INDIANAPOLIS — The Combine is a major week for NFL draft prospects.
It's a chance to meet with teams and work out on a big stage. It's an opportunity to raise one's draft stock.
But it's also a time when head coaches and general managers speak on a variety of topics, and Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager George Paton took their spots at the lectern on Tuesday.
Over the course of nearly 40 combined minutes, Payton — speaking at the Combine for the first time in his 16-year NFL coaching career — and Paton spoke at length about the Broncos' new coaching staff, where things stand with some of Denver's top free agents and if there's a way to add ammo to their selection of draft picks.
In short, there was plenty to learn.
Here, then, are the top takeaways from Payton's and Paton's media availability at the Combine.
HOW SEAN PAYTON HAS STARTED TO BUILD HIS COACHING STAFF
Payton has hired a number of coaches during his career, but he hasn't built a staff from scratch since he began his New Orleans tenure nearly two decades ago.
And as he assembles his staff, Payton explained his method for finding the right coaches to guide the team.
"We're trying to find not only the right teachers, but also the right room, relative to compatibility," Payton said. "… I think that's important as the staff. If we're expecting that from our team, I think we've got to have that 'it' [factor] as a coaching staff, as well. It's a little different process that I've only done one other time. I did it in 2006. After that, you plug in pieces to replace coaches that leave. That happens every year. But you don't do this a lot where it's like, 'Here we go. Get out the pad of paper and start writing names.' It's an interesting process. It's exciting, actually. You recognize how important it is because you're putting together what's going to be the leadership of your team. You're putting together guys — you're looking for guys that that really care about teaching, care about the players, but also care about working in a setting that's conducive to winning. That means, sometimes, being able to kind of lay down your arms, let the egos go by the wayside and just focus on what's best for the team. When that happens, you get something. Then pretty soon, everyone benefits from that."
As he put together a staff, Payton struck a balance between experienced coaches and those breaking their way into the industry.
"[Owner and CEO] Greg [Penner] texted me this the other day — Mr. Penner — said, 'I really like the makeup of how this staff is coming together, relative to experience and relative to a number of things,'" Payton said. "[Pro Football Hall of Fame Head Coach Bill] Parcells wanted to be around younger coaches. He talked about it all the time. So I like being around younger coaches now. I still consider myself a younger coach, but then I sit in the room and listen to these young coaches that I enjoy. You get energized. Then there's some experience [on the staff]. There's just a little bit of everything, and there wasn't any design. I think it was just finding the best people. … Each step of the way, there's been a vision as to, 'What does this ingredient bring to the recipe?' I can say that. I think that's the unique thing of putting together a staff and of really trying to anticipate how the room will interact."
Perhaps the most notable of those decisions came at the coordinator positions.
While Payton considered a number of candidates for the Broncos' defensive coordinator role — including former NFL head coach Rex Ryan, Patriots Senior Football Advisor/Offensive Line Coach Matt Patricia, Seahawks Associate Head Coach/Defensive Assistant Sean Desai and former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio — Vance Joseph's work leading the Cardinals' defense stood out.
"In the end, there were a few things that I felt that Vance was going to bring," Payton said. "Not necessarily because he had experience in Denver, but really more what he was able to do — believe it or not — in Arizona. That was a tough job for a number of years. We're excited to have him on our defensive staff."
Payton confirmed he still plans to hire "a few positions" on the defensive side of the ball, and he said he would meet with Patricia at the Combine about a potential role.
"We just got here," Payton said. "He and I are going to talk this week. I wouldn't rule that out though, if that were to possibly — if that possibly came to fruition, it would be for a few things. I'd certainly want to talk to Vance and our defensive coaches. I know Matt well enough to know how smart he is and what he can contribute. We'll see."
Both Defensive Line Coach Marcus Dixon and Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker will remain on the staff, and Payton said the two coaches sat in on the second round of defensive coordinator interviews.
