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John DeShazier: Sean Payton says coaching changes are 'about winning'

Payton: 'It’s about us finding opportunities for us to improve our team, our roster, or coaching staff'

Indianapolis – By coaching standards it was a significant overhaul, adding seven new coaches to a staff that now totals 24, including the head coach who is entering his ninth season.

But New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton vowed that after the team finished 7-9 last season, the evaluation process would be thorough, that every means of improvement would be explored and that measuring the performance of himself and his staff would be Step 1 in the process.

That critical analysis led to this: Dennis Allen being hired as senior defensive assistant, John Morton as wide receivers coach, Joel Thomas as running backs coach (former running backs coach Dan Roushar now will coach tight ends), James Willis as defensive assistant/linebackers, Kyle DeVan and Greg Lewis as offensive assistants and Brendan Nugent as a coaching assistant.

Payton, who is attending the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, said Thursday that the injection of new blood, eyes and ideas will be beneficial.

"I think it can, and it's no different than the roster," he said. "The roster, there's a change that takes place every year. I think we've got to look closely at how we, as coaches, can improve – because it's important, when you come off a season that we just had, to first look in the mirror and say, 'This wasn't good enough.'

"I know (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and I have talked a lot about it, we've talked with the staff and you'll see some change the same way with our roster; that takes place every year. But to just turn the page and go back to what you were doing would be silly."

The noteworthy addition to the staff was Allen, a former Payton assistant who was an assistant defensive line (2006-07) and secondary (2008-10) coach who left New Orleans to become defensive coordinator in Denver in 2011 and from there, became head coach in Oakland from 2012-14.

"From the minute the season ended, we talked with our team, our coaching staff – Mickey and I spent a lot of time really trying to look closely at what we have to correct. We knew there'd be some change with regard to the hiring of some coaches, the notable one being Dennis Allen returning. He's someone that we've had a long history with, he was on our original staff in '06, coached our secondary during the Super Bowl run and then had a chance to be a coordinator and go on to be a head coach," Payton said.

"It's not a normal situation where you're able to bring in a coach like that and say, 'Hey, you and Rob are going to work together.' But it works because both Rob and Dennis are guys that are passionate about it and really understand that this is something that benefits both of them and the team.

"We probably spent a week just going through the dynamics of the room. Here's Dennis, who's got experience at this, and certainly that's Rob's role. He's the defensive coordinator and he'll be the guy calling our defense on gameday. But I think Dennis gives him another veteran set of eyes that can help him and can help our defensive staff and can help our team.

"It's about winning, and it's about us finding opportunities for us to improve our team, our roster, or coaching staff, anywhere we can in the building."

The next phase of that improvement will come through player acquisition, via free agency or the draft. The Combine affords the Saints the opportunity to have initial introductions to players through interviews.

"(The interviews are) 15 minutes long and we've really kind of changed how we handle that 15 minutes," he said. "We spend two or three minutes on getting to know the player but then, very quickly, we're into football.

"The hardest thing for us to gauge is – throw away the test scores, the grade-point averages and all – how smart is this guy, football-wise. There have been some really, really smart players that I've coached, we've coached, that maybe had a low test score and just didn't test well, or didn't spend the time on it. Conversely, we've had some really good students, straight-A students, that really struggled with football. We're trying to spend as much time on finding out who are the players that really jump out at you with football intelligence, and who are the players that really struggle."

The Saints, again, expect to be players in free agency after executing the offseason plan to get the team under the salary cap.

"We've always been fairly judicious with the signing of a free agent player," Payton said. "There has to be a fit and yet, we're not afraid to do that. I do think you pay attention to the depth as it pertains to the draft class. You'd say, 'This is a class that is deeper at this position. We think we can find this player in the draft as opposed to free agency.'

"We'll look closely at the free agent market. A lot of times it'll be that second wave of free agents that we pay attention to and then also, our own roster. That's one of the big challenges this time of the year because there's that constant change and there are some tough discussions that have to be dealt with and taking place."

Such a discussion has taken place regarding running back Mark Ingram, who led the Saints in rushing last season, with a career-high 964 yards and nine touchdowns on 226 carries.

The first-round draft pick (No. 28 overall) in 2011 started a career-high nine games.

"I think, in a good way, he had a fantastic season," Payton said. "He's a player that we look at and have a value for. He's our draft pick. He stayed healthy this year, I couldn't be more excited to see him have the success because you see the work behind the scenes, you see the preparation by him, you see the professionalism by him.

"He's a football guy. He was at Alabama, he was in high school and it's good to see him have that type of success, especially a guy that you brought into the program. Now, it's just figuring out where that (contract) number is going to be for him.

"I'm sure, if you're Mark and you're Mark's agent, you're looking closely at it. Hopefully, he's someone that's back in the Black and Gold because he's been a big part of our success offensively."

Associated Press photos from the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 in Indianapolis, IN.

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