In the NFL, change is a certainty, and this year proves no different. For the second consecutive season, 25% of the league's teams will enter 2012 with different head coaches than they started with in 2011. Three coaches were fired in-season last year: Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Todd Haley in Kansas City and Tony Sparano in Miami. Their interim replacements had vastly different outcomes in their quests to move from interim coach to full-time head coach. In Kansas City, the Chiefs opted to keep Romeo Crennel at the helm after a 2-1 finish to the season and high marks from veteran players. In Jacksonville, Mel Tucker was a finalist for the full-time job, but lost out to Atlanta Falcon's offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Tucker nevertheless decided to stay onboard as defensive coordinator. Last but not least, Todd Bowles' impressive 2-1 finish in Miami didn't amount to much when the Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as coach; Bowles headed to Philadelphia to coach the secondary. Another coach Sean Payton is technically still the Saints head coach, but he's serving a one-year suspension for his role in the bounty controversy. Joe Vitt, the assistant head coach, will serve as head coach for most of the season (but he too will be suspended for a number of games.)
As if that weren't enough change, consider that 29 of the league's 64 offensive and defensive coordinators were replaced. Including the head coaching changes, 39% of the NFL's most important coaching positions are different from a season ago. Thinking about this another way, there are only 11 teams that return the same head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators:
Arizona Ken Whisenhunt (6th Year), Mike Miller (2nd), Ray Horton (2nd) Carolina Ron Rivera (2nd), Rob Chudzinski (2nd), Sean McDermott (2nd) Cincinnati Marvin Lewis (10th), Jay Gruden (2nd), Mike Zimmer (5th) Detroit Jim Schwartz (4th), Scott Linehan (4th), Gunther Cunningham (4th) Houston Gary Kubiak (7th), Rick Dennison (4th), Wade Phillips (2nd) New York (Giants) Tom Coughlin (9th), Kevin Gilbride (6th), Perry Fewell (3rd) Philadelphia Andy Reid (14th), Marty Mornhinweg (7th), Juan Castillo (2nd) Seattle Pete Carroll (3rd), Darrell Bevell (2nd), Gus Bradley (4th) San Francisco Jim Harbaugh (2nd), Greg Roman (2nd), Vic Fangio (2nd) Tennessee Mike Munchak (2nd), Chris Palmer (2nd), Jerry Gray (2nd) Washington Mike Shanahan (3rd), Kyle Shanahan (3rd), Jim Haslett (3rd)
You'll note that 15 of those 33 returning staffs were new hires just a season ago, which means that 46% of the NFL's head coaches and coordinators have turned over in the last two seasons. Astounding!
Below we detail each team's major coaching changes, as well as the schematic implications those hires are planning to implement. And as always, we will continue to update our views throughout the year as more information is made available in mini-camps and training camp.
Head Coach: Mike Smith Offensive Coordinator: Dirk Koetter (replaces Mike Mularkey) Defensive Coordinator: Mike Nolan (replaces Brian VanGorder)
What to expect on offense: The Falcons finished 7th in points scored (25.1/game) and 10th in yards (377/game) last year on route to a 10-6 finish, and that success was enough to propel Mike Mularkey into a new head coaching opportunity in Jacksonville. In a swap of offensive minds, Dirk Koetter replaces Mularkey after being fired as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator. In five seasons in Jacksonville, Koetter's offenses were defined by a strong commitment to the run, and a persistent inability to generate an effective passing game. After a strong initial season in 2007, when Jacksonville finished as a top-eight offense, the Jaguars finished 24th, 24th, 18th, and 28th in points scored. While it's clear Koetter has a tendency to call a very balanced offensive game plan, it's not clear how his tendencies will change now that he has a much better quarterback and receivers at his disposal. With Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones set to remain the focal point of the Falcons offensive attack, Koetter has made it clear he intends to enhance what's already in place, versus trying to reshape the offensive game plan. Koetter has promised to maintain the no-huddle, as Matt Ryan has shown a preference for it. One thing that the Falcons will look to do more with is the screen game, something that Koetter has always been a fan of dating back to his college coaching days.