"I had heard a lot of good things prior to when I took the job and prior to getting into the building," Payton said of Dixon and Parker. "I wanted to visit with those guys. They were real bright when I visited with them. You don't want to lose good talent, and it's the same thing with your locker room. You don't want to lose players that are possibly leaving. Christian is well versed [in] when you listen to him talk about coverage play and how it fits the fronts. ... Marcus [Dixon] is the same way. They are both young and extremely talented coaches that the first impressions were immediate for me. Then knowing about how others in the building felt, all of that helped me make a decision pretty quickly."
Offensively, Payton said he knew Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi would join him in Denver; he just didn't initially know which role he would fill.
"I knew Joe was coming," Payton said. "I didn't know if he was going to play bass, guitar or drums. I didn't know his role yet, but I knew he was coming."
Payton's vision has been clear to Paton, and the Broncos' general manager said he "couldn't be more impressed" with Payton or his staff.
"He's been methodical throughout the process — his attention to detail," Paton said. "He had a vision for what he's looking for. I felt [that] he hired a really good staff."
The Broncos' staff is not yet finished, but as Payton and Paton spend time at the Combine, they like the way it is coming together.
LOWERY A 'GAME CHANGER' FOR DENVER
As Payton puts together his staff, one of the biggest additions may be Vice President of Player Health and Performance Beau Lowery.
Lowery will be responsible for for overseeing the Broncos' athletic training, strength and conditioning and nutrition and sports science efforts — and he's earned the praise of players like seven-time Pro Bowler Cam Jordan.
Payton said the addition of Lowery — who spent five years in New Orleans with Payton — is a "game changer" for the Broncos.
"During the interview process, his name came up," Payton said. "I talked about things that I felt were important. It's hard to have a great training room. … In the 32 teams, there is always that feeling that there is a better training room somewhere else. I watched our transition when Beau came to New Orleans and how the players responded. Not only just the veteran players, but some of the younger players. If you just Google searched the amount of players that sent him congratulations or sent comments, it gives you an idea how he was thought of. It's kind of hard to have that. When you have it, like you recognize that it's special, because he's firsthand [when] dealing with the injuries and dealing with the setbacks. It can be a lonely place if you're a player while you're missing time. He's very much respected. I mean, he fellowed under [Dr. James] Andrews. We lost him in New Orleans. We tried not to, but he wanted to live a little bit closer to Baton Rouge, and that's why he went back up there."
A FREE-AGENT UPDATE
The Broncos have several starters who are poised to become free agents at the start of the new league year, and Paton addressed the status of both defensive end Dre'Mont Jones and inside linebacker Alex Singleton.
Paton said he had been in contact with Jones and Jones' agent, and he described the conversations as "very positive."
"Dre'Mont is a very good player," Paton said. "He's one of our core players on defense."
Paton said the Broncos also hope to have Singleton back in Denver.
"He's just a baller," Paton said. "We signed him to be a really good special teamer and compete for the starting job. And [he] didn't even start to start the year and then just took off. He's just a football player. We'd love to have Alex back. He's a great leader. He has a nose for the ball. Players gravitate towards him. We'd like to have Alex back."
ALSO OF NOTE
… The Broncos have five total picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, and their first two picks come with the 67th and 68th selections of the draft. Paton said the Broncos are always looking to add more picks, but he noted he thought the Broncos could find a pair of good players with their third-round selections.
"We're always looking to add," Paton said. "It's not always easy. It's easier to do during the draft — to move back and you could acquire picks. We've done that here. We've done that at other places I've been. I do think the top five [picks] of the third round is kind of the sweet spot of the draft. If we can get a couple really good players to contribute, we're going to do that. We're always looking for picks."
… Asked whether he has done a deep dive into the Broncos' current roster, Payton joked that "it wasn't with scuba tanks, but it was with a snorkel."
"I've had the chance to look with George and talk about our players," Payton said. "When we get back from the Combine, we'll have another meeting that will take the better part of two days. We've been ongoing with that."
… Paton said the Broncos would wait to decide whether to pick up wide receiver Jerry Jeudy's option until closer to the May deadline, but the said the Broncos were "really happy with where Jerry is at."