Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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MOBILE, Ala. Steve Spagnuolo stood at Senior Bowl practice at Fairhope's municipal stadium Monday and watched defensive players ran through drills.

He was looking for something specific.

'You can get game tape and see how they function in a game but do they finish every drill?' Spagnuolo asked. 'Are they first in line? Do they take coaching? This is a valuable time for us.'

But the Saints defensive coordinator is only willing to look so far into things right now, including what he feels New Orleans' biggest needs are on defense. He's waiting for Sean Payton to return before closing the book completely on 2012.

'We're really obviously excited to get Sean back and talk through all of that and get his opinion,' Spagnuolo said. 'That's very, very important to all of us.'

The Saints finished with the worst defense in the league this past season, allowing more yards than any other team in NFL history. They were 31st in points allowed per game (28.4) and 29th in sacks per pass attempt.

It's possible that when Payton returns, he'll have a spiral notebook after spiral notebook filled with notes about how the Saints can improve on their 7-9 campaign. That includes defense.

And Spagnuolo is looking forward to that.

'It is so valuable to get a real educated offensive mind evaluate your defense week in, week out,' Spagnuolo said. 'I'm really looking forward to that with Sean. It's huge.'

While he was happy to talk about last season's struggles, the only thing Spagnuolo wasn't comfortable talking about was the story that broke shortly after the season that an anonymous player thought he should be fired.

That, he said, would come at a later date.

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