What to expect on defense: The Falcons were 10-6 last year but struggled at times defensively. Atlanta finished a disappointing 18th in points allowed (21.9/game), largely because of an inability to defend the pass (20th in passing yards and touchdowns allowed). Outgoing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder accepted a role at Auburn University, which opened the door for Mike Nolan arguably the most accomplished defensive coordinator in the league. Nolan has been a coordinator for 14 NFL seasons, and was the 49ers head coach from 2005-2008. What's most impressive about Nolan's resume is his ability to adapt to the team's personnel, as exhibited by the fact he's run a base 4-3 defensive front in seven seasons as a coordinator, and a base 3-4 front in the other seven seasons. The Falcons plan on keeping a 4-3 front, as Nolan believes the foundation is in place for continued growth. That doesn't mean changes aren't forthcoming, as Nolan is an unabashed proponent of using five defensive backs in base formations. The Falcons acquired cornerback Asante Samuel from the Eagles, who will join returning starters Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson to form the foundation of Nolan's pass defense.
Head Coach: John Harbaugh Offensive Coordinator: Cam Cameron Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees (replaces Chuck Pagano)
What to expect on defense: Head coach John Harbaugh decided to promote from within after 2011 defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano accepted the head coaching job in Indianapolis. Dean Pees, the Ravens linebackers coach in 2010-2011, will ascend to the coordinator position with a goal of maintaining the standard of excellence that has long been the foundation of the Ravens identity. Pees will be the fourth defensive coordinator in Harbaugh's five seasons, but won't be overmatched in his new job considering he spent four seasons as the New England Patriots defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick. Schematically, expect nothing to change from what we've become familiar with. Pees' real challenge is going to be incorporating young players at key positions, most notably finding someone to fill the void Terrell Suggs' offseason Achilles tear caused. With cornerstones Ed Reed and Ray Lewis also nearing the end of their careers, Pees will have his work cut out for him to match last year's defense that allowed only 16.6 points per game.
Head Coach: Chan Gailey Offensive Coordinator: Curtis Modkins Defensive Coordinator: Dave Wannstedt (replaces George Edwards)
What to expect on defense: After finishing 28th and 30th in points allowed over the last two seasons, it's clear the Bills needed to try a new direction defensively. After serving as assistant head coach in 2011, and helping coach the linebackers, Dave Wannstedt was tabbed to replace George Edwards. Wannstedt is an accomplished NFL coach, notably serving as the defensive coordinator for the early 90s Cowboys teams, and then spending eleven seasons as head coach in Chicago and Miami. Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey served as Wannstedt's offensive coordinator for a number of seasons in Miami, and there's no question that Wannstedt will be given a wide berth in how he handles the defensive side of the ball. His first order of business was scrapping the Bills 3-4 defensive front in favor of the traditional 4-3 front Wannstedt has used in his prior NFL stints. A self-described "defensive line friendly system", Wannstedt expects to rotate the linemen aggressively to keep them fresh and in attack mode. While the scheme presents new challenges and opportunities, the bigger news was the offseason commitment to improving the on-field personnel. Buffalo signed defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and drafted potential shut down corner Stephon Gilmore in the 1st round of the April draft.
Head Coach: Lovie Smith Offensive Coordinator: Mike Tice (replaces Mike Martz) Defensive Coordinator: Rod Marinelli
What to expect on offense: The Mike Martz experiment is over in the Windy City, and Bears fans aren't the only ones rejoicing. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked 75 times in 25 games with Martz calling the plays, and that certainly played a role in Cutler missing six games a year ago. The Bears decision to promote Mike Tice might seem illogical at first, considering he was the offensive line coach over the last two seasons. But it's hard to lay blame on Tice when he was so clearly hamstrung by Martz' unwillingness to alter his protection schemes no matter the circumstance. Tice has made it clear he plans to run the offense in stark contrast to the way his predecessor did, most notably allowing Jay Cutler to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, as well as implementing a no-huddle package. Tice had great success in his years as the Vikings coach using a mobile quarterback (Daunte Culpepper) and using the run to set up a deep, downfield passing attack. He will move the pocket with Cutler in a similar manner. The Bears acquisitions of veteran receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffrey will go a long way in making Tice's vision for the offense a reality. You can also be sure the Bears will make better use of the tight end position, something Martz absolutely refused to consider in spite of the personnel. Ultimately, whether Tice is successful with his plans to improve the offense comes down to whether the offensive line can stay healthy, particularly 2nd year right tackle Gabe Carimi.
