Finally, we've heard the death rattle of the NFL lockout (sounds like a soft, gurgly Chris Mortensen), so it won't be long before the fantasy community settles into familiar patterns of preseason behavior. Hell, there's already a Brett Favre comeback rumor percolating, just begging for fantasy spin.
But as much as we'd all like to put this CBA nonsense behind us, it's important to recognize the fact that this has not been a typical off-season. Coaches haven't been allowed to coach, free agents haven't yet been allowed to relocate, trades haven't advanced beyond the rumor stage. As Scott recently discussed, teams that offer year-to-year continuity should be viewed as safe havens for fantasy investors.
With this notion in mind, today we're going to sweep the league for coaching changes. On Tuesday, an absurd frenzy of player movement could begin, so this is probably our last opportunity to deliver a full accounting of new head coaches and offensive coordinators. Some of these changes aren't too significant, while others certainly are. Before you enter the draft room, you'll want to know which teams are reading from a new script...
Arizona Cardinals - OK, so the Cards haven't experienced major upheaval in the coaching staff, but we're trying to be thorough here. Mike Miller was basically involved in a job-share situation as Arizona's OC last season — he was officially the passing game coordinator — and he received a promotion to the big chair back in February. You should now refer all Beanie Wells complaints to his office. Every returning member of the Cardinals' offense is familiar with Miller's work; the big change in Arizona, of course, will be at the quarterback position.
Carolina Panthers - What's new in Carolina? Well, pretty much everything, including head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. As most of you know, Rivera is a former linebacker and longtime defensive coach/coordinator. Chudzinski is the guy that fantasy owners should really concern themselves with. Like Rivera, he's making the cross-country jump from San Diego, where he served as the tight ends coach in 2010. Fantasy owners will note that Chudzinski was Cleveland's OC back in 2007, when the Derek Anderson-led Browns stunned everyone with their unexpected competence. Chudzinski was a former tight end in college, at Miami (Fla.), and the position is considered his specialty. That may not be enough to make you care about Jeremy Shockey again, but it's a decent fact to file away.
Of course Carolina ranked dead-last in points and yards per game last season (12.3 PPG, 258.4 YPG) and the team is breaking in a new quarterback (Cam Newton), so expectations are ... well, they're almost non-existent.
Cincinnati Bengals - As of this writing, we have no idea who's going to start at quarterback for Cincy, nor do we know what the backfield will look like. But we do know that they've hired a lesser Gruden to run the offense. Jay Gruden will be at the controls, and his first order of post-lockout business will be to introduce himself to pretty much everyone:
Once the lockout ends, Gruden finally will be able to get to know his players. He has not even met most of them and still must learn how they react to teaching styles, criticism and adversity.
Jay was an offensive assistant under his brother Jon in Tampa Bay, but his most recent coaching experience was in the UFL, with something called the Florida Tuskers. He's also an AFL legend.
So this should be a smooth transition. The Bengals' offense will have position battles almost everywhere, and it's looking as if rookie Andy Dalton could be the Week 1 quarterback.
Cleveland Browns - Pat Shurmur (nephew of Fritz) takes over as both head coach and offensive coordinator for the Browns, following an impressive year with Sam Bradford in St. Louis. To Shurmur's credit, he seems to have everyone in Cleveland believe that they're about to run a modified version of their college offense.
Here's Colt McCoy, for example...
"It's a West Coast system," McCoy said. "I think it's a system, from my experience, that we ran a little bit of in college. It's a very quarterback-friendly system. That's what coach Shurmur keeps reiterating to me."
And here's Montario Hardesty...
"The terminology and the scheme are very similar to what I learned under coach Kiffin, so hopefully it won't be too much of a learning curve for me."
And here's rookie receiver Greg Little...
"It's the same terminology, the same verbiage, exact same calls, everything," said Little. "I think it's going to be such a smooth transition to where when I met with the Cleveland Browns, I knew a lot of their terminology already.
So there you go. This should be super simple transition for the first-year head coach inheriting a five-win team, because he's using the exact same offense that all of his players ran in college, no matter where they went. Same everything. Phew. And here I was worried that Cleveland might be bad.
Dallas Cowboys - Jason Garrett was officially hired as the non-interim head coach in Dallas, after leading the team to a 5-3 finish last season (and with Jon Kitna at quarterback, no less). There's no serious disruption here, as Garrett had previously served as the team's OC.
