METAIRIE, La. — Dennis Allen didn't get a chance to match wits against his former boss when New Orleans visited Oakland last season.
Sean Payton's season-long bounty suspension wiped that out, so Allen will have to settle for a preseason date tonight against the coach and franchise he helped to win the Super Bowl title in the 2009 season.
Allen was a defensive assistant for Payton's first five seasons in New Orleans. He saw firsthand how Payton arrived amid Hurricane Katrina's devastation and turned a moribund franchise into a playoff regular.
"Sean's a heck of a football coach. I've learned a lot from him just as far as how he handles a football team, what his demeanor is and the swagger that he brings to his team," Allen said this week as he prepared the Raiders for Friday night's game in the Superdome. "You'll see a different New Orleans Saints football team this year with having him back. That's where I feel like, in New Orleans, in those five years, that's where I feel like I really grew up as a football coach in the National Football League.
"It'll be fun to go back," Allen added. "It'll be fun to get a chance to see some of those guys. I'll get to talk to Sean and bounce a few ideas off of him and see what he has to say."
Allen also got to coach against Payton's prolific offense in practice, working first with the defensive line and then with the secondary before leaving to become Denver's defensive coordinator for the 2011 season.
In terms of offensive play design and play-calling, Allen sees Payton "up there at the top of the league. That's for sure."
He said the Saints "present a lot of challenges offensively in the way that they match up their personnel, their tempo on offense, the things that they do in the running game and in the passing game. So it'll be a great test for us."
Allen was a quality control coach in Atlanta when Payton was hired for his first head coaching job in New Orleans.
Payton said he had heard "a lot of good things" about Allen from coaches he knew, and decided to offer Allen a chance to work with the defensive line. Soon after, he was promoted to head secondary coach.
"We saw very early on his talent, his ability to teach and communicate," Payton said. "You know, you get a coach like that and it's hard to keep up with and then all of a sudden they're on to being a coordinator maybe quicker than you can put him in that position, and now he's a head coach and that's not very surprising at all."
Now 49, Payton said he takes pride in the fact that his former assistants have taken promotions with other clubs and enjoys the fact that two of his assistants from his initial staff — Allen and former offensive line coach Doug Marrone — are now head coaches. Marrone is in his first season with Buffalo, and Payton will see him in New Orleans on Oct. 27 for a game that counts.
"It's something you get excited about when somebody that was on that original staff" becomes a fellow NFL head coach, Payton said.
He added that he often reminds Saints owner Tom Benson: "Let's not get worried when others want to talk to our coaches. You get worried when no one wants to talk to any of your coaches."
Notes: Payton said LB Jon Vilma was in Philadelphia for arthroscopic knee surgery. He says Vilma is expected to return but did not specify when. ... LB Curtis Lofton also was not present. ... OLB Junior Galette watched practice but did not participate. ... Also sitting out practice were WR Marques Colston, WR Courtney Roby, LB Chris Chamberlain and C Eric Olsen.