Head Coach: Pat Shurmur Offensive Coordinator: Brad Childress (the position was vacant in 2011) Defensive Coordinator: Dick Jauron
What to expect on offense: In his rookie season as head coach, Pat Shurmur bit off more than he could chew. He chose not to hire an offensive coordinator, and the results were far from acceptable. The Browns offense ranked 30th in points scored (13.6/game) and 29th in yards (289/game) as the team was unable to find an identity or any difference-making playmakers. This offseason Shurmur prioritized the coordinator search and, after interviewing a host of possibilities, tabbed Brad Childress. Childress and Shurmur coached under Andy Reid in Philadelphia for seven seasons together, with Childress serving as offensive coordinator in four of those seasons. Their familiarity with one another all but guarantees that the playbook, terminology and system won't change; rather Childress will be tasked with optimizing the system that Shurmur began implementing a season ago. In spite of his vast experience as both a coordinator and head coach, Childress has rarely called plays, which means Shurmur will likely retain play-calling duties on Sundays. Childress' job will be in overseeing the other coaches and making sure the weekly game plan is properly installed. The biggest changes on offense will stem from the additions of running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Whether the Browns can show marked improvement this year will come down to whether Shurmur and Childress can get the 1st round rookies to play at a high level immediately or not.
Head Coach: Jason Garrett Offensive Coordinator: Bill Callahan (the position was vacant in 2011) Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan
What to expect on offense: It's not quite clear whether Jason Garrett wanted an offensive coordinator, but the Cowboys front office made sure he has one. After luring Bill Callahan away from the Jets to coach the offensive line, Callahan was quickly given the additional title of offensive coordinator. It's unlikely Garrett will hand over play-calling duties, but Callahan has been a successful play-caller particularly in his time in Oakland. Regardless of who calls plays, Callahan's primary job will be reshaping an offensive line that struggled in both run- and pass-blocking last year. Callahan has already announced that tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free will switch sides, but he must still find a cohesive interior trio; which will most likely include free agent additions Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but only if Bernadeau recovers without complications from recent hip surgery. The main skill position players are all returning as planned, with the only question mark being who steps into the third receiver role in place of departed free agent Laurent Robinson.
Head Coach: John Fox Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCoy Defensive Coordinator: Jack Del Rio (replaces Dennis Allen)
What to expect on offense: Although Mike McCoy returns as offensive coordinator after interviewing for numerous head coaching opportunities, it's clear the Broncos offense will undergo a major transformation in 2012. The addition of Peyton Manning (and subsequent departure of Tim Tebow) means that the Broncos offense will look nothing like it did in 2011 during their impromptu playoff run. As long as Manning is healthy, the Broncos will essentially let Manning install the offense he ran in Indianapolis, which means McCoy may not have much to do on Sundays. All kidding aside, Manning is a de facto coach on the field, and will make liberal use of audibles and pre-snap adjustments. Schematically, the Broncos will generally use two base formations: 1 RB / 2 WRs / 2 TEs and 1 RB / 3 WRs / 1 TE, and returning starters Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas could be in line for career years, while tight end Jacob Tamme will be Manning's security blanket given his experience playing with Manning in Indianapolis.
What to expect on defense: John Fox, a defensive minded coach, lost Dennis Allen to the Oakland Raiders after just one season. Allen was considered a bright, creative defensive coach but there are certainly areas for the Broncos to show improvement, after finishing 24th in points allowed (24.4/game) and 20th in yards (358/game) last season. The Broncos were fortunate to land Jack Del Rio, who was available after being fired from the head coaching role in Jacksonville. Fox and Del Rio coached together in Carolina, and there is a familiarity there that will be important as the Broncos look to evolve into a Super Bowl contender quickly thanks to the hefty expectations born by signing Peyton Manning. Schematically, the Broncos aren't going to veer away from the one-gap, 4-3 fronts that John Fox prefers. Where Del Rio and Dennis Allen differ are in the way they approach the pass rush, as Del Rio typically tries to rely on his defensive line to create pressure, and stunts and shifts to bring different looks. He's not going to blitz as frequently, and will likely use more zone coverage in the secondary.
