2013 NFL Coaching Changes
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Perhaps more so than any off-season in NFL history, this off-season has been filled with the most intrigue regarding coaching changes and the advancement of the game. The 2012 season saw teams like the Redskins, 49ers, Panthers, and Seahawks ride the read option and elements of that offense to various degrees of success, the 49ers coming within yards of using it to win the Super Bowl. As such, eight head-coaching positions were filled (25% of the NFL), seven of which were filled by offensive-minded coaches. The Eagles (Chip Kelly) and Bills (Doug Marrone) opted for a fresh perspective from college football, while the Bears (Marc Trestman) went north of the border to the CFL for their guy. In fact, only one of the new head coaches has ever been a head man in the NFL before (Andy Reid).
Our coaching changes primer is intended to be just that: an overview of all the new head coach and coordinator hires in the NFL, with as much of a fantasy slant we’re willing to put on them at this particular time. The idea was to give ourselves and the readers a clue as to what we might expect from these new hires in 2013. On the whole, 17 of the 32 NFL teams changed at least one coordinator, so expect a lot of changes and tweaks next season.
Note: After the draft and the bulk of the 2013 free agency activity, we’ll revisit this article and update it to include more insight on overall offenses and defenses and specific players.
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
Offensive Coordinator: Harold Goodwin
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bowles
Overview: A 4-0 start for the Cardinals in 2012 seemed too good to be true, and it was, as the team would lose 11 of its next 12 games to finish an abysmal 5-11. QB Kevin Kolb going down with a rib injury after the hot start certainly didn’t help, but the offense never seemed to get on track due to poor QB play, an awful OL, and an unreliable ground game thanks to shaky play and injuries. That ended up leading to a total house cleaning of the front office and coaching staff. Enter Bruce Arians, who served as the interim HC for the Colts for much of 2012 with HC Chuck Pagano battling leukemia. Arians was also the team’s offensive coordinator and called plays for rookie QB Andrew Luck. After the mess last season, the Cardinals moved on from HC Ken Whisenhunt and decided to make Arians a HC for the first time in his NFL career.
About Arians: Despite a coaching career that’s spanned five decades, Arians will be an “official” head coach for the first time in the NFL with the Cardinals. After not returning to the Steelers as their offensive coordinator at the end of his contract in 2011, Arians took the same position with the Colts under new HC Chuck Pagano. Arians was named the interim HC in early October when Pagano was forced to leave the team due to his battle with leukemia. Arians also kept his coordinator duties and called plays while filling in for Pagano and led the team to a 9-3 record before Pagano returned in late December just a couple of weeks before the team returned to the playoffs, an effort that earned Arians Coach of the Year honors. Arians did a fantastic job with rookie QB Andrew Luck, despite putting a lot on Luck’s plate right away. Luck responded by setting the record for passing yards by a rookie with 4374 in 16 starts. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Arians had success with a big-armed QB. Arians was the Steeler OC from 2007-2011 and turned what was historically a run-first team into a pass-heavy offense under QB Ben Roethlisberger, who had most of his success under Arians. The similarities for Arians between the Steelers, Colts, and now Cardinals are the below-average OLs. In fact, one could argue that the Cardinals had the NFL’s worst offensive line last season. While both Roethlisberger and Luck were able to put up big numbers, they also took too many hits, which has been a problem for the Cardinal QBs, specifically Kevin Kolb, over the last two seasons. Arizona gave up 54 sacks in 2011 (2nd-most) and 58 in 2012 (most). Under Arians, the Colts allowed 41 sacks last season (9th-most). Despite being the HC, Arians says he’ll continue to call plays, since he doesn’t want to put OC Harold Goodwin in a situation where Goodwin would be making play calls just to satisfy Arians. However, he did say there could be a time when he’d be comfortable passing off the duties to Goodwin. Arians doesn’t know if there will be a change at the QB position, but expects the position to play better. Like the QB position, Arians continues to evaluate the RBs, but noted the track record of RBs Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells isn’t very good, especially when it comes to injuries. Arians did at the combine say he loved Williams coming out of college and believes in his skill set. He also said the pass blocking at the position isn’t adequate, which certainly needs to improve with the OL not looking like it’ll be a quick fix. Arians believes the Cardinals are a better team right now than the Colts were when he ended up there at this time last year. Arians has been criticized in the past for being too pass happy (see his time with the Steelers), so it will be interesting to see if he takes the same approach with the Cardinals. We did ask Arians about wideout Michael Floyd at the combine and he said he loves him and thinks he’s a stud, for what it’s worth. The presence of Arians could be good news for wideout Larry Fitzgerald based mainly on volume, but Arians may not have a choice but to run if more than he usually does if the front office doesn’t significantly improve the offensive line.
About Goodwin:Goodwin served under Arians last year in Indianapolis as the team’s OL coach. In previous seasons with Arians in Pittsburgh, he was the team’s OL quality control coach and has been involved with coaching OLs only dating back to his college coaching days. While this will be Goodwin’s first time as an offensive coordinator, Arians will be the one calling plays, although he did say he may feel comfortable enough to let Goodwin take over that responsibility at some point. Goodwin will try to fix an offense that hasn’t been able to protect the QB, giving up a league-high 112 sacks over the last two seasons. His OL in Indianapolis allowed 41 sacks in 2011 and the Steeler OL was average at best during his time there. Goodwin has been complimentary of the Cardinal OL in early evaluations and Arians noted the team dealt with many injuries there last season. While Goodwin may not call plays, he’ll be in charge of everything else when it comes to the offense, but will have some help from veteran coach Tom Moore, who was hired as an assistant head coach/offense after spending a short time with the Titans last season. Moore worked with Arians for three years in Indianapolis when Peyton Manning was just starting in the league and was a big part of Manning’s success with the Colts.
About Bowles: Bowles takes over for DC Ray Horton, after acting as the Eagles’ interim DC when they fired Juan Castillo during the 2012 season. While the record may not have shown it, the Cardinals continued to do a fine job on defense, ranking 12th overall, including fifth against the pass. They were also third in takeaways under Horton in the 3-4 scheme, which will remain. Bowles has primarily coached the secondary in stints with the Jets, Browns, Cowboys, and Eagles, including last season when he was hired as the DBs coach. Bowles took over for Castillo in mid-October and while the Eagles struggled, especially when it came to giving up big plays, they were about average, finishing 15th overall. Bowles said he doesn’t believe the small sample size is an accurate measurement of his coaching ability. That’s an absolutely fair assessment in our minds, as taking over for an already dysfunctional defense midseason was a pretty difficult position to be put in. He’ll have it a lot easier next season, taking over a defense that features high-end players on all three levels, including DL Darnell Dockett, LB Daryl Washington, and CB Patrick Peterson. He’s not planning any dramatic changes and maybe only a move or two will be made in terms of adding to what’s been a solid defense in the last few years. Hopefully, for Arizona’s sake, he can simply pick up where Horton left off, since Horton’s defense showed great progress in Horton’s second season there in 2012. But it’s fair to expect a drop-off here in 2013, considering how well the defense played last year in Horton’s second season here.
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
Offensive Coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett
Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine
Overview: Whether it was complaints from WR Stevie Johnson about the offense or fans (and fantasy owners) wondering why RB C.J. Spiller wasn’t playing enough, everyone seemed to be sick of everything going on in Buffalo, so HC Chan Gailey and his staff were fired. Under Gailey, the team went 14-32 in three seasons, finishing last in the AFC East each time. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s struggles in the second half of 2011 carried over into 2012, with many wondering why the team gave him a new contract. On draft day 2011, we openly wondered why Gailey and the Bills passed on QB Colin Kaepernick, who seemed like a great fit for the offense. At RB, Fred Jackson had another season shortened by injuries, and the team’s receiving corps, which was thin to begin with, never seemed to be at full strength. The team decided to stay somewhat local by hiring University of Syracuse HC Doug Marrone, who not only had success in turning around that college program, but also has NFL experience, as well.
About Marrone: In 2009, Marrone took over a Syracuse program that was in shambles, and over the next four seasons, he helped turned things around, including a pair of Pinstripe Bowl wins in 2010 and 2012. While he finished with only a 25-25 record during his four years at his alma mater, it was an improvement over the 10-37 in the previous four seasons. Before his time at Syracuse, Marrone was the OC for the Saints from 2006-2008 and the OL coach for the Jets from 2002-2005. He’d held various offensive coach positions at different schools from 1992-2001. As the Saints’ OC, Marrone ran a pass-heavy offense and minimized the use of RBs, with Deuce McAllister being his only 1000-yard back (1057 in 2006). Saints HC Sean Payton called the plays, but Marrone helped design the running plays. Look for Marrone to be more up-tempo with the Bills and that should mean much more of Spiller, as both a runner and a receiver. The problem for the Bills is personnel. Fitzpatrick is expected to battle the newly re-signed Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job, but the team will probably look to take a QB at some point in the draft, as they start picking 8th overall, but also have picks in the 2nd round (41st) and 3rd round (71) if they want to wait on a QB, like Ryan Nassib, who played for Marrone at Syracuse. Buffalo will also be looking to upgrade at WR and possibly TE, since Johnson is the team’s only real threat, and TE Scott Chandler is coming off a torn ACL. It probably won’t be a quick fix for Marrone, but his job first and foremost (other than getting Spiller the ball as often as he can handle) will be to change the culture of losing that’s hung over the franchise for some time, as they haven’t had a winning season since 2004 and haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999.
