Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. doesn’t yet know if he’ll call his team’s plays during the 2014 regular season after doing so in recent exhibition wins at St. Louis and at home against Tennessee.
But Carmichael does know this: Even if it is his voice that’s being piped into quarterback Drew Brees’ headset before snaps, play-calling for the Saints this year will remain a collaboration influenced in large part by coach Sean Payton.
“It’s very much a group effort out there,” Carmichael said after a training camp practice Tuesday. Of the man who’s mostly called the Saints’ plays since 2006, he added, “Sean is the best in the business.”
Despite his deference, many figure Carmichael isn’t too far behind Payton in play-calling. Carmichael assumed those duties for the first time in his career in 2011 after Payton suffered a broken leg on the sideline in a Week 6 loss at Tampa Bay; and he held onto them for the final 10 contests of the regular season, when the offense averaged a stunning 476.1 yards per game.
That helped the Saints set the NFL yardage record en route to an appearance in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The following season, Payton served a year-long suspension in the wake of the bounty scandal, and Carmichael dialed up the plays for an offense that gained the second-most yards and scored the third-most points in the league. Though the Saints missed the postseason because of a 7-9 mark and a defense that surrendered the most yards in league history, the NFL duly took note of Carmichael’s obvious talents in charge of the play card.
Those achievements didn’t quite equal those of Payton, who since arriving in New Orleans has called the plays for Saints offenses that have won a Super Bowl and finished first in yards gained four times. Upon his reinstatement in 2013, Payton resumed play-calling, and the offense gained the league’s fourth-most yards on the way to the divisional playoffs.
But Carmichael’s performance in back-to-back campaigns was clearly no fluke, and he interviewed for a head-coaching job in Chicago after 2012 and was invited by two organizations to vie for offensive coordinator vacancies before returning to New Orleans.
“If there’s another person other than Sean that has an entire grasp of every position, of every scheme, of every decision made either by the quarterback or another player out there, (it’s Carmichael),” Saints running backs coach Dan Roushar said.
It’s in recognition of that that Payton ceded the play-calling during both a 26-24 victory at St. Louis on Aug. 8 and a 31-24 win over Tennessee a week later at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to Carmichael, a member of his staff since ’06. The Saints responded with the third-most yards per game (387) and what’s tied for the fourth-most points per outing so far this preseason, and Payton told reporters he’s thinking about leaving the play-calling to Carmichael the rest of the way.
“He’s definitely someone that can handle that,” Payton said. “We have someone who in his ninth year is very good at it.”
Nonetheless, Carmichael insisted he owed his latest successes to the constant dialogues he’s had with Payton — a guru of the passing game — and offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, whose group has blocked well for a ground attack that’s rushed for 110.75 yards per contest in the Saints’ previous 12 outings, dating to 2013.
“During the game, it’s, ‘Hey, I’d like to see these few runs ... the next series (from Ingalls),’ and when the appropriate time comes up, Sean suggests, ‘On the next series, I’d like to see a couple of these plays or maybe a shot to this guy,” Carmichael said. “So there’s all communication going on now, and we’ll keep going with that.”
Carmichael realizes more head-coaching opportunities may be in his future if he’s tasked with play-calling in 2014 and excels. Yet he said looking for employment elsewhere wasn’t at the forefront of his mind Tuesday, even if it means a promotion.
He reiterated his well-documented affinity for working on a daily basis with guys such as Payton and Brees, who’s thrown for the most passing yards (10,339) and second-most touchdowns (82) since 2012. And he explained how New Orleans became home for him, his wife and three children over the past nine seasons.
“I think about my family really first, and to get up and have to move them and stuff like that, that’s something I’d have to consider,” Carmichael said. “My wife and kids love here, ... and they have their friends, and that’s special to me, too.”