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Shifting defense might be easy thing for Dallas Cowboys to do

As we do every week, let's take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of stories that caught my attention ...

So, what's been up?

Cowboys shifting formations

The Cowboys made their assistants plenty uncomfortable this offseason, with the biggest move yet coming earlier in the week.

Loquacious defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired, taking his brash ways with him. The loud and likeable coach said he'd be employed in five minutes ... and we're still waiting (though it might eventually be with the Rams). And while I'm still not sure why they fired him -- his schemes kept an under-manned defense in games with few starters left -- the next move was mind-blowing.

The Cowboys hired Monte Kiffin, soon-to-be 73 years old, to be their new DC. Crazy, right? Well ... maybe not as crazy as it sounds. First of all, someone who is friends with Kiffin describes him as a "young 72," which is fun and oxymoronic, but also a positive thing if you're a Cowboys fan. Now that I've processed it (and the holy cow factor is gone), my two quick reactions are set. One, this is the dude who made the Tampa-2 what it is. He's an innovator, a mastermind. So, that's something.

Yes, the game has evolved. Yes, he was godawfulterrible at USC. But in the NFL, he's as close to a legend as there is. I doubt strongly he'll run the same exact looks he did while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' filthy fast, attacking defense that dominated with names like Sapp, Brooks and Rice.

He'll adapt, because that's what good minds do.

And two, I think the Cowboys personnel might actually be better for this shift. I asked one team source how they could shift from 3-4 to 4-3.

The response?

"Easy to do."

One thing I remember from when the Patriots were shifting from the 3-4 to the 4-3 is that, because more teams than ever run a 3-4 scheme, it's getting hard to find good players for it. With linebackers getting smaller and faster in college, picking 4-3 linebackers is now easier. But think about who the Cowboys have on their roster. Jay Ratliff becomes a more natural 4-3 defensive tackle. DeMarcus Ware can rush the passer every play. Sean Lee becomes the Cowboys version of Brian Urlacher, using his speed and ball skills to cover the middle of the field. And both corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can be physical as they will need to be. I would wonder whether outside linebacker Anthony Spencer returns, given his value as one of the top available 3-4 linebackers and wonder whether he'd become an end. Doubtful. But otherwise, this looks pretty good for Dallas.

Maybe it'll end the rollercoaster the team was on all season.

Chud -- under-the-radar dweller

The Browns pulled a fast one on all of us, hiring former Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to be their new head coach. One more name to learn to spell properly.

Anyway, I'm having more and more trouble trying to decide what's a good hire and what isn't.

Does Chud's under-the-radar status mean Browns fans are doomed? Nah. It's not their fault we all overlooked him in the process. By the same token, why wasn't he better known for success in the league?

Sure, he helped the Browns get to 10 wins in 2007, while making Derek Anderson a Pro Bowler(!). He also was part of the staff that got kicked to the curb in 2008.

Will he be like Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy and John Harbaugh? Or more like, say, Pat Shurmur? Some Browns fans are pumped, others are not excited. All this after the Browns swung and missed on Chip Kelly, after he told them he essentially wanted the job. What did they end up with? A guy who loves the Browns (Chud grew up a fan and has eaten dog bones) and someone with enough smarts to consider giving up play-calling duties if he brings in Norv Turner. That's a good move.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told friends he was looking for a leader more than an Xs-and-Os wizard. Is Chud that? I have no idea. But he'll work with QB Brandon Weeden, he's devoted to the team he's coaching, and he's also got the top OC off the market, ready to join his staff. Could be much, much worse.

And really, like every hire, we'll find out in a few years. But don't take the fact that we didn't know him too well to be any indication of anything.

Are Jaguars avoiding friendly hire?

I know everyone is convinced 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is headed to the Jaguars as their new coach, now that his former college roommate David Caldwell is their GM.

Oh, and they also roomed together with the Panthers when they were lowly assistants.

Maybe that happens. It's always possible.

But I was speaking to someone who knows both of them, and he threw caution to that line of thinking. Why? Well, if you're Caldwell and you're finally in charge of a team, do you want to be the one hiring your best friend? What if you have to fire him? That's a heavy burden to carry around in your first job, let alone any job.

I'm also told in the Caldwell-Roman relationship, Roman is the strong one. So, it could be odd if Caldwell is his boss. I mean, Caldwell could decide that regardless of all that, he still wants to hire Roman. But it's a lot to deal with. I'm told he is looking for an offensive-minded leader, with Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer, Bengals OC Jay Gruden also receiving permission to interview with the Jags. I'd also be surprised if Caldwell didn't interview at least one special teams coach, considering his old boss Thomas Dimitroff has been pushing that. That should be Keith Armstrong of the Falcons, a very real candidate.

I'm just saying, it's not a slam dunk for Roman to join the Jags. They will conduct a very thorough search.

Being offensive is a good thing in NFL

Former Bears coach Lovie Smith interviewed with the Eagles on Thursday and he talked with the Chargers on Friday.

It's not clear how good of a shot he has at either job, though I'd argue he should have a great shot at both. For teams that want a proven winner, 81-63 with a Super Bowl appearance is pretty good. So why hasn't Smith received the love he should?

One person with knowledge of the interview process for several teams explains a theme. Offense. Passing the ball. Everyone wants to know how you're gonna throw it. If there is one trend this year, that's it. It explains the (deserved) interest in Bruce Arians. It explains why the Browns hired Chudzinski and why Marc Trestman got unearthed from the CFL for some interviews. Everyone wants a coach who can help the quarterback position.