About Hackett: Hackett was considered Marrone’s right-hand man at Syracuse as the team’s offensive coordinator, but this will easily be his most high-profile job at just 33-years-old. However, before his three years at Syracuse, Hackett spent two seasons with the Bills as an offensive quality control coach and two seasons before that holding the same position under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Despite not having the deepest of resumes, Hackett was always considered Marrone’s top choice for the OC job in Buffalo. Marrone likes that Hackett has a background in the NFL system, thanks to being around his dad, former coach, Paul Hackett, under whom Marrone worked when with the Jets. He also liked that Hackett worked under Gruden and his complicated terminology in Tampa Bay. Hackett is considered an outside-the-box thinker and one of the bright, young minds when it comes to the evolution of offenses. He and Marrone worked well together calling plays at Syracuse, and Hackett is expected to handle those duties in Buffalo. The Bills are expected to run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, but with Hackett and Marrone as innovators, look for the team to take full advantage of its best players, like Spiller. Hackett ran the “K-Gun” offense last year at Syracuse, which is the same scheme the Bills ran with Jim Kelly. Expect a lot of shotgun and spread looks, which should help with continuity, since the Bills have featured that the last few years under Gailey and with Fitzpatrick at QB. Of course, they have a lot of work to do in terms of getting capable bodies, especially since they do not plan to offer free agent WR Donald Jones a new contract. They want to get bigger at wideout, so restricted free agent David Nelson could stick.
About Pettine: Pettine will be changing teams but staying in the AFC East. He spent the last four years as the DC with the Jets under Rex Ryan and the seven years before that under Ryan in Baltimore holding various defensive coaching positions. Pettine, who called the majority of the plays for the Jets, was able to keep things together for a mess of a team last season, allowing them to finish 8th in total defense, which was actually the worst ranking in his four years there. By comparison, the Bills finished as the 11th worst defense in 2012. Pettine brings a hybrid defense of sorts that uses a lot of exotic blitzes and movement to confuse opponents. It can be a tough system to learn for a new team, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising if Pettine brought in some free agents veterans with knowledge of his system. Pettine said this defense will be more about aggression and attacking than reading and reacting. Pettine confirmed the defense will be somewhat of a hybrid, as they’ll line up in 3-4, 4-3, or any other front imaginable — they’ll play to their personnel. It’s worth noting that their marquee player, DE Mario Williams, is most effective playing in a 4-3, so it will be interesting to see what they do. The team has some pieces on defense, but may look to upgrade at LB and on the back end and have already released veteran LB Nick Barnett and veteran DBs George Wilson (S) and Terrance McGee (CB).
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Shula
Defensive Coordinator: Sean McDermott (holdover)
Overview: Although he was scrutinized for much of the 2012 season, Panther OC Rob Chudzinski ended up being hired as the new HC of the Cleveland Browns. Instead of looking to the outside, the Panthers decided to stay in-house and promote QB coach Mike Shula to the position. He’ll look to improve an offense that was 12th overall in 2012 after finishing 7th in 2011. Much of the frustration surrounding the offense came from the inability to use both RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart effectively, as the numbers back that up. With a three-headed backfield of Williams, Stewart, and QB Cam Newton, Carolina had the third-best rushing attack in 2011. They dropped to ninth this past season, and Chud put a little too much on Newton’s plate. The Newton-led passing attack finished a mediocre 16th in 2012, although that wasn’t much of a drop from 13th in his rookie season. We get it that Newton is a special player with an unusual skill set, but there was clearly a major disconnect between the front office (one that re-signed Williams in 2011 and signed Tolbert in 2012) and the coaching staff (one that remained “all-in” on Newton).
About Shula: Shula served as the team’s QB coach for the last two seasons before being promoted to the OC job for 2013. Shula has gotten some credit for the surprisingly early success of Newton, who earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 after throwing for 4051 yards and 21 TDs and adding 706 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. Newton saw his passing yards and TDs drop to 3869 and 19, but he ran for 741 yards and 8 TDs. Before coming to Carolina, Shula was the QB coach in Jacksonville from 2007-2010 and was the HC at Alabama from 2003-2006. His only other OC job came from 1996-1999 with the Buccaneers. Shula has said he wants to keep looking for ways to use Newton, specifically saying he wants to allow Newton to play fast. The offense is expected to be similar to Chudzinski’s, but changes and additions could be made during the off-season. While many, including us, criticized the Panthers for using zone reads in the ground game too much, Shula said he’d be mixing more traditional runs in and look to have more of a downfield attack. HC Ron Rivera decided to stick with Shula over outside candidates because of his familiarity with the personnel and offense.
Head Coach: Marc Trestman
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Kromer
Defensive Coordinator: Mel Tucker
Overview: The Bears got tired of not getting over the hump with HC Lovie Smith so after a 10-6 season that saw the team miss the playoffs, he was fired. Smith had been the HC since 2004 and won three division titles and lost in Super Bowl XLl. After falling apart in 2011 thanks to injuries, the Bears seemed to be well on their way to the playoffs after a strong start, but sputtered down the stretch and finished third in the NFC North. Looking for a way to give a jolt their offense, they hired Marc Trestman, who had his most recent success as a Grey Cup champion in the CFL.
About Trestman: While Trestman won the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, he has an extensive coaching background in both the NFL and college, as well. In 1995-1996, he served as the OC/QB coach of the 49ers, where he helped QB Steve Young and the offense rack up league-highs in points (457) and yards (4779). In 1997, Trestman was the QB coach for Scott Mitchell in Detroit. Mitchell had one of his best seasons, throwing for 3484 yards and 19 TDs (although he had a far better season in 1995). Trestman would move onto the Cardinals in 1998, serving as OC/QB coach in a season that saw the team get back to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years with QB Jake Plummer throwing for 3737 yards, the second-most in his 10-year career. Trestman initially joined the Raiders in 2001 as QB coach, but when HC Jon Gruden left, Trestman was promoted to OC, helping QB Rich Gannon to an MVP season and the team’s offense lead the league in total yards per game (389.8) and passing yards (279.7) on their way to the Super Bowl. That same season, RB Charlie Garner caught a whopping 91 balls for 941 yards and 4 TDs in addition to the 962 yards and 7 TDs he had on the ground. What does this all mean for the Bears? Trestman noted he’d like to take advantage of QB Jay Cutler’s athleticism, specifically mentioning his use of the pistol, shotgun, and read-zone schemes while in Montreal. He also made a point to say his 2002 offense in Oakland under Gannon was a no-huddle team. Basically, we’re expecting Trestman to take what was a very boring offense under Mike Tice and hopefully take it to the next level, since we know Cutler is a talented player with a great arm, who should be putting up better numbers with guys like WR Brandon Marshall, WR Alshon Jeffery, and RB Matt Forte around him. Marshall will be a PPR monster no matter what, but this hire could be great news for Forte in that format. Forte can catch a ton of passes if utilized that way, and an argument can be made that he’s been underutilized in the passing game in Chicago. If healthy, Forte should be good for 70-75 passes, possibly more. It’s going to be a West Coast offensive scheme, and Cutler ran a version of the WCO in Denver, where he enjoyed his most success. Trestman has brought in coaches he’s familiar with, including OC Aaron Kromer from their time together in Oakland. For what it’s worth, we’re friendly with Gannon and do work with him for SiriusXM, and he loves the hire for the Bears. On possibly the negative side, this will be Cutler’s third offensive system/coordinator in four years for the Bears
About Kromer: Kromer had been with the Saints since 2008, serving as RB coach then OL coach and even had the interim HC job for the first six games of the 2012 season. In previous jobs, he worked primarily as an OL coach, including 2002-2004 with the Raiders at the same time as Marc Trestman. Kromer has been known as an OL coach who can turn later draft picks into starting-caliber performers, especially in New Orleans. He’s also given some credit for the success the Saints had running the ball, as they finished among the top-5 in YPC in two of the last four seasons. When it comes to improving the Bear OL, which has allowed an average of 46 sacks/season in Jay Cutler’s four years with the team, Kromer said he’ll need to work with the players to help them, as opposed to just seeing what issues may be on tape. In terms of the rushing attack, Kromer expect to use multiple looks, just as the Saints did with both inside zone and power schemes, to fit the personnel. Although the Bears are expected to try to improve their OL through the draft and free agency, having Kromer in the mix, plus his relationship with Trestman, should be a big boost for this offensive line and offense.