Green Bay Packers
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy Offensive Coordinator: Tom Clements (replaces Joe Philbin) Defensive Coordinator: Dom Capers
What to expect on offense: The Packers finished an NFL-best 15-1 last year, finished 1st in points scored (35/game), and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is in his prime and coming off an MVP award-winning season. Suffice to say the Packers are not planning on changing much offensively this season in spite of changing offensive coordinators. Joe Philbin accepted the head coaching job in Miami, and Mike McCarthy opted to promote quarterbacks coach Tom Clements to replace Philbin. The Packers main goal this year will be improving a rushing offense that finished 27th a year ago, but that won't involve significant alterations to the zone-blocking scheme or key personnel.
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (replaces Jim Caldwell) Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Arians (replaces Clyde Christensen) Defensive Coordinator: Greg Manusky (replaces Mike Murphy)
What to expect on offense: The Colts are undergoing a wholesale makeover from top to bottom, starting with new general manager Ryan Grigson. Grigson opted to replace Jim Caldwell with a defensive minded head coach, Chuck Pagano, which made adding a proven veteran offensive mind vital to coordinate the offense. Enter Bruce Arians. After "retiring" from the Steelers, the 59-year old veteran coach quickly found his way back to Indianapolis and will be asked to mentor and develop 1st overall pick Andrew Luck and his supporting cast. Arians is in a familiar position, as he served as Peyton Manning's first quarterbacks coach before moving to Cleveland to coach former 1st overall pick Tim Couch. In Pittsburgh, Arians helped transition the Steelers from a classic, conservative ball control team to one that relied on the passing talents of Ben Roethlisberger and his young receiving corps. Arians has made it clear he values balance above all else, and in an ideal world would target a 50%/50% run pass ratio. Recognizing how young this Colts team will be, it's going to be hard to find that kind of balance in 2012, but it's what they will build toward as Luck and his supporting cast mature and hopefully the defense finds its footing. Schematically Arians cannot be pigeon holed as he uses a vast array of formations and personnel groupings. Expect the Colts to run everything from empty backfield spread formations to tightly bunched single receiver packages.
What to expect on defense: Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky have their work cut out for them, trying to fix a defense that ranked 28th in points allowed (26.9/game) and 25th in yards (371/game) last year and did very little in the offseason to add talent on the defensive side of the ball. Pagano, a first-time head coach, comes over from a Ravens team that perennially ranked among the league's best, and fielded multiple All Pro players at every level of the defense. In Indianapolis, he and his staff are going to attempt a conversion to a 3-4 defensive front, which will require the Colts two best defenders Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney making a smooth transition to outside linebackers. They're also going to abandon the Cover 2 secondary schemes that were the hallmark of the Colts defense under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell. Manusky should consider himself fortunate to land another coordinator job after being fired in back-to-back seasons by San Francisco and San Diego. If the Colts personnel isn't demonstrably better than it looks on paper, Manusky's tenure in Indianapolis may be equally short lived.
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey (replaces Mel Tucker and Jack Del Rio) Offensive Coordinator: Bob Bratkowski (replaces Dirk Koetter) Defensive Coordinator: Mel Tucker
What to expect on offense: The Jaguars replaced Jack Del Rio a defensive minded head coach with Mike Mularkey, an offensive coach that has coordinated in Pittsburgh, Buffalo (as head coach), Miami and most recently Atlanta. In his four seasons as the Falcons offensive coordinator, Mularkey developed quarterback Matt Ryan and transformed the Falcons from a team that ranked 29th in passing attempts in 2008 to 4th in attempts in 2011. The new Jaguars ownership is hoping Mularkey and his staff can work similar wonders with 2nd year passer Blaine Gabbert. It will be a tall task. Gabbert was the worst starting quarterback in the league (65.4 passer rating, 51% completion rate, NFL-worst 293 sack yards) and looked lost at times while showing a tendency to break the pocket far too quickly. Mularkey believes that he, and veteran offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, can improve Gabbert's play immediately; helped by the additions of free agent receiver Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon. The plan is to keep the running game which features the NFL's leading rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew largely intact while trying to work more spread formations and short, quick passes into the passing game. If there's one Jaguars player sure to benefit from the new offense, it's tight end Marcedes Lewis as Mularkey was an NFL tight end as player and has always favored the position.
