There are several ex-head coaches who will be roaming the sidelines as assistants this fall -- Steve Spagnuolo in New Orleans, Tony Sparano in New York and Todd Haley in Pittsburgh, just to name a few. Which former head man will have the biggest impact for his new team in a reduced role this season?
Spagnuolo will play integral role for Saints; Sparano will revitalize Jets' ground attackIt's all about the New Orleans Saints, isn't it? Steve Spagnuolo brings a well-deserved "defensive wizard" reputation to The Big Easy, and with the uncertainty on the Saints' sideline, his recent experience as the St. Louis Rams' head coach won't hurt one bit.
In addition, Tony Sparano's hard-nosed style of coaching and offensive philosophy seem to be tailor made for the New York Jets, as they feel that they lost their identity last year, straying from "Ground and Pound." Add in the fact that Sparano's Dolphins started the NFL's "Wildcat" trend, with running backs as the trigger, and things got even more interesting in NYC. Now, it's not a running back pulling the trigger ... it's Tim Tebow. And that allows the Jets more flexibility in running the unique offensive package, forcing defenses to prep for it each week.
Dolphins counting on Sherman's continued tutelage of TannehillMike Sherman may be a few years removed from being a head coach in the NFL, having led the Packers to a 57-39 record from 2000-05, but his impact as the Dolphins' new offensive coordinator will be large nonetheless.
Miami's new head coach, Joe Philbin, is relying on Sherman (whom Philbin worked for in Green Bay) to get the team's 22nd-ranked offense in gear -- and to continue his tutelage of Dolphins first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whom Sherman coached the past five years at Texas A&M.
If Spagnuolo makes Saints' defense average, New Orleans is a true title contenderI wanted to come up with a more original answer than Steve Spagnuolo -- like Jack Del Rio in Denver -- but it wouldn't make any sense. Even when Sean Payton roams the sideline, he doesn't have much to do with his defense. Spagnuolo will install a new scheme with almost a completely new linebacker group. He has major question marks on the defensive line. It is entirely up to him to give a mediocre Saints defense an identity.
Spagnuolo will have the most impact because he has the best chance for a title. Simply make the Saints defense average, and Drew Brees could take care of the rest.
Can Phillips continue to flourish with Texans in Year 2?I know it's actually his second year on the job, but my No. 1 choice is Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Houston was at the bottom of the NFL in defense until Phillips came in and turned the unit into one of the NFL's best. With the losses of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans this offseason, Phillips will have to adjust. Also, teams should be better prepared to face this Texans defense in Year 2 of Phillips' tenure.
There are some other interesting situations I will be playing close attention to, as well:
â¢ Ex-Packers head coach Mike Sherman serving as offensive coordinator in Miami. Particularly, the continued development of his college QB, Ryan Tannehill.
â¢ Ex-Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt directing the Bills' defense. Just like Wade Phillips last year, Wannstedt is tasked with transitioning from one defensive scheme to another. Can he engineer the same turnaround that Phillips did?
â¢ Ex-San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan taking over a defense in Atlanta that was conservative by nature. How will he fare implementing a more multi-faceted scheme?
With an aging defense, Pittsburgh needs Haley's offense to clickTodd Haley's imprint on the Steelers' season should be quite large. As good as it's been, Pittsburgh's defense is due for a small fall. Age concerns exist up and down all three levels, while the wall is nearing for guys like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. While these guys can still play, the Steelers will need the offense to more than pull its own weight. From some of Ben Roethlisberger's disconcerting comments this offseason, one wonders about the transition from Roethlisberger's right-hand guy, former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, to Haley. It has to be smooth, as this club cannot expect the defense to only allow 14 points per game again.
Arians' offense produced 307 points, which ranked 20th. That means that there is not only room for improvement, but that Haley can make an impact now. It will be difficult for Pittsburgh to go 12-4 again, but that doesn't mean there will be a precipitous drop in the standings -- providing the offense can score closer to 350 points (or more), as well as give the older guys on defense a longer blow in between possessions.
Bills should have one of the league's most improved defenses with Wannstedt in chargeDave Wannstedt will take over the defensive coordinator duties for the Buffalo Bills this season after serving as the assistant head coach/linebackers coach in 2011. The former head coach of the Bears and Dolphins will take over a unit that finished the 2011 season ranked 26th in yards allowed and 27th in sacks. Fortunately for Wannstedt, the front office recognized the need to improve the pass rush and added defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency.
Wannstedt will run a very disciplined and aggressive scheme, and sources in Buffalo say there has already been a noticeable difference in the focus of the defense. With Wannstedt at the helm and the additions to the front four, the Bills should have one of the most improved defenses in the NFL.
Childress' presence in Cleveland will be huge for Weeden's developmentWell, it ain't gonna be Todd Haley because he and Ben Roethlisberger are already getting along like LeBron James and the media.
I'm going to go with, gulp, believe it or not, Brad Childress in Cleveland. (And not just because I think I'm the only one with a good Brad Childress impression.) Philadelphia's offense was lights out when he was the offensive coordinator there. While Childress didn't call plays in Philly, he tutored Donovan McNabb, who went to five Pro Bowls with Childress on staff -- and just one without him. I think Childress will be huge for Brandon Weeden's development, and the Browns' offense will be more potent than people think this year.
Manning's drawing all the attention in Denver, but don't overlook the addition of Del RioAll eyes in Denver will be locked on Peyton Manning, and rightfully so. But don't overlook the importance of new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who takes over for the departed Dennis Allen (the new coach in Oakland).
The Broncos' defense was largely credited for getting Denver to the playoffs last season, but a closer examination of the numbers shows the Broncos ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed (24th) and yards allowed (20th). Plus, there is the lasting image of the Patriots' offense torching Denver in the playoffs.
Del Rio will have one advantage with Manning. Too many of the Broncos' early possessions in games last year featured Tim Tebow going three-and-out. That should be eliminated in 2012. But Del Rio still needs to find a way to fix the rushing defense, which was awful, and find a way to mix in free-agent acquisitions Tracy Porter and Mike Adams, as well as rookie Derek Wolfe. If Del Rio can coax this unit into the top 10, the Broncos could make a serious run for the AFC title.