About Tucker: After having moderate success as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville for the last four seasons, Tucker comes to Chicago after a complete overhaul of the staff. Tucker’s defense in 2012 was 22nd overall and gave up the third-most points. However, he’s had top-5 units in the past with the Jaguars and will come to a Bear defense with significantly more talent. Tucker is a highly regarded coach, serving as the interim HC for the Jags at the end of the 2011 season before being promoted to assistant HC for the 2012 season. He received multiple interviews about filling the team’s HC position, but was passed over each time. Although the old staff is gone, Tucker recently said he plans on having an “attacking, up-the-field, penetrating defense” that isn’t expected to be much different from what was run with much success in 2012. Tucker will even go as far as to keep the same terminology since he’s a strong believer in communication. Also, he doesn’t see any need to get away from the 4-3 scheme. While the team has some decisions to make in free agency, Tucker hopes to see the group do as well, if not better than their eighth-overall ranking in defense and the third-fewest points allowed in 2012. However, it’s hard to argue over (Lovie) Smith’s success running the Bear defense during his tenure, plus the Bears also lost D-line coach Rod Marinelli. To expect the Bear fantasy defense to be as effective as it was in 2012 and for most of Smith’s time in Chicago is a pretty big leap of faith.
Head Coach: Rob Chudzinski
Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner
Defensive Coordinator: Ray Horton
Overview: Former head coach Pat Shurmur didn’t have much of a chance to return to the Browns in 2013 after Jimmy Haslam purchased the franchise last year. Also, team president Mike Holmgren, who hired Shurmur in 2011, left Cleveland in the middle of the season, so that didn’t help Shurmur’s cause to keep his job. Of course, Shurmur certainly didn’t help his own chances as he went 9-23 over two seasons. It wasn’t all bad for the Browns during Shurmur’s tenure as they did show some progress in the second half of the year, and they do have some young talent, including RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon. But while the Browns brought in several big-name interviews for their head job, the guy they tabbed for their top job turned out to be Rob Chudzinski. In fact, the Browns brought in a bigger name in former Charger head coach Norv Turner to lead the offense, and Cleveland snagged one of the hottest defensive coaching commodities in former Cardinal DC Ray Horton. Horton will be charged with developing a defense that doesn’t really have any difference makers outside of top CB Joe Haden, and Chudzinski and Turner need to figure out what they’re going to do with quarterback position.
About Chudzinski: This isn’t Rob Chudzinski’s first go-around with the Cleveland Browns. He was the team’s offensive coordinator under HC Romeo Crennel, and he helped guide the Brown offense to their last winning season in 2007. Chudzinski lost his job the following year after the Browns fell flat, but he landed in San Diego as a tight ends coach before getting the OC job in Carolina. The Browns hired Chud to be the team’s new head coach on Jan. 12, and he said at the combine that he wants an attacking offense with the Browns. He was noncommittal on whether or not Brandon Weeden would be the team’s starting quarterback next season. Obviously, Chudzinski didn’t strongly evaluate Weeden as the Panthers weren’t in the market for a QB in last year’s draft, and Carolina didn’t play the Browns in 2012. So he’s coming in blind. Chudzinski did say that he wants to bring a vertical, downfield passing game to Cleveland, and Weeden has plenty of arm strength to get the ball there. Chudzinski does like his arm and poise in the pocket, but he was inconsistent and they want competition at QB, so Weeden won’t be handed the job. Chudzinski finished 10-6 with Derek Anderson (32 total TDs in 2007) at QB in Cleveland, so Weeden, in a five- and seven-step drop offense, behind a very good OL, has a chance to succeed. As for the run game, Chudzinski gained a reputation in fantasy circles for his peculiar use of Panther RBs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. Yet he also isn’t afraid to use his superstars like QB Cam Newton in Carolina. Chudzinski isn’t afraid to build an offense around a star, so we fully expect RB Trent Richardson to be the focal point of the offense. In fact, for as productive statistically as Anderson was under Chud for the Browns in 2007, veteran Jamal Lewis actually averaged 20 carries a game in 15 games (298 carries), so it’s not like Chudzinski is unwilling to run the ball. Overall, Chudzinski has been involved with successful teams in his nine years as an assistant with a 76-68 record, and in six of those nine years the offense was eighth or better in points scored. Chudzinski has called plays in seven of his last 12 seasons, but he will let OC Norv Turner calls plays this season. Turner has been a bit of a mentor for Chudzinski, as the two have known each other for 20 years.
About Turner: The Browns made quite a splash with the hiring of Norv Turner as the team’s offensive coordinator. Turner has 15 years experience as an NFL head coach in Washington (1994-2000), Oakland (2004-05), and San Diego (2007-12). Turner also won two Super Bowls guiding the Cowboy offense from 1991-93, and he’s guided the Charger (2001), Dolphin (2002-03), and 49er (2006) offenses. It’s hard to argue with Turner’s resume at this point of his career, but will see how motivated he is at 61 years old and more than 20 years in the NFL. New HC Rob Chudzinski quickly ended any potential drama when he announced that Turner would call plays in 2013 during his and Turner’s introductory press conference. Turner has gained a reputation for his use of a single, featured running back (Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, Frank Gore, and LaDainian Tomlinson). In fact, he also has let go some players who projected to be solid rotational players. Norv let Michael Turner walk near the end of Tomlinson’s run, and he also let Darren Sproles leave town at the beginning of Ryan Mathews’ career in San Diego. Turner loves to run the ball, and Chudzinski isn’t afraid to build an offense around a star like he did with Cam Newton in Carolina, so we fully expect RB Trent Richardson to be the main man in Cleveland. Turner and Chudzinski also seem ready to roll out a more vertical passing game, which should benefit QB Brandon Weeden and WR Josh Gordon. The Browns haven’t committed Weeden for 2013, but he does have a strong-enough arm to stretch the field. And while Turner is known for being big on the running game, he’s also an excellent QB tutor, so his hire could be great news for Weeden if he’s the guy. The Browns also need to decide what they want to do at tight end with free agent Ben Watson and the talented but raw Jordan Cameron. Turner and Chudzinski have a great reputation working with TEs, including Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen, so Cameron – who the previous regime was very high on – has some serious upside in Turner’s offense. He’s the type of vertical threat who could do well in the Chudzinski-Turner offense, but he’s hardly the finished product. In fact, we actually asked Chudzinski about Cameron and his plans for him at the combine on 2/22 and he said he likes him and thinks he has a good skillset, but that he hasn’t played a lot and he has to see him on the field, which as of February he obviously has not.
About Horton: New HC Rob Chudzinski wanted to bring an aggressive team on both sides of the ball, and he absolutely did that with his defensive coordinator hire. Former Cardinal DC Ray Horton became a hot name for several of the vacant head-coaching jobs at the end of the 2012 season. But while his stock rose this year, he didn’t really get close to landing any of the top jobs this off-season, despite interviewing for the vacant Buffalo and Cleveland jobs. Heck, even when Arizona canned HC Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals opted to go outside the organization and bring in Bruce Arians. So Horton saw the writing on the wall and decided for a fresh start in Cleveland under HC Rob Chudzinski. Horton worked for seven years under legendary Steeler DC Dick LeBeau from 2004-2010 before he handled the Cardinal DC job the last two seasons. In Cleveland, Horton initially said he’d implement the 3-4 scheme he used the last two seasons in Arizona, the same system perfected by LeBeau (Horton used a similar system to LeBeau with complex terminology and a wide variety of different blitzes in Arizona). However, Horton later met with Chudzinski and changed his tune, saying the team would use a variety of fronts (3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 4-4) depending on the opposing offense. Although they ran a 3-4 a few years ago under Rob Ryan, the Browns have spent the last two years drafting and signing players that fit a 4-3 system, so they could face a tough transition if Horton primarily uses a 3-4. The biggest questions would be if Phil Taylor could play nose tackle and if DE Jabaal Sheard could move to OLB. Either way, it might be better to expect the Browns to run a hybrid front, combining elements of the 4-3 and 3-4, but what Horton told the local media could have been more hyperbole than anything else. He has worked in the 3-4 for most of his career. There is some talent here; they just need to get a consistent pass rush.
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Callahan (holdover)
Defensive Coordinator: Monte Kiffin
Overview: With another disappointing performance by the defense in 2012, the Cowboys decided to cut ties with DC Rob Ryan. The team finished 14th in total defense last season and gave up the ninth-most points. That was actually an improvement after finishing 19th in 2011 and giving up the 17th-most points. Dallas played a 3-4 scheme under Ryan, but that will change under new DC Monte Kiffin. Although the team isn’t making any other major coaching changes, the question of play-calling has come up. After HC Jason Garrett’s press conference in mid-February, the issue wasn’t exactly cleared up. It was believed that OC/OL coach Bill Callahan would take the duties away from Garrett, and while that may end up being the case, Garrett seemed to talk around the issue, which made things unnecessarily confusing. To his credit, Callahan has tried to downplay the possible switch, noting that the staff will collaborate on everything, although the indication was that he’d be calling the plays…we think.