What to expect on defense: Kudos to Mike Mularkey for deciding to retain Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Tucker, who served as interim head coach last year when Jack Del Rio was fired, worked wonders with the Jaguars defense, which finished sixth in yards allowed (313/game) despite having few if any star playmakers. Tucker believes in keeping things simple, and that players excel when they know exactly what's expected of them. The Jaguars 4-3 defensive front is expected to generate a consistent pass rush without the aid of aggressive blitzing, which means rookie Andre Branch needs to make an immediate impact if the defense is going to take another step forward. Expect Tucker to use more man-to-man coverage this year, as he did once he took over the head coaching duties last season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel (replaced Todd Haley last year) Offensive Coordinator: Brian Daboll (replaces Bill Muir) Defensive Coordinator: Romeo Crennel
What to expect on offense: Romeo Crennel took over for the final three games of the 2011 season and led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record (they were 5-8 with Todd Haley in charge) which was enough to convince GM Scott Pioli to remove the interim tag. Crennel hopes that his second stint as an NFL head coach will yield more success than his first go around in Cleveland (24-40), and he's tapped Brian Daboll to run his offense. Daboll is another Bill Belichick protιgι, and served as offensive coordinator in Cleveland under Eric Mangini; with precious little success. Daboll must prove that his struggles in Cleveland were more about the personnel than his play-calling. It's difficult to characterize Daboll with a particular offensive philosophy, as he has worked within a number of systems. It's clear the Chiefs want to rely on the run game, and while it seems the line will continue to primarily use man blocking techniques, Daboll has hinted that there will be packages that integrate some zone-blocking calls as well.
What to expect on defense: Crennel opted against hiring a defensive coordinator and will retain those duties while also handling the head coaching role. Crennel prefers a three-man front but mixes up his looks in the secondary, playing nickel a majority of the time but also showing dime and two deep safety schemes at times. Crennel used a lot of press coverage in Kansas City last year, and the healthy return of safety Eric Berry only stands to increase the team's ability to do so in 2012.
Head Coach: Joe Philbin (replaces Todd Bowles and Tony Sparano) Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sherman (replaces Brian Daboll) Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Coyle (replaces Mike Nolan)
What to expect on offense: Changes are afoot in Miami and it all starts at the top with new head coach Joe Philbin. Philbin earned his first NFL head coaching opportunity after serving as Mike McCarthy's offensive coordinator in Green Bay for the last five seasons. Philbin, who is a proponent of the West Coast offense, hired Mike Sherman, a long-time NFL veteran and former Packers head coach who most recently was head coach at Texas A&M University. Sherman and Philbin's primary tasks will be deciding on a quarterback between veteran David Garrard, incumbent Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill (who played for Sherman at A&M) and identifying a receiving pecking order as the roster doesn't feature any clear cut playmakers at the wide receiver position. The Dolphins best assets offensively appear to be the running back stable, so expect the Dolphins to strike a run heavy balance that's evocative of the Houston Texans approach to the West Coast offense more than the Packers. The Dolphins will use a zone-blocking scheme on the line, which is a big departure from the man blocking scheme that Tony Sparano preferred.
What to expect on defense: Although this will mark Kevin Coyle's first foray as an NFL coordinator, he's not without experience running a defense the 30+ year coaching veteran was the defensive coordinator for a number of college teams. He's decided to change the Dolphins base defense to a 4-3 front, which also means moving Cameron Wake back to defensive end. Although the base defense will be 4-3, Coyle promises versatility and may show 3-4 and 46 looks when appropriate. Coyle wants his defensive backs to play a physical brand of football, and will ask the corners to press man-to-man frequently.
