "But, I like to pull his chain. It makes practice fun."
Just as Glenn likes chirping at the wide receivers, Johnson enjoys giving the defensive backs a hard time, particularly the young players that don't know really him.
"I like to make my presence known, but it's good, healthy competition," Johnson said.
As competitive as the one-on-one drills are, the coaches quickly turn back to supporting the entire team. Glenn, for example, helped coach up a group of punt returners that included Ginn just minutes after their spat across the field.
"Listen, me and C.J. are always going to compete; that's just who we are," Glenn said.
"My thing about competing, that's a two-way street between coaches and players. We got to compete to prepare them, and they got to get ready to execute and having a winning mentality. That's what we try to do."