About Kiffin: Kiffin returns to the NFL as a defensive coordinator after spending the last four seasons as a DC at USC and Tennessee under his son, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin’s last job in the pro ranks was as the DC for the Buccaneers from 1996-2008. His defenses were perennially among the best in the league, including the 2002 group that won the Super Bowl. Kiffin will be converting the Cowboys from a 3-4 scheme to his Tampa-2, which is a 4-3 base defense. This could move OLBs to DE and DEs to DT, although Kiffin believes there are some similarities between the schemes. After reviewing each player, Kiffin said he believes the team has the personnel in place for a good 4-3 nucleus, but improvements need to be made. One of the big moves expected is DeMarcus Ware going from OLB to DE, meaning Ware will play with his hand on the ground on a consistent basis for the first time since college. New DL coach Rod Marinelli, who comes over from the Bears, believes the switch will be good for Ware, since it will help in his takeoff. But it’s fair to wonder if the transition will be a bit of a challenge for Ware, since he’ll get less of a running start with his hand on the ground. Marinelli’s Bear defense forced 44 turnovers last season, whereas the Cowboys had just 16, a number Marinelli is looking to help improve. Marinelli is a great defensive line coach, but you have to also give head coach Lovie Smith a lot of credit for the defense the last two years in Chicago.
Head Coach: John Fox (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Adam Gase
Defensive Coordinator: Jack Del Rio (holdover)
Overview: The Broncos were a fluke 70-yard bomb from QB Joe Flacco to WR Jacoby Jones away from arguably being the best team in football this season. As it is, FS Rahim Moore misplayed the long pass late in the fourth quarter on Jan. 12 and the Broncos lost in the Divisional Round for the second straight year. Still, the Broncos will have most of their key pieces still in place to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2013. The Broncos became legit title contenders when they added QB Peyton Manning during the 2012 off-season, but you wonder if that success is fragile at this point. Though his level of play didn’t drop off after missing the entire 2011 season, Manning will be 37 years old next season, so his window for another title is closing. With former OC Mike McCoy taking over as head coach in San Diego, HC John Fox opted for continuity in his offense rather hiring a big name by promoting quarterbacks coach Adam Gase. Manning is actually older than Gase, who will turn 35 in March, so an interesting dynamic between player and coach will continue. But it’s understandable why the Broncos didn’t choose to shake things up too much. The Colts’ organization had an incredible run of continuity during Manning’s stint in Indianapolis, and the Broncos are looking for that same kind of stability. And let’s be honest: Manning is essentially a player/coach.
About Gase: Former Bronco OC Mike McCoy was all but gone from the organization once Denver dropped a heartbreaker to the Ravens in the Division Round. McCoy was a sought-after coach around the league, and he eventually landed with the division-rival Chargers as head coach, marking the second straight year Denver has lost a coordinator to a divisional opponent (Dennis Allen). Rather than scouring the NFL ranks for their next OC, the Broncos decided to keep it in house by promoting QB coach Adam Gase. Gase became the NFL’s fourth-youngest current offensive coordinator, but he’s already learned under the likes of Nick Saban, Mike Martz, and father-in-law Joe Vitt. Bronco HC John Fox said he wanted to maintain the continuity in the offense for next season, so Gase was a natural hire, and we shouldn’t expect to see any dramatic changes to the Bronco offense in 2013. Gase will technically be calling plays, but QB Peyton Manning will be calling the shots on the field like he has for the last 14 seasons. Peyton faced very little turnover in the coaching ranks in Indy, so he clearly didn’t want to deal with a whole new OC and system this late in his career (his offense slowly usurped McCoy’s during the 2012 season). Gase has been on staff since 2009 when he first started coaching wide receivers, before getting promoted to working with Peyton this year. One of Gase’s goals is to take the Broncos’ up-tempo offense to another level in 2013 after Denver averaged 30 points per game in 2012. Perhaps one of Gase’s more important jobs the next couple years will take place behind the scenes. Gase, along with QB coach Greg Knapp, will be tasked with getting young backup QB Brock Osweiler ready to play in the event Manning (37 on March 24) isn’t healthy and can’t play.
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Pep Hamilton
Defensive Coordinator: Greg Manusky (holdover)
Overview: The Colts went from the worst team in football in 2011 to a playoff team in 2012, and former OC and interim HC Bruce Arians deservedly received a lot of credit for the Colts’ nine-win increase, earning the AP NFL Coach of the Year award when filling in for the ill Chuck Pagano. Unsurprisingly, Arians parlayed his 2012 success into a head coaching position with the Cardinals after going 9-3 as the interim head coach. While Arians received a lot of credit for the Colts’ turnaround, it’s likely that QB Andrew Luck was the real driving force behind the turnaround. So Indianapolis decided to give their young franchise quarterback a familiar face to run the offense, hiring Luck’s former Stanford OC Pep Hamilton to take over for Arians. Hamilton is just 38 years old and called plays at Stanford for just two years, but he has spent time with four different NFL franchises before landing in Palo Alto in 2010 as a wide receivers coach. Now, Hamilton walks right into one of the more up-and-coming offenses in the NFL after the Colts knocked the 2012 draft out of the park. Hamilton inherits a young talented group of skill players including Luck, RB Vick Ballard, WR T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, and TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. They may be an ideal #2/possession WR and some seasoning away from having a complete receiving corps, but Hamilton has plenty to work with right now.
About Hamilton: Former Colt OC Bruce Arians really took 2012 #1 pick Andrew Luck under his wing in 2012 so Luck we’ll have to adjust to life without Arians in 2013. However, the Colts decided to make the transition a little easier by bringing in Luck’s former OC at Stanford to fill the position, Pep Hamilton. Luck and Hamilton kept in close contact, and the familiarity should help Luck pick up the offense quickly. Hamilton is only 38 years old, but he already has spent time in the Raven, Jet, 49er, and Bear organizations before landing at Stanford in 2010, where the school actually renamed its offensive coordinator position the "Andrew Luck Director of Offense" after a donor made the school a generous gift to honor the record-setting quarterback. The Colts liked to stretch the field with an aggressive, downfield attack under Arians, which led to Luck’s 12.9 yards per completion average, one of the league’s top averages. Arians’ offense also led to Luck taking a beating, which caught up to the rookie toward the end of 2012. Hamilton will run more of a West Coast offense, which could hurt Luck’s fantasy production a bit next year in terms of downfield throws, but his completion percentage (about 54% as a rookie) should improve. Hamilton’s WCO features power running (same as the 49ers). So unless the Colts bring in another back of note, look for Ballard to get his shot at plenty of carries this season.Hamilton’s offense likely won’t take as many shots, but he’s already vowed to still throw downfield to the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne. Additionally, former Stanford TE Coby Fleener was a bit of a disappointment during his rookie season, but there is some reason for optimism with Hamilton taking over the offense in Indy and Fleener hopefully able to stay healthy for a full season with the Colts. He also has plenty of plans for Allen at TE as well. In short, expect some quicker throws to help Luck out, improve his completion percentage, and keep him upright.
Head Coach: Gus Bradley
Offensive Coordinator: Jedd Fisch
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Babich
Overview: The Jaguars have been one of the most dismal NFL franchises recently, and the team hit a new low for futility in 2012 with a 2-14 record. Shahid Khan took over full ownership of the Jacksonville franchise in January 2012, and the charismatic owner decided to shake up the franchise at the conclusion of the season by firing HC Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith, sending a message to Jacksonville that losing shouldn’t be acceptable. Mularkey spent just one season with the Jaguars, and the franchise will have its fourth head or interim head coach in three years. Khan hired David Caldwell to take over as GM, and he’ll team up with former Seahawk DC Gus Bradley in hopes of getting the Jaguars back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Bradley became known in Seattle for his fiery personality, and he’ll look to inject some life into a struggling franchise. And he has some work to do: Bradley inherits a team with very few playmakers outside of RB Maurice Jones-Drew and WRs Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. The Jaguars have holes along their offensive line, and former 1st-round QB Blaine Gabbert has been a major disappointment in his first two seasons. Jacksonville also finished the year with a league-low 20 sacks on defense, and the team could use the #2 overall pick in April’s draft to find a pass rusher.