And for defensive coaches, some places are already looking at offensive coordinators to pair with guys like Smith and Ray Horton. For Smith, it may be Pep Hamilton of Stanford, who he worked with in Chicago. So, even if they hire a defensive coach, it's still all about the offense.

Maybe that's the way it should be. But it's more prevalent this year than I can ever remember.

Wanna hear a great story?

For the past two years, Patrick Chukwurah was working as a personal trainer.

He'd spent some time in the NFL, rushing the passer and playing special teams. He had 4.5 sacks for the Broncos a few years back and was playing for the Bucs in 2008.

Oh, and don't forget his stint leading the UFL in sacks two years in a row. Yet he's been out of the league for a while. And when Seahawks DE Chris Clemson tore his ACL, Chukwurah was no one's choice to take his roster spot. The better bet was anyone else on the tryout list -- Ray Edwards, Travis LaBoy or Aaron Maybin -- would win the battle. Instead, it was the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Chukwurah who beat them all out.

How did this happen? Credit to Seahawks GM John Schneider for having an open mind when making his evaluations. That's proven successful time and again. And credit to agent Ron Slavin, who stuck with his guy even when many probably would've bailed on a dream that saw no end in sight. What real hope did Chukwura have of ever playing in the league? Well, Chukwura felt like he never got that last shot. Now, he has it.

"I have been representing players for 14 years," Slavin told me, "and if there was one player that I knew could make a play in a playoff game without playing football this year, it was Patrick Chukwurah."

The allure of the college coach

What is it about college coaches? I mean ... what does Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly have that others don't?

Coaching search tracker
Gregg Rosenthal provides a one-stop shop for all the latest head-coaching search news. Who are teams targeting? More ...

What is it that teams with NFL openings are drawn to? With O'Brien and Kelly, it's their ability to run a productive offense on their terms, while also leading a team. It's why some viewed them as a step above current NFL coordinators.

For Brian Kelly, though, it's something else. He has rebuilt Notre Dame, just like he did other places. Not merely carried on a proud tradition, but built it, piece by piece, with fundamentals and toughness and tackling and running. Very basic.

If you're a downtrodden team -- and most teams trying to hire a coach are -- you want to build a base. And what college coaches do is teach and build from scratch. The only trap there is guys who out-recruit others (like Alabama's Nick Saban). But both Kellys and O'Brien do both -- teach and recruit. That's the allure. And if you can open your mind to something new, as some teams refreshingly have, it's not a crazy idea.

The only problem is college coaches turning down NFL jobs, which seems to be a trend. On Saturday, Brian Kelly decided to pass on the NFL and remain at Notre Dame.

Imbracing the inner H-back

Kudos to Caldwell for owning that first Jaguars press conference.

Sure, he was all business-like and astute, giving the Jaguars some optimism that the guy in charge sounded like knew what he was doing. But that's not what I'm talking about.

Instead, let's celebrate what Caldwell really did -- end the Tebow-to-Jags storyline. Thankfully. It wouldn't die, mostly because it made so much sense.

He's from there, they have an open QB competition, and they tried to trade for him a couple times. Instead, Caldwell smacked it down. He said he didn't foresee any scenario where Tebow would be a Jaguar if he were released by the Jets ... and then he dropped the mic. I made that last part up, but that's what it felt like.

Why do I make such a big deal of this?

Because it shows how savvy Caldwell is, ending his most annoying and lingering storyline before it started. And because now, Tebow must make a decision. Is he really going to be a quarterback in the NFL? Or is it time to change positions. If the Jags won't take him, who will? Maybe the Rams? But maybe not. Is that the only option he has?

In my view, it's time for Tebow to embrace his inner H-Back and make the move that'll keep him in the NFL. Be a tight end. Be a fullback. He has said he loves the game, it's time to decide to stick around.

Radio silence for Cardinals

The Cardinals have interviewed defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

They may, in fact, have also interviewed Todd Haley, though his agent says it never happened and the team won't confirm it (let's not re-live that episode again, please). And now, radio silence.

So, what are the Cardinals doing? One source had an interesting thought, and it's one I'm starting to buy into. Perhaps they are waiting for McCoy to become available from the Broncos. Now they won't have to wait, with Denver losing on Saturday. But this is the only reason they would be waiting. Everyone else is available and ready to be hired.

I hear McCoy came off well for teams who interviewed him, a likeable and knowledgeable guy. The other thing is, if they hired an offensive guru, they could keep Horton and the defensive staff in place, simply upgrading the offense. In my mind, it wouldn't be a bad move.

Busy three-day weekend in San Diego

The Chargers have a busy weekend scheduled (or extension of a weekend), talking with Bears coach Lovie Smith on Friday, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt Saturday and Colts OC Bruce Arians on Monday.

They also had dinner with new Bills coach Doug Marrone before he took the Buffalo job. And they may add Gruden to the list.

I know fans were freaking out that they took forever to get the piece in place, but to me, they did it the right way. They got their organization in order, hired a boss and now will move forward.

And I don't believe they've missed on anyone they wanted to hire. As Cardinals PR man Mark Dalton pointed out this week, there have been 33 head coaching hires in the previous five offseasons. Just seven took place before Jan. 11. That's just 20 percent. So, the Chargers have plenty of time. Same with the Bears. Same with the Eagles. Everyone.

For fans, it feels excruciating. For teams, the NFL Scouting Combine is in late February. The draft is in April. The preseason starts in August. The season starts in September. Deep breath.

Nothing has to be done today.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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