Head Coach: Leslie Frazier Offensive Coordinator: Bill Musgrave Defensive Coordinator: Alan Williams (replaces Fred Pagac)
What to expect on defense: Alan Williams spent the last decade coaching the secondary in Indianapolis, and now re-unites with Leslie Frazier (they coached together in Indianapolis) in his first stint as an NFL coordinator. Williams will not change the base defense which remains the classic Tampa Cover 2 popularized by Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy. What he will be tasked with doing is increasing the execution of the system that's already in place, and that will include working two rookie safeties into the lineup in order to reverse last year's struggles as the Vikings allowed the most touchdown passes (34) and second fewest interceptions (8) in the league.
New England Patriots
Head Coach: Bill Belichick Offensive Coordinator: Josh McDaniels (replaces Bill O'Brien) Defensive Coordinator: Mike Patricia (the position was vacant in 2011)
What to expect on offense: The old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies to a Patriots offense that ranked 2nd last year and created mismatch nightmares with the tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Bill O'Brien accepted the Penn State head coaching job but the offense won't miss a beat as Josh McDaniels returns to the role after stints in Denver and St. Louis. With all of the key offensive pieces back from last season, plus the added vertical threat of Brandon Lloyd, it would take another season-ending injury to Tom Brady to keep the Patriots from elite status.
What to expect on defense: Bill Belichick quietly elevated Mike Patricia to the role of defensive coordinator, which is as much about recognizing Patricia's contributions as signaling a major change in the defensive hierarchy. Patricia has been on the Patriots staff since 2004, and coached the linebackers for five seasons before moving to the secondary last year. As always, the Patriots defense will be architected by Belichick, and if this year's NFL draft was any indication, Belichick wants to ramp up the pass rush and versatility of his front seven. Expect New England to continue to utilize hybrid fronts, as well as Big Nickel looks in the secondary that insert a third safety into a five-defensive back formation.
New Orleans Saints
Head Coach: Joe Vitt (replaces the suspended Sean Payton) Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael Defensive Coordinator: Steve Spagnuolo (replaces Gregg Williams)
What to expect on offense: The Saints nightmarish offseason included the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton, which means assistant head coach Joe Vitt will serve as head coach for most of the season (he too has to serve a multi-game extension). Vitt is a linebackers coach by trade, and will have very little influence on the offense. The good news is that New Orleans has an experienced, veteran laden offensive unit that shouldn't suffer much without Payton provided that quarterback Drew Brees is given the new contract extension he so richly deserves. As long as Brees is back in the fold, the Saints offense will pick up where it left off last year as the team generated almost 7,500 yards of offense. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael called plays after Sean Payton got hurt in a sideline collision last season and the Saints didn't skip a beat.
What to expect on defense: Steve Spagnuolo believes in a traditional 4-3 defensive front, and will have the Saints playing a lot more zone in the secondary than his predecessor Gregg Williams (who favored man fronts in recent years). While Spagnuolo loves to mix in zone blitzes, he prefers to have his defensive front four generate pressure, so as not to expose the secondary and give up big plays. Last year the Saints ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, and much of that can be blamed on the defensive backs being put in difficult situations with little help over the top. Spagnuolo will need to integrate quite a few new faces including Brodrick Bunkley who will play the key one-technique nose tackle position.
New York Jets
Head Coach: Rex Ryan Offensive Coordinator: Tony Sparano (replaces Brian Schottenheimer) Defensive Coordinator: Mike Pettine
What to expect on offense: Rex Ryan and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer never seemed perfectly suited, which is why the decision to hire Sparano a hard-nosed, conservative, run-first offensive mind, makes so much sense. Sparano was the Cowboys run game coordinator prior to serving as the Dolphins head coach, and he will not only call the plays on Sundays, but will coach the offensive line. Sparano uses a man blocking line scheme that's not all that different from what the Jets used with Bill Callahan. Sparano's primary challenge will be figuring out how to get Mark Sanchez to elevate his game or determining whether Tim Tebow is the answer in the alternative. The Jets don't have much proven depth at the skill positions, but that won't keep the team from trying to be among the most run heavy in the league.