About Bradley: The Jaguars simply need some organizational stability heading into the 2013 season after finishing out of the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Jacksonville has gotten further away from being a contender recently, culminating in a 2-14 record last year. The franchise is putting their trust into new HC Gus Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell to steady its shaky ship. In fact, the Jaguars went totally against the grain by hiring a defensive-minded head coach, as the other seven head-coaching openings went to men with offensive backgrounds. Bradley spent the last four seasons coaching the Seahawk defense, one of the best defenses in the league. The unit finished in the top 10 in points allowed and yards allowed in each of the last two seasons. The Seahawks finished first in in points allowed (15.3), fourth in yards (306.2) and tied for fourth in takeaways (31) this season. Bradley popped on several teams’ radar for head coaching vacancies, and his defensive presence will be much needed for a Jaguar unit that ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories. The most pressing area for the Jaguars is to improve their dismal pass rush that finished with a league-worst 20 sacks. Bradley helped to develop rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin, and Bradley may have a similar project this season. Bradley also helped to develop young (and some unheralded) Seahawk standouts, including LB Bobby Wagner, CB Richard Sherman, and FS Earl Thomas. The Jaguars and Bradley will also have to make a couple big decisions on several key free agents including OLB Daryl Smith, DT Terrance Knighton, and CBs Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis. Bradley became known for his impassioned sideline speeches and his ability to motivate, and he’ll need to bring those qualities to a Jacksonville franchise that’s been lifeless in recent years.
About Fisch: The Jaguars have a long way to go offensively with limited playmakers and lackluster options at quarterback. New Jaguar OC Jedd Fisch will have his hands full in his first professional play-calling duties (he did call plays at the University of Miami the last two seasons and at the University of Minnesota in 2009, but never in the NFL). His Hurricane offenses at least averaged 26.5 and 31.4 points per game the last two seasons, and their 295.4 passing yards per game ranked 27th in the NCAA in 2012. Even though he hasn’t called plays in the NFL, the 36-year-old Fisch has been around professional football plenty in his young career, working nine years split between Houston, Baltimore, Denver, and Seattle. He worked for two years as a graduate assistant under Steve Spurrier (1999-2000) before working under Dom Capers (2001-03), Brian Billick (2004-07), Mike Shanahan (2008), and Pete Carroll (2010) in the NFL. Fisch coached quarterbacks in his last, brief NFL stint in Seattle, which is where he met new Jaguar HC Gus Bradley. Fisch and Bradley both coached under Carroll, who had an open quarterback competition last preseason. Free agent acquisition Matt Flynn was expected to be the starter, but rookie Russell Wilson played better in the preseason and won the competition. The rest is history, as Wilson led the Seahawks to the playoffs and established himself as one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks. Fisch and Bradley will more than likely have an open competition for Jaguar starting job this preseason between Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, and whomever else the team brings in this off-season, so expect these two coaches to keep an open mind when it comes to the QB position. Gabbert was basically handed the job last preseason, but he won’t have that same privilege after his poor 2012 performance, although he’s still the favorite to win the job. It’ll be up to Fisch to develop the Jaguars’ next QB, and he loves to throw the football based on his collegiate resume. It’s believed that Fisch will run more of a West Coast offense, but little else is known about the Jaguar offensive scheme going forward other than the fact that they are expected to transition to a zone blocking scheme. That is a concern for sure, though, since Jones-Drew certainly seems better off in a power scheme and since the Jag line isn’t exactly built for a zone scheme. They need to seriously revamp the OL, anyway, and the Jags did run some zone a few years ago, but MJD in a zone scheme does not appear to be a good fit on paper. Even worse, the league is expected to crack down more this coming season on cut blocks, which tend to cause more injuries than straight power. We’re not saying this year for MJD is going to be Darren McFadden revisited, but it’s yet another concern for Jones-Drew along with his advancing workload and injury problems.
About Babich: While new Jaguar OC Jedd Fisch is a little green when it comes to calling plays, HC Gus Bradley went for more experience on the defensive side with the hiring of Bob Babich. He spent the last 10 seasons with Lovie Smith, including the last nine in Chicago. Babich also served as the team’s defensive coordinator for three years (2007-09) before getting demoted back to linebacker coach the last three seasons. He was a huge disappointment in his first go-around as an NFL defensive coordinator after the Bears fired Ron Rivera after their Super Bowl season in 2006. The Bears fell into the bottom half of the league in yards allowed in 2007 and 2008, forcing Smith to take over defensive play-calling in Babich’s final season as defensive coordinator. In fact, Babich comes from a very conservative defensive scheme under Smith and the Bears, and Bradley was much more aggressive during his time in Seattle, so it will be interesting to see the Jaguars’ defensive approach in 2013. Yet, we have a feeling Bradley will have his fingerprints all over this Jaguar defense next season, and Babich will act as a veteran coach and a check against Bradley in his first stint as a top dog. Babich has 29 years of coaching experience, including six years as the head coach at North Dakota State, where Bradley was his defensive coordinator for all six seasons. Babich will be in charge of a dismal Jaguar defense that finished near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories, including last in sacks (20) and 29th against the run. The Jaguars have the #2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and the team could use their pick to bolster their front seven and pass rush. This will be a process, so having a patient coordinator in Babich is a huge positive.
Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach: Andy Reid
Offensive Coordinator: Doug Peterson
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Sutton
Overview: Last summer, the Chiefs were considered a potentially interesting fit for free agent Peyton Manning, given the talent the team had at skill positions and on defense but was lacking at the QB position. And looking at what the Chiefs did put on the field, including a huge season from RB Jamaal Charles as he returned from an ACL injury, we can still see affirmation of that high-end talent. But HC Romeo Crennel and his staff managed to milk only two wins out of the talent on the roster, and the Chiefs landed with the #1 overall pick in April’s draft. Obviously, the complete failure of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn under center was the top reason the Chiefs had such a brutally bad season, but there’s hope on this roster, starting with the likes of Charles and LB Tamba Hali. It’ll be up to new coach Andy Reid, then, to properly invest the #1 overall pick and make some savvy moves in free agency to get the Chiefs back on a winning path. The team has already rid itself of two expensive veteran skill players in WR Steve Breaston and TE Kevin Boss, so they will be very thin on offense at the skill positions if they lose free agent wideout Dwayne Bowe.
About Reid: Reid made his intentions in Kansas City clear in his introductory press conference with the team, telling reporters that he needed “to find that next Len Dawson.” It was a comment that was clearly intended to play to the Kansas City fan base starving for a winner and a QB to call its own. In fact, there isn’t a city where that or a similar comment is more appropriate, given that the Chiefs haven’t had a QB they drafted win a game for them since Todd Blackledge did it in 1987, which is an unbelievable mark of futility. And Reid knows how important the QB position is, as it’s likely that hitching his wagon to Michael Vick in Philadelphia was his demise after a very successful 14-year tenure with the Eagles. Should Reid value one of the QBs in the 2013 draft class highly, he’ll have his pick of the litter, given that the 2-14 Chiefs own the first overall pick in April, thanks in large part to massive QB struggles. But are any of the players this year worth taking at that spot? If Reid opts to upgrade the Chiefs in another department, he could always choose a more raw but projectable QB in later rounds and bring in a veteran to mentor him, much the same way Doug Pederson (now the Chiefs’ OC) mentored Donovan McNabb in 1999, Reid’s first year in Philly. We do know some things for certain: Reid will call the plays in Kansas City, meaning he won’t be sharing duties like he did the last few years with Marty Mornhinweg in Philly. And he’ll run a West Coast offense with downfield passing. And to be honest, the Chief team has more talent than its 2-14 record would let on. RB Jamaal Charles had a monster year in 2012, and given that LeSean McCoy had a 20-TD season in 2011, we think the notion that Reid doesn’t run the ball enough is often a little overblown. Plus, we’d expect to see Charles more involved in pass patterns, where he was conspicuously underutilized in 2012. We asked Reid about Charles in his system at the combine and he said Charles can fit into any system. Reid came across as being thrilled to have Charles to work with and it seemed obvious that he understands he has a special player on his hands. Reid absolutely must improve his play-calling and game flow, which seemed random at times in Philadelphia, and flat out ineffective at its worst.
About Pederson: In ways, Pederson was the quintessential backup QB in his NFL career. He first met head coach Andy Reid in Green Bay in 1996, when he was the backup to Brett Favre, and he followed Reid to Philadelphia in 1999 to tutor rookie Donovan McNabb as the club’s temporary starting QB as Reid tried to install his offense. So it’s a logical progression for Pederson to end up as Reid’s right-hand man on his coaching staff, joining the Chiefs as offensive coordinator after spending four years on Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, the last two as QB coach. Pederson will “ease” into the role, as Reid will call plays, but Pederson’s obvious role will be to tutor whatever QB Reid hopes is the club’s “next Len Dawson” (his words, not ours). He’ll also help Reid with “situational” play-calling, something that Reid and former OC Marty Mornhinweg struggled with in Philadelphia the last few years. Reid said when hiring him that Pederson’s unique perspective as a guy who has recently played in the NFL (he retired in 2004) is something that helps him get his message across to players more effectively, and it also helps Pederson understand what it takes to be successful as a QB in the modern NFL. Pederson will work closely with Reid as they select and develop the guy they hope is the franchise signal caller in Kansas City. In ways, he’ll be a glorified QB coach with additional insight over the rest of the offense, and a direct line to Reid’s ear.