Denver Broncos - John Fox is in as head coach in Denver and, interestingly enough, he retained offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Those two have simply been reunited; McCoy was an assistant in Carolina from 2000 to 2008. Fox actually retained several members of Josh McDaniels' coaching staff, so the learning curve for Tim Tebow & Co. shouldn't be excessively painful.
Kansas City Chiefs - Veteran assistant Bill Muir was promoted from O-line coach to offensive coordinator, following Charlie Weis' decision to return to NCAA coaching. Muir was essentially a continuity hire, though it's worth mentioning that he'll be Matt Cassel's fifth OC in four seasons. After news broke regarding Weis' departure last season, the Chiefs' offense was a disaster. The team lost its final two games by a combined score of 61-17; the Raiders steamrolled KC in Week 17, then the Ravens punished them in the playoffs. During that unfortunate stretch, Cassel completed just 20 of 51 passes, throwing five interceptions and no TDs. At least Jamaal Charles remained useful (23 carries, 169 rush yards, 2 TDs).
Miami Dolphins - The Fins have hired 36-year-old Brian Daboll as their new OC, a move intended to revive the league's third lowest-scoring offense. Daboll filled the same role in Cleveland under Eric Mangini each of the past two seasons. The Browns offense was a disaster in 2009 and 2010, of course, but it's not as if the depth chart was choked with talent. Daboll did as much as could be expected with Colt McCoy, and he helped turn Peyton Hillis into a fantasy beast. So that's something. The Browns also ran a Wildcat-ish package with Joshua Cribbs, so we likely haven't seen the last of that formation in Miami.
The near-term challenges for Daboll include A) fixing Chad Henne (unless he's replaced), B) prepping rookie RB Daniel Thomas for a full workload (unless they add a committee member), and C) keeping Brandon Marshall engaged and involved (assuming he avoids suspension). Seems like a big job, all things considered.
Minnesota Vikings - Leslie Frazier returns as the Vikings' head coach, losing the interim tag. Minnesota also lured Bill Musgrave away from Atlanta, where he'd been the quarterbacks coach since 2006. Musgrave gets partial credit for developing Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, and he'll now turn his attention to rookie QB Christian Ponder and second-year project Joe Webb. To no one's surprise, the Vikes are expected to run an Adrian Peterson-based offense, with West Coast principles. (Every team seems to use WCO elements, so this is maybe a term that's lost its meaning). Frazier has referred to the new system as "Bill's baby," so don't expect much meddling.
When Musgrave was hired, these were a few of Frazier's more interesting comments:
"There are so many unknowns with the lockout," Frazier said. "The fact that [Bill] can integrate some of the things and some of the principles from the West Coast system definitely made a difference so we don't have to completely overhaul our offense."
"We talked for a number of years about the potential of our being able to work together," Frazier said "The fact that he wasn't just tied to one system, but he could see globally — that was important to me. We have a multitude of weapons on offense. Sometimes, you can get so tied up in a system that you don't see the forest through the trees. It was important to me that he understood the importance of utilizing the strengths of our players on offense."
It would be safe to say that former head coach Brad Childress wasn't necessarily known for his ability to maximize the strengths of his players, while hiding their limitations.
Bottom line: The Vikes will have a new head coach, a new OC, a new quarterback, and a modified receiving corps. There are going to be a few messy possessions here. Peterson can only do so much.
New England Patriots - Again, just trying to be thorough. Bill O'Brien was officially named the Pats' OC, after serving as the de facto coordinator for two years. The machine rolls on. Nothing to see here.
Oakland Raiders - Hue Jackson was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach, prompting this gem from Raiders owner Al Davis:
"The fire in Hue will set a flame that will burn for a long time in the hearts and minds of the Raider football team and the Raider Nation."
Jackson is expected to continue calling the plays (and lighting the fires), while Al Saunders get the OC title and a reunion with Jason Campbell. Because those two were such a magical combination the first time around. Under Jackson, the Raiders' offense made massive gains last season, jumping from 266.1 total YPG in 2009 to 354.6 in 2010. The key offensive skill players are expected back, too.
San Francisco 49ers - Back in January, when first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about his intentions for the Niners' offense, he responded this way:
"We will install the West Coast offense in San Francisco, the birthplace of the West Coast offense," Harbaugh said without hesitation. "And I'm excited about that."