Head Coach: Dennis Allen (replaces Hue Jackson) Offensive Coordinator: Greg Knapp (replaces Al Saunders) Defensive Coordinator: Jason Tarver (replaces Chuck Bresnahan)
What to expect on offense: Greg Knapp has served as offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland and Seattle and was most recently the quarterbacks coach in Houston. He returns to Oakland with a significantly more hands on role as he'll be the play-caller this time around and will implement the run-heavy brand of the West Coast offense that Mike Shanahan perfected in his years in Denver, and that Gary Kubiak brought with him to Houston. Knapp's goal is to use a zone-blocking scheme to help create a dominant running game, which in turns sets up a short- and intermediate-focused passing attack. If Darren McFadden is healthy (a big if), his skill set is ideally suited to the one-cut and go style Knapp is looking for. Expect the passing game to get a boost simply because Carson Palmer will have a full offseason to work with the coaches and personnel.
What to expect on defense: Dennis Allen landed the Raiders job after one season as the defensive coordinator for division rival Denver. The Broncos defensive ranking wasn't eye-popping (24th in points allowed) but it was Allen's preparation, and his clear understanding of all facets of team management that earned him the head coaching role. Allen cut his teeth as a defensive assistant in Atlanta and New Orleans, and his choice of Jason Tarver as defensive coordinator all but guarantees the Raiders will use a hybrid defensive front moving between 3- and 4-man fronts as the situation dictates. The secondary will use multiple zone looks, eschewing the man coverage that was the hallmark of the Raiders under Al Davis' regime. Allen has made it clear he doesn't intend to call the plays, which puts a lot of pressure on 38-year old Jason Tarver.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin Offensive Coordinator: Todd Haley (replaces Bruce Arians) Defensive Coordinator: Dick LeBeau
What to expect on offense: The Steelers are not usually known for controversy, but the decision to force Bruce Arians into "retirement" was not met with universal praise, particularly from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But reports were that ownership wanted Pittsburgh to get back to its roots of a balanced, ball control offense that relied on a strong ground game. Todd Haley, fresh off a stint as the Kansas City Chiefs head coach, will be tasked with getting more out of a Steelers offense thanks ranked 21st in points scored (20.3/game) last season. Haley's offenses have been described as complex, and the Steelers will need to absorb a larger playbook and new terminology. Whether that gels well with the young receiving tandem of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown remains to be seen, but this is a bold and risky decision by a franchise that generally makes all the right moves.
San Diego Chargers
Head Coach: Norv Turner Offensive Coordinator: Hal Hunter (replaces Clarence Shelmon) Defensive Coordinator: John Pagano (replaces Greg Manusky)
What to expect on offense: Clarence Shelmon's retirement isn't going to have a major impact on the Chargers offense, as Norv Turner remains the driving force on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw an uncharacteristic 20 interceptions last year, but that's an anomaly. Meanwhile, in spite of the turnovers the team was 5th in points scored (25.4/game) and sixth in yards (393/game). Other than continuing to increase Ryan Mathews' workload and replacing Vincent Jackson with Robert Meachem on the outside, the offense won't look much different. As a reminder, Turner is a disciple of the Don Coryell school of offense which calls for a power running attack combined with a vertical passing attack.
What to expect on defense: The Chargers fired Greg Manusky and promoted linebackers coach John Pagano to coordinator. Pagano, whose brother ironically hired Manusky as defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, will have one major goal this year improving the Chargers 3rd down defense which ranked among the worst in modern football history last year. Allowing teams to convert nearly 50% of third downs is a guaranteed way to lose a lot of games, and Pagano hopes the tweaks in scheme (while maintaining the 3-4 front) and some personnel upgrades will make all the difference.