About Sutton: A versatile and experienced coach, Sutton joins the Chiefs’ staff because new head coach Andy Reid was looking for someone with a history in the 3-4 defense. All of Reid’s teams in Philadelphia ran the 4-3, but Reid indicated at his introductory press conference that he wanted to stick with the 3-4, for which the Chiefs have the personnel in place (notably OLB Tamba Hali and NT Dontari Poe). And the best thing we can possibly say about Sutton is that he’s apparently very easy to work with. He’s spent the last 13 years with the New York Jets in various roles, including LB coach, senior defensive assistant, assistant head coach, and defensive coordinator. Over that time, Sutton has worked under four different Jets’ head coaches, so he’s a respected coach and one that multiple people have opted to keep on staff. Sutton’s biggest experience in running the 3-4 defense was as the Jets’ defensive coordinator under head coach Eric Mangini from 2006 to 2008, after which he changed roles to assistant head coach/LB coach under Rex Ryan. In Sutton’s three seasons as the Jets’ DC, his defenses were decidedly mediocre, at least statistically. He never finished higher than 16th (2008) or lower than 20th (2006). And his defenses also fluctuated in both the run and the pass departments. Sutton just couldn’t manage to put together a consistent overall defensive performance, with his two worst run defenses (24th in 2006 and 29th in 2007) matched up with his two best pass defenses (14th in 2006 and 9th in 2007), and his best run defense (7th in 2008) matched up with his worst pass defense (29th in 2008). But Sutton has kept a job for 13 years for a reason, and “creative” is the word Reid used to describe him most often. Sutton’s top goal with the Chiefs will be to get some rush production outside of someone who isn’t Hali, and to fix the run defense, which has been a bottom-seven unit each of the last two seasons.
New Orleans Saints
Head Coach: Sean Payton (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael, Jr. (holdover)
Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan
Overview: Former Saint DC Steve Spagnuolo was a hot commodity last off-season after the Rams fired him as their head coach, but the 2012 season proved how fragile the existence of an NFL coach really is. Spagnuolo’s system is infamous for taking time to teach, and for players to learn, and the Saints’ performance this past season will certainly attest to that. In 2012, the Saints gave up more yards than any team in NFL history, and they finished 31st of 32 teams in scoring defense. They actually improved significantly (from horrible to decent) in the second half of the season. But recently reinstated coach Sean Payton decided now would be the ideal time to shift the Saints back to a more aggressive 3-4 alignment, firing Spagnuolo and DB coach Ken Flajole in the process. The man tasked with shifting the Saints will be former Cowboy DC Rob Ryan, another name guy who will have plenty to prove in the way of actually producing results in 2013.
About Ryan: Apparently one year with the mild-mannered Steve Spagnuolo after the Gregg Williams fiasco didn’t suit New Orleans well, because they’re going back to a more animated defensive coordinator in Ryan. “The Wolfman” is well known for his unkempt look and his boisterous sideline antics, but to tell the truth, his performance as an actual coach is going to have to eventually line up with his reputation. Ryan has spent the last nine seasons in the league as a defensive coordinator, five with the Raiders and then two each with the Browns and Cowboys. But only once (2006) has Ryan coached a top-10 defense, when his Raiders finished 3rd. In fact, only once more has Ryan even coached a top-15 defense, when his 2011 Cowboys finished 14th in the NFL. In six of his nine seasons as a coordinator, Ryan’s defenses have finished 22nd or worse in yardage allowed. The Cowboys’ decline to 19th last season led to Ryan’s dismissal, as head coach Jason Garrett probably needs a very good season to save his own job, and he couldn’t trust his defense. Ryan’s Cowboys had many key injuries last year, but on the surface, it’s a curious move that Saint head coach Sean Payton tabbed Ryan as the man he wants to turn around the defense that gave up more yards than any in NFL history in 2012. Payton explicitly expressed the desire to switch back to the 3-4, and Ryan’s first task will be finding an adequate 3-4 rush LB to anchor the defense. The Saints’ best pure pass rusher the last few years has been DE Will Smith, but at about 280 pounds and a huge cap number, Smith is unlikely to be a great fit in the Saints’ new defense. Along the line, players like DE Cameron Jordan (6 sacks) and youngster Akiem Hicks should be solid fits, but this is a defense that likely needs to be rebuilt on the edges and revamped at LB. Ryan’s going to need time to do that, and given his history, we wouldn’t expect a swift turnaround.
New York Jets
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Marty Mornhinweg
Defensive Coordinator: Dennis Thurman
Overview: While it’s not the same exact situation, we kind of get the same feeling regarding Rex Ryan as we did for Andy Reid last season. In other words, we’re viewing this as a “do or die” scenario for the Jets. Unsurprisingly, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was fired after a dismal year, in which the rest of the NFL seemed to be moving forward with new and exciting offensive concepts and the Jets moved backwards, a shift that also resulted in the dismissal of GM Mike Tannenbaum. We don’t expect new OC Marty Mornhinweg to turn Mark Sanchez into a competent NFL player this season, but he’ll be tasked with trying to patch up the Jets’ QB problems while making them appear to have a functioning NFL offense. On the other side of the ball, Dennis Thurman replaces Mike Pettine, who left to join Doug Marrone’s staff in Buffalo, where he will presumably have more control. Thurman will work closely with Ryan on the Jet defense, which also needs fixing, especially in generating a pass rush. There’s a lot of work to be done here.
About Mornhinweg: The biggest problem for the Jets’ offense in recent years has been the ineffectiveness of the QB position with Mark Sanchez, who appears to be regressing as he enters his fifth NFL season. So it should be no surprise that head coach Rex Ryan is bringing in an experienced QB guru to run his offense after the miserable failure of the Tony Sparano/Tim Tebow fiasco because the Jets likely need to show significant signs of improvement for Ryan to keep his job past the 2013 season. For the most part, Mornhinweg comes to New York with a strong track record as an offensive coordinator. As the Eagles’ coordinator the last seven seasons, over which he split play-calling duties with Andy Reid, Mornhinweg’s offenses never finished lower than 12th in the NFL in total yardage, and three times his offenses ranked in the top five, claiming the #2 spot in 2006 and 2010. Coincidentally, neither of those two seasons featured a single starting QB for the entire season, as injuries to Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb opened the door for Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, respectively. So the Jets clearly know Mornhinweg is a flexible coach with a gift for getting QBs with different skillsets to play disciplined football within his system. However, that discipline Vick showed in 2010 came off the rails the last two years, especially in 2012, when the Eagles ranked 12th in yardage but a miserable 29th in points scored, which led to the dismissal of Reid’s staff. So Mornhinweg will have to learn from what went wrong in Philly to improve the horrendous Jet offense, which ranked 30th in the league in yardage and 28th in scoring. When it’s at its best, Mornhinweg’s version of the West Coast offense encourages a timing-based relationship between the QB and his receivers, based on the QB’s footwork and not an “internal clock.” The quick throws Mornhinweg ideally will use will help a QB improve his completion percentage and keep drives going. However, Mornhinweg also likes to throw the ball deep, so second-year WR Stephen Hill could have a more prominent role this season. For example, Vick had a 60% completion rate under Mornhinweg, while rating at only 54% prior to becoming the Eagles’ starter. Can we expect a similar bump for Sanchez (a career 55% passer) if he’s the Jets’ guy? To Sanchez’s credit, he’s already reached out to Garcia for pointers on how to work under Mornhinweg, and has indicated that he knows his career is hanging by a thread at this point. The same could be said for Mornhinweg, who needs to orchestrate a pretty damn quick turnaround in New York to avoid being part of a fired staff for the second consecutive year. It’s not going to be easy, since it’s entirely possible - due mostly to free agency – that they need to add a legit #1 WR, a TE, and a new starting RB (Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene are UFAs).
About Thurman: With Mike Pettine jumping ship to join Doug Marrone’s upstart staff in Buffalo (probably a good move, and defensible at worst), the Jets have promoted DB coach Thurman to the vacated defensive coordinator position. And looking at Thurman’s track record, he’s a pretty obvious fit. While this is the former NFL CB’s first career coordinator job, he’s been in the NFL since 2002 in some capacity, and he started his coaching career with the Phoenix Cardinals back in 1988. If Rex Ryan wanted to maintain some continuity on his defensive staff, he absolutely found it with Thurman, and he was clearly the most qualified assistant to promote with LB coach Bob Sutton moving on to Kansas City to head Andy Reid’s defense. In promoting Thurman, Ryan called him “a developer of talent” and “a guy who can coach the tough player.” In 2012, Thurman’s defensive backfield managed to rank #2 in the NFL in passing yardage allowed, despite losing superstar CB Darrelle Revis to an ACL tear early in the season. Thurman got a career year out of the talented but volatile CB Antonio Cromartie (remember Ryan’s comment about “the tough player”), and assuming Revis returns healthy and close to his old self in 2013 (he may also have a contract impasse with the club), the Jets will be able to start the 2013 season with perhaps the NFL’s best CB pair. But Thurman also will have to improve the NFL’s 7th-worst run defense, and he has to find a way to get a pass rush out of a team that didn’t have much of one last season. Ultimately, Ryan is still expected to have the final call on defense, but Thurman clearly has the credentials to be the right-hand man here, and we’d expect him to be as Ryan called him “as smart a guy” as he’s ever encountered in the coaching business, and a “commanding figure.” Some continuity on defense for the Jets will be important with the offense expecting an overhaul under Marty Mornhinweg.
