|Michael Conroy/Associated Press|
|Peyton Manning could lose Tom Moore, the only offensive coordinator he's ever worked with in the pros.|
Peyton Manning can't like the news coming out of Indianapolis regarding the Colts' coaching staff. Usually, it's the player roster where the shakeup comes this time of year, but the amount of changes this offseason to the Colts' coaching staff and front office will have as profound of an effect as any player departure.
The expected retirements of long-time offensive line coach Howard Mudd and offensive coordinator Tom Moore due to changes in the NFL's pension plan are the latest blows to a Colts staff that has already said goodbye to head coach Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, long-time executive Bob Terpening, and Dom Anile, Bill Polian's right-hand man in all personnel decisions. I worry that the Colts have taken more hits than any good franchise can withstand in a single offseason.
Mudd was usually the first person Manning would turn to when returning to the sidelines during a game. The two would review pictures of the previous series and make the necessary adjustments to pass protections. Mudd will be replaced by former NFL tight end, and Colts assistant offensive line coach, Pete Metzelaars, who has five years of NFL coaching experience compared to 35 years of NFL coaching experience from Mudd.
The significance of changing your offensive line coach just weeks before training camp can't be understated. Changing your offensive line coach while also adjusting to a new offensive coordinator is an even more daunting task to one of the more productive offenses over the last decade. Manning is still the Colts' leader, but things will never be the same in Indianapolis. Maintaining the excellence they are accustomed to just got a whole lot tougher.
The Ram plan
I got a chance to talk with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo this week about his rebuilding project in St. Louis. Spagnuolo is not afraid, as evidenced by the release of OT Orlando Pace and WR Torry Holt, to make the tough decisions to turn this franchise around. Deciding to move on without two of the franchise's former stars is not an easy decision to make, but he did it.
Spagnuolo and I talked about first-round draft pick Jason Smith and the announcement that he will start his professional career on the right side rather than the left. I got the impression that decision may not be final; it wouldn't surprise me if Smith winds up back on the left side if he can't handle the learning curve.
Our discussion turned to rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis, whom the Rams felt lucky to get at the No. 35 overall pick. As Spagnuolo said, "He looks and walks like a real middle linebacker." Coach told me the former Ohio State Buckeye was calling the office looking for practice and game tapes to learn the defense while he is back in Ohio. When it came to evaluating his performance at the Rams' recent minicamp, Spagnuolo told me about a particular pass play in which Laurinaitis opened up the wrong way, got himself out of position, and still made a great play on the ball.
Finally, Spags felt like talking about third-round selection Bradley Fletcher, who has exceptional size and really shinned at practice when the secondary used 'press techniques' on the wide receivers. The Rams have a long way to go, and it may take two years to turn this franchise around, but there's no doubt they are pointed in the right direction.
Favre entry time
It may be time to forget about the Brett Favre soap opera for a while and realize this future Hall of Fame quarterback joined the Jets last year on Aug. 6. The Jets' offense was a foreign language to Favre and he only threw 18 preseason passes -- hardly enough work in a new offense. But he opened up the first four games of regular season games by completing 87 of 124 passes for 12 touchdowns, four interceptions and 935 yards. So much for the big learning curve.
With the Vikings' offense -- a package Favre has worked in for most of his NFL career -- he will need even less time to get ready. He could join the Vikings on Aug. 1 and be ready to give them a productive season. The secret with Favre in a Vikings uniform is to keep him close to 20 throws a game. Last year, in his first 20 throws per game, Favre completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,254 yards. When all the debate and intrigue disappear, I expect Favre to be in a Vikings uniform.
$20,000 is a good sign
I used to track the signing bonuses undrafted kids were getting in the days after the draft. They could range from no bonus at all to upwards of $25,000. If an undrafted player gets $20,000 or more to sign it means there were a number of teams after him and that the team that signed him had a draftable grade on the player.
WR/KR Larry Beavers and DT Marlon Favorite -- both with the Carolina Panthers -- and safety Colt Anderson with the Vikings are three undrafted players picked up who have significant signing bonuses and stand a good chance to make the squad, or at least the practice squad. You have to figure that six to eight undrafted players will make NFL rosters this year and another six to eight will be assigned to practice squads.
Upheavel at the offensive tackle position
If you go back and look at the supposed best offensive tackles in the NFL last year before the season started, you would have a list that included Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Flozell Adams, Jason Peters and Chris Samuels.
This year I could make a case that although all five still play in the NFL, it is possible that none of them would make the top five according to one NFL line coach. Among his favorite tackles are Denver's Ryan Clady, Cleveland's Joe Thomas, Miami's Jake Long, Carolina's Jordan Gross, and maybe even David Diehl of the Giants. All are ranked higher than most of the 2008 crew. Time will tell where the truth lies, but for now it's safe to say there is a lot of change. It will be interesting to see if any of the 2009 draft picks at tackle break into the top five next year.