That's a fan-friendly statement, but obviously the starting quarterback needs to be able to run the system. Free agent Alex Smith has led players-only workouts, attempting to install the basics. But the learning curve here is severe. This from the San Francisco Chronicle:
To illustrate some of the work ahead, Smith detailed the job description of San Francisco's wide receivers, who will routinely adjust their releases and routes at the line based on the coverage technique they receive from cornerbacks.
Man-to-man. Press coverage. Inside leverage. Outside leverage.
The possible adjustments are endless. And the answers won't arrive until the 49ers are introduced to graduate-level instruction.
"There are so many variables that go into running routes," Smith said. "There's a ton for all those receivers to have to know. It's not like 'Hey, just run a 15-yard in.' That's not how it works."
And on top of that, the scheme demands accuracy and timing from Smith himself. Expect some early season sloppiness; Vernon Davis has referred to the new offense as "tight end friendly," for whatever that's worth.
Greg Roman is the Niners' new offensive coordinator, and it's awfully tough to criticize the work he did with the Stanford Cardinal over the past two seasons. No one ever sacked Andrew Luck, no one ever tackled Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal averaged 36.2 points per game in '09 and 40.3 in '10. No doubt Roman will tell his new players all about his collegiate success when he meets 'em for the first time.
Seattle Seahawks - Darrell Bevell is the Seahawks' new OC, following five seasons in Minnesota, two of which were rather successful. His background with the Vikings helps explain the Tarvaris Jackson rumors. Bevell also has a connection to Matt Hasselbeck, we should note, from their Green Bay days a million years ago. Head coach Pete Carroll brought in Tom Cable to coach the O-line, so there's plenty of experience on the sidelines, and no shortage of strong personalities.
Carroll has made noises during the off-season about balance and continuity. Here are a few of his thoughts on the Cable-Bevell pairing:
"Both guys come out of exactly the same foundation and terminology," he said. "There's always something that you have to tweak. But the great majority of it these guys absolutely know, and they cross right over. Immediately each guy can talk to the offense, and they know exactly what they're talking about.
"And it allows us not to have to change much. There's a real continuity thought in mind there to help our players move ahead. To wholesale shift and change everything, particularly in this year, it could be harder. So we're hoping that will really allow us to move quickly. But hopefully it will look better"
OK, great. Now go get a quarterback ... preferably one who is not Matt Leinart.
St. Louis Rams - Josh McDaniels arrives in St. Louis, replacing Pat Shurmur as OC. There's no way you're not familiar with McDaniels' history: He's a Belichick disciple, coordinator of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history (Patriots in '07), and he helped Matt Cassel land a ridiculous payday. Oh, and he had a couple rocky seasons in Denver. It's tough to spin this as a bad hire by the Rams, as the team could surely benefit from a more aggressive approach in the second season of the Bradford era. Here's some detail on McDaniels' tendencies, via the Post-Dispatch:
Even with his stated desire to be balanced, the strongest part of McDaniels' résumé is his expertise in the passing game and his work with quarterbacks. In Denver but also late in his tenure as offensive coordinator in New England, he used a lot spread offense. Lots of shotgun formation. Lots of three-wide receiver, one-back sets. And a fair amount of deep throws. It wasn't unusual in Denver to see the Broncos throw out of an empty backfield on third and short.
There could be a lot to install in a short timeframe, and you'd like to see an upgrade (or three) in the Rams' receiving corps as well. Bradford, at least, seems confident in his ability to master whatever comes his way:
[Head coach Steve Spagnuolo] did ask Bradford if he had any concerns about the prospect of learning a new system.
"And he said, 'You know what, Coach? I came in here out of college and didn't know anything and learned an offense and didn't do too bad,' " Spagnuolo recalled. "He wasn't fazed at all. Sam can play in any offense, that's just how we feel."
Tennessee Titans - After 16-plus seasons as the head coach of the Oilers/Titans, Jeff Fisher is gone. His longtime assistant Mike Munchak takes over, and Chris Palmer joins Tennessee as offensive coordinator. Palmer led the Hartford Colonials to a 3-5 record in the UFL last year. Impressed? No? Well, you might also recognize Palmer's name from his time with the expansion Browns in 1999 and 2000; he directed the team to five wins and 27 losses.
This figures to be a rough year for the Titans no matter who calls the plays. Chris Johnson is a holdout threat, Kenny Britt has surely earned a suspension, and the team's starting quarterback isn't yet known (but probably isn't very good). Given the general hopelessness, this seems like a fine time to shuffle the coaching staff.
Photos via US Presswire