Head Coach: Dennis Allen (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson
Defensive Coordinator: Jason Tarver (holdover)
Overview: In last year’s coaching changes article, when describing the Raiders’ hire of Greg Knapp as offensive coordinator, we mentioned RB Darren McFadden, saying that we felt the hire was “interesting because McFadden struggled in the [zone-running] scheme earlier in his career and has said he prefers a power running scheme.” Well, injuries crept up for McFadden again, but lo and behold, his performance when he was actually on the field was his worst since 2009, and overall it was the Raiders’ worst performance on the ground since 2005. If you take the Raiders’ word for it, Knapp and his zone-blocking scheme are to blame for the issues. It makes sense that the Raiders would want to help out McFadden, then, because he’s clearly the team’s best offensive player when he’s operating at full capacity. So in that regard, it makes sense that the Raiders are bringing in veteran coordinator Greg Olson, who has run a power-blocking scheme throughout his career.
About Olson: Olson spent the 2012 season as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, so if you think the Raider OC job is a dead-end one for Olson, think of where he’s coming from. Olson has coached in the NFL since 2001 barring a one-year stint at Purdue, and has spent six of those years as an offensive coordinator. Olson’s offenses have finished in the bottom half of the NFL in yardage in four of those six seasons, topping out at #11 with the Rams in 2006, and bottoming out at #31 in the disastrous 2011 Buccaneers’ season. But Olson also coached Ram RB Steven Jackson to a career-high 1528 yards during the 2006 season, and he managed to squeeze 1007 yards out of LeGarrette Blount in 2010, which is damned near a miracle. But the reason Olson was hired is largely because he will switch the Raiders back to the power-blocking scheme that Darren McFadden clearly prefers to former OC Greg Knapp’s zone scheme. And given that McFadden’s 3.3 YPC last season was the worst ever by a Raider back with at least 150 carries, we’ll take the change. Olson has also recently hinted that he’s very interested in what QB Terrelle Pryor can do. “We don't really know quite yet what Terrelle Pryor can do at this level but we have a good feel for what he is athletically,” Olson told the Associated Press. “So there will be packages for both [Pryor and Carson Palmer] to allow them to compete and we'll just be ready in either direction." But the clear improvement here, if there is one, will be for McFadden, who will be put back in the offensive scheme in which he’s most comfortable. The firing of Knapp was Dennis Allen’s way of admitting he made a mistake, and it’s always good when a coach can show responsibility in that regard.
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur
Defensive Coordinator: Billy Davis
Overview: We got the sense last off-season that Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie was absolutely serious when he dubbed the team’s 8-8 finish in 2011 as “unacceptable.” So it’s no surprise that Lurie wasted no time after the Eagles’ dismal finish at 4-12 in 2012 to fire head coach Andy Reid and begin an exhaustive search for the Eagles’ new boss. Lurie’s goals with the search were evident in his press conference announcing Reid’s departure. Briefly, he wanted a forward-thinking offensive mind. And ironically, the Eagles’ exhaustive search ended where it began, with Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who has become famous in recent years for his breakneck spread offense and its concepts, which have already permeated the NFL in different ways. Kelly arrives in Philadelphia with huge expectations and a lot of fanfare, but the fact of the matter is that he has a lot of work to do to turn around a team that underachieved in 2011 and was flat-out bad in 2012.
About Kelly: Here’s the main fact in this matter: Anyone who will tell you outright that they know Kelly will either succeed or fail in his first foray into the NFL is lying to you. The list of recent NFL head men who had no NFL experience before taking their first jobs in the league is very short, and their success has been mixed. In the early 1990s, Jimmy Johnson rebuilt the Cowboys into a dynasty, and Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl of his own after Johnson retired. Neither of those two college head coaches had any NFL experience before landing in Dallas, and managed to succeed in the league. But the more recent example of Steve Spurrier could prove worrisome, as Spurrier lasted only two unsuccessful years with the Redskins before jumping back to college (his only pro experience before 2002 was as the head man for the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits). Nick Saban, who had only one year as an NFL position coach before becoming a legendary college head coach, could only take two years in Miami with the Dolphins before jumping back to the amateur ranks (with speculation running wild that he’ll try his hand at the NFL again in the near future). So trying to use history to determine Kelly’s success requires you to be either a true optimist or a true cynic, with little room in-between. Consider Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie the optimist, then. When firing Andy Reid, Lurie laid out a list of traits he wanted to see in his new coach. In fact, in saying that “the NFL tends to borrow more from college than the other way around,” it appeared as if he was bracing his fan base for the eventual hire of someone like Kelly, a known college innovator who has been accused of running a “gimmick” offense. But that’s not necessarily true. While college-style offenses have long been considered “gimmicks,” Kelly’s approach is simple: if you spread out the defense, there are fewer bodies clogging the field. Ask the New England Patriots, who have adopted several of Kelly’s traits in recent years. Kelly’s Oregon spread is a fast-paced, run-heavy offense, and in his four seasons as Oregon head coach, it featured a mobile QB. He’ll rotate his backs aggressively, and he has two good ones in LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. He requires his linemen to be athletic, and his receivers must be willing to block down the field. Given Kelly’s tendencies, it’s understandable the Eagles decided to restructure a one-year deal for QB Michael Vick and brought in former Oregon QB Dennis Dixon to ease the transition, since youngster Nick Foles isn’t much of a mover. Understandably, Kelly is going to have an open competition at QB. He’s going to be learning on the fly, just as we are. But Kelly’s most poignant quote at his introductory press conference as the Eagles’ head coach might have been his most simple one: “Football is football.” Kelly’s concepts are already permeating the NFL, and now it’s time to see if the originator can school everyone.
About Shurmur: Because head coach Chip Kelly has zero NFL experience, it’s understandable that he wanted to bring in an offensive coordinator who has watched the NFL game evolve to where it is now over the past 15 years, while also understanding the dynamic of the Philly fan base. Shurmur spent 10 years on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia as TE coach from 1999-2001 and QB coach from 2002-2008, before moving to St. Louis and spending two years as offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010. Shurmur’s most recent stop, of course, was as the head coach for the Browns over the last two seasons, where he didn’t have much success, winning only 9 games. In fact, looking at the stats, Shurmur’s track record isn’t exactly pristine. In four years as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, his offenses have never finished above 25th in the NFL in yardage, while also ranking worst in the league in scoring in 2009. But don’t overstate Shurmur’s influence here. All indications are that Shurmur has been brought in as a veteran coach to help ease Kelly’s transition to the NFL, while also bringing with him a reputation for developing QBs, as he did with Donovan McNabb and Sam Bradford, getting what was arguably Bradford’s best season out of him as a rookie in 2010. Shurmur brings with him a West Coast offensive background, so expect some of those concepts to infiltrate Kelly’s offense, although there’s going to be no doubt whose offense this is in the end. Kelly is expected to call the plays, and he even joked about Shurmur’s involvement when naming him offensive coordinator: “I’ll call the good plays; he’ll call the bad ones.” Shurmur’s role will likely be more important than that, and he’ll have a large influence over the winner of the Eagles’ QB competition.
About Davis: When Chip Kelly was hired as Eagles’ coach, rumblings started that he preferred the “attacking” style of the 3-4 defense, which his teams at Oregon ran. So it’s no surprise that he brought in Davis, a veteran 3-4/hybrid coach, to take over the Eagles’ struggling defense. Davis has a long resume and a good coaching pedigree, coaching the 3-4 defense under Mike Nolan, Wade Phillips, and Dom Capers, and he spent the last two seasons as the Browns’ LB coach, and did a good job with a young group. Davis has also spent four seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, with mostly poor results. From 2005 to 2006, he was in San Francisco, where his defenses ranked 32nd and 26th, respectively. He did not call the plays there (Mike Nolan did).In 2009 and 2010, he struggled in Arizona, ranking 20th and 29th, respectively. Davis handled a defense which endured the departure of LB Karlos Dansby in his second season. But it’s Davis’ philosophy that intrigues Kelly. Like many defenses these days, Davis likes to show “hybrid” looks, and it’s more likely than not he’ll land on a 3-4 hybrid with an “under” front in Philadelphia. That means he’ll have one of his traditional DEs in a 4-3 standing up in a two-point stance (called the “Predator”), almost exclusively as a pass rusher (probably Trent Cole). Along the defensive line, he’ll shade linemen to gaps (a “one-gap” assignment) as opposed to having them line up directly over offensive linemen (a “two-gap” assignment). The reasoning is simple: there are more guys capable of playing one-gap systems in the NFL than good two-gap players. The Eagles have an ideal 3-technique defensive end in Fletcher Cox. The “undertackle” in an “under” front, Cox will be asked to suck up blockers and get to the QB, much like Warren Sapp did in the past, and Darnell Dockett and Geno Atkins do now. The Eagles need to solidify their pass rush from the OLB spot, and revamp their secondary, but they do have some key personnel in spots that could make Davis’ hybrid defense work as soon as this year.