St. Louis Rams
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher (replaces Steve Spagnuolo) Offensive Coordinator: Brian Schottenheimer (replaces Josh McDaniels) Defensive Coordinator: Vacant (Gregg Williams is suspended, who replaced Ken Flajole)
What to expect on offense: Josh McDaniels was supposed to ignite the Rams offense and turn quarterback Sam Bradford into an elite young passer. Instead the Rams struggled to one of the worst records in the league, head coach Steve Spagnuolo and Josh McDaniels lost their jobs, and Jeff Fisher was brought in on a white horse to save the day. Fisher opted to hire Brian Schottenheimer to re-craft an offense that ranked dead last in 2011 with a paltry 12.1 points per game. Schottenheimer a disciple of Don Coryell's offense spent six years in New York as the offensive coordinator with varying degrees of success. Some believe he's too conservative as a play-caller, but it's unclear whether that was a byproduct of the offensive supporting cast. If all goes well, Schottenheimer intends to work a secondary runner in to spell Steven Jackson, and to be a run heavy offense that allows Sam Bradford the opportunity to take shots downfield off play action. The biggest question is whether the Rams have suitable receivers to execute a vertical passing attack.
What to expect on defense: The Rams lost defensive coordinator Gregg Williams due to the Saints' Bountygate scandal, and Jeff Fisher has opted not to name a new coordinator. Instead, he'll rely on the counsel of his veteran-laden defensive staff headlined by assistant head coach Dave McGinnis and secondary coach Chuck Cecil. Both McGinnis and Cecil spent years coaching under Fisher in Tennessee, and both have experience as NFL defensive coordinators. The Rams will run a base 4-3 defensive front and will also show some 46 looks when appropriate. Expect the team to blitz from all over the field as Fisher has challenged his defense to break the NFL sack record this season. While they probably don't have the personnel to achieve that goal, it does speak to the attacking nature Fisher and his defensive assistants are looking for.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (replaces Raheem Morris) Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sullivan (replaces Greg Olson) Defensive Coordinator: Bill Sheridan (replaces Raheem Morris)
What to expect on offense: The Bucs made one of the more surprising hires this offseason when they tabbed Rutgers University head coach Greg Schiano as Raheem Morris' replacement. Schiano a defensive guru hired Mike Sullivan, the Giants quarterbacks coach, as his offensive coordinator. Sullivan has never called plays, but he spent a number of years coaching both receivers and quarterbacks under Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride, so you can expect a commitment to a disciplined, balanced offensive attack. Sullivan wants to stretch the field vertically while maintaining a strong ground game. The first order of business is getting quarterback Josh Freeman back on track after a disappointing 2011 and while Freeman hasn't spoken openly about the nuances of the offense, he has acknowledged that he's about 15 pounds lighter (on Sullivan's recommendation).
What to expect on defense: Raheem Morris chose not to have a defensive coordinator, and it was a colossal mistake as the unit finished dead last in points allowed (30.9/game) last season. Greg Schiano hired Bill Sheridan as defensive coordinator, but also lured Butch Davis the former Cowboys defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson to serve as assistant head coach. That's an impressive trio of experienced defensive minds, and there's little question what the defensive scheme will look like. The Bucs will play a one-gap, 4-3 defensive front and opposing teams should expect pressure from a variety of blitz packages. In the secondary, the Bucs won't be beholden to the Cover 2 any longer, but they won't completely abandon it, either. Schiano wants his defensive backs to be able to handle a variety of zone and man coverage looks.
Other Notable Coaching Hires
Ben McAdoo, Quarterback Coach Green Bay Packers Bob Ligashesky, Special Teams Coordinator Tampa Bay Buccaneers Clyde Christensen, Quarterback Coach Indianapolis Colts Dave DeGuglielmo, Offensive Line Coach New York Jets Fred Pagac, Linebacker Coach -- Minnesota Vikings George Edwards, Linebacker Coach Miami Dolphins Greg Olson, Quarterback Coach Jacksonville Jaguars Hue Jackson, Defensive Backs Coach Cincinnati Bengals Jim Caldwell, Quarterback Coach -- Baltimore Ravens John Bonamego, Special Teams Coordinator Jacksonville Jaguars John Fassel, Special Teams Coordinator St. Louis Rams Ken Flajole, Defensive Backs Coach New Orleans Saints Raheem Morris, Defensive Backs Coach Washington Redskins Steve Hoffman, Special Teams Coordinator Oakland Raiders Todd Bowles, Defensive Backs Coach -- Philadelphia Eagles Tom McMahon, Special Teams Coordinator Kansas City Chiefs
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