Joe Vitt used his first public comments as the face of the Saints' coaching staff to accept some blame for the bounty scandal that has plagued the club's offseason. Then he sought to clear the names of his players.
"At no time did any of our players ever cross the white line with the intention of hurting another player," the assistant head coach said Tuesday afternoon. "That being said, I'm serving a six-game suspension for the spoken word, not the clenched fist."
Vitt said his problem was the words he used in his motivational speeches when he was trying to urge defenders to play with the type of hard-hitting toughness that reduces an opponent's will to compete. He said he was "on board 100 percent" with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's player safety goals and would change the way he addresses his charges.
"Talking to players and the expectation that you have for players, it's got to be different. I take full responsibility for that, and I've got to get better at it," Vitt said.
Vitt is handling head coach Sean Payton's duties while Payton serves a season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, which concluded that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams offered improper cash bonuses for hits that hobbled targeted opponents.
Vitt said the Saints would look to rise above swirling offseason distractions and keep expectations for their on-field performance high as the club seeks a fourth straight playoff appearance.
"Understand one thing: We ain't down. We are not down," Vitt said. "We've got 41 wins over the last three years and we've got a great building full of players. We've got a great scouting staff. We've got a great administration. We've got a great owner. And we are looking forward to starting the season."