San Diego Chargers
Head Coach: Mike McCoy
Offensive Coordinator: Ken Whisenhunt
Defensive Coordinator: John Pagano (holdover)
Overview: The Chargers failed to live up to expectations once again last season, as the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year. San Diego’s 7-9 finish in 2012 sealed the fates of GM A.J. Smith and HC Norv Turner, who were each fired at the end of the season (and perhaps a few years too late). The Chargers decided to bring some youth to their open positions by hiring Tom Telesco as the GM and Mike McCoy as the HC, who are each 40 years old. McCoy was one of the most sought after names for open head coaching jobs this off-season after leading one of the league’s more prolific offenses in Denver in 2012, and one of the reasons why the Chargers pegged McCoy as their new head coach was to help Philip Rivers regain his franchise quarterback form. Former Cardinal HC Ken Whisenhunt also interviewed for the Chargers’ head-coaching job, but he’ll still join the organization as the team’s offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt led the Cardinals to back-to-back playoff appearances and the team’s first Super Bowl trip in his first two seasons with QB Kurt Warner. Whisenhunt struggled in Arizona the last three seasons, though, without a proven quarterback, and he turned down other opportunities to coach elsewhere so he could work with Rivers.
About McCoy: The Chargers were on the brink of being one of the best teams in the NFL several times during former HC Norv Turner’s tenure, but San Diego never got over the hump to reach the Super Bowl. The Chargers are now on the downslope and in a bit of a rebuilding mode, so the franchise finally pulled the plug on Turner and GM A.J. Smith and brought in some new life in with HC Mike McCoy. He’ll be charged with turning this once talent-rich team back into a contender. The former Bronco OC still has some offensive pieces to work with, but many of the Charger skill players come with some baggage at this point in their careers. McCoy, along with new OC Ken Whisenhunt (who will call the plays), will be tasked with trying to improve QB Philip Rivers, who is coming off two subpar seasons. McCoy’s successes or failures will likely hinge on if he can turn Rivers around. He clearly believes in his ability to do that, however, as McCoy chose San Diego over Arizona, which lacks a proven QB, in order to work with Rivers. TE Antonio Gates is also getting older and starting to decline, while RB Ryan Mathews and WR Danario Alexander each have an extensive injury history. McCoy has rightfully garnered a reputation for his ability to adapt his offense to whatever kind of personnel he’s dealt. During the past two seasons as Bronco offensive coordinator, McCoy molded his offense around three different quarterbacks (Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Peyton Manning). McCoy received plenty of praise for adapting his offense and making Tebow a playoff starter a year ago, and he totally restructured his offense to fit around Hall of Famer Manning, which led to a division title and a 13-3 record. Flexibility is a huge positive in today’s NFL, and McCoy definitely has it.
About Whisenhunt: New Charger HC Mike McCoy has quickly gained a reputation for his ability to adapt to his personnel. Given that, we guess it isn’t a complete shock that McCoy would select one of the NFL’s most flexible minds to lead his offense. Former Cardinal HC Ken Whisenhunt will head the offense and call plays in 2013. Whisenhunt’s 2005 Steeler offense led the league in carries and finished last in passing attempts while winning the Super Bowl with a young Ben Roethlisberger. Whisenhunt later took the head-coaching job in Arizona and led his team to a 2008 Super Bowl appearance while finishing last in carries and first in pass attempts with QB Kurt Warner. How can a coach be more flexible than that? Whisenhunt has proven that he isn’t married to a system, and that he’ll work around his players’ strengths and weaknesses. Whisenhunt helped to breathe some life into Warner late in his career, and he’ll look to do the same thing for Charger QB Philip Rivers, who hasn’t looked like the same quarterback the last two seasons as he did earlier in his career. Whisenhunt wasn’t the same coach once Warner retired after the 2009 season, but he also didn’t have the benefit of working with a talented QB like Rivers in his final three seasons in Arizona (Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer aren’t exactly lining up for Canton). It’s not a shock that the Whisenhunt missed the playoffs three straight seasons without a proven QB under center once Warner retired. Whisenhunt had to deal with oft-injured RB Beanie Wells in Arizona, and Whiz will walk into another situation with another injury-plagued running back, Ryan Mathews. Whisenhunt isn’t afraid to use his running backs to anchor his offense, so it will be on Mathews to stay healthy for once this year, which might be asking a lot for the talented back. At the combine, the new GM Telesco said he’s a big proponent of a 2-man backfield, so don’t be surprised to see someone else of note added to their RB corps in 2012.
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Bevell (holdover)
Defensive Coordinator: Dan Quinn
Overview: The Seahawks were playing perhaps better football than any team in the entire NFC down the stretch in 2012, and while a large part of that success can be attributed to rookie QB Russell Wilson and the incredible season he had, but the Seahawks were able to get a little bit of extra leeway with their rookie signal caller because their defense was so strong. Given the success of that defense despite featuring only one first-round pick among its regular starters (S Earl Thomas), it should come as no surprise that young, energetic coordinator Gus Bradley drew interest from several NFL teams for the head job, eventually landing with the Jaguars. Given the success of the Seahawks’ D in recent years, head coach Pete Carroll opted to stick with some level of familiarity, hiring University of Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who served as defensive line coach under Bradley in 2009 and 2010.
About Quinn: Quinn’s mission as defensive coordinator for the Seahawks is simple: “Don’t screw it up.” However, that’s easier said than done because he’s inheriting a Gus Bradley defense that ranked #4 in the NFL in fewest yardage allowed and #1 in fewest points last season, and the margin for error with a stat like that is incredibly fragile. But he’s a man who did a nice job with the Florida Gator defenses the last two years, including allowing the 2nd-fewest TD passes in the nation and giving up fewer than 3.0 YPC on the ground this past season. And most important, he’s familiar with head coach Pete Carroll and the personnel in Seattle, serving as the team’s DL coach in 2009 and 2010, the latter of which was on Carroll’s staff. Quinn’s main focus this off-season will be to improve the team’s spotty pass rush. After a hot start, rookie Bruce Irvin fell off a cliff in 2012, and the Seahawks were left without a significant threat up front when top rusher Chris Clemons tore his ACL in the postseason. With Clemons no guarantee to be ready for 2013, Quinn will have to help scour the draft and free-agent market for some depth up front, while also helping Irvin get over the hump in his second season. Quinn is a respected coach who helped develop current Seahawk captain Red Bryant, so he’ll come in carrying some clout, which is clearly what Carroll wanted.
St. Louis Rams
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher (holdover)
Offensive Coordinator: Brian Schottenheimer (holdover)
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Walton
Overview: The Ram defense got off to about as bad a start as one could imagine in 2012, when new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended for the full season for his involvement in the Saints’ bounty scandal, leaving the club behind the 8-ball in Jeff Fisher’s first season as head coach. After a shaky finish to the 2012 season, the club opted to fire interim DC and LB coach Blake Williams (Gregg’s son), although Williams’ defense performed decently well statistically, all things considered. St. Louis finished 15th in the NFL in both rush and pass yards allowed, and they were also in the league’s better half in points allowed. But with both Gregg and Blake Williams gone, and after a flirtation with Rob Ryan, Fisher is looking for some new juice in the person of Tim Walton, who spent the last four seasons in Detroit as the secondary coach.
About Walton: In terms of NFL statistics, there isn’t exactly much we can glean about Walton, who has only four years of NFL experience, all as the Lions’ secondary coach. In those four years, the Lions have fluctuated between solid and poor in pass defense, finishing 21st in 2009, 10th in 2010, 28th amid a lot of injuries in 2011, and back to 12th in 2012. But Walton, 41, is a young and energetic coach, and he’ll come to St. Louis with a strong recommendation from Lion head coach Jim Schwartz, who coached under Ram head man Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He also had an interesting title as the “third-down package” coach for the Lions, so clearly he’s someone who understands the evolving game and the situational nature of today’s offenses. Walton has drawn his strongest praise in his individual player development, stemming from his 14 years as a college coach, during which he developed players like Kenny Phillips, Brandon Meriweather, LaRon Landry, and others. The Rams appear set at CB with Cortland Finnegan and youngster Janoris Jenkins. So Walton’s main objective will likely be to keep Jenkins on the straight and narrow and rebuild the safety position, where Craig Dahl is a free agent and Quintin Mikell is getting up there in years. This was a solid defense last year, so a few tweaks and a fresh perspective from Walton could help it become one of the NFL’s better units.
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