Around the NFL  

 

Rookie Watch: Mike Pettine, Bill Lazor among top hires

Print

Welcome to Around The NFL's "Rookie Watch" series, a week-by-week journey ranking this year's promising collection of first-year players.

Rookies bring hope to all 32 teams. In recent years, we've seen Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck immediately shake up the landscape on offense, while draft picks spent on J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn turned vanilla defenses into trouble for opponents.

Between now and the end of the regular season, we'll chart this year's rookie class in an effort to predict which first-year players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.

We've taken a broad look at the entire class after Week 1 and Week 2, ranked the running backs and first-year quarterbacks, unveiled our early picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, examined this year's top undrafted rookies and took a peek at some of this year's rookie disappointments.

After rolling out our Midseason All-Rookie Team, let's size up this year's first-time head coaches and coordinators:

The coaches


1. Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns: Hired as the answer to an elongated coaching search that rendered the Browns a national laughingstock, Pettine deserves credit for sweeping away the losing culture in Cleveland that plagued all six of his predecessors dating back to 1999. After skillfully navigating the summertime media frenzy surrounding Hoyer vs. Manziel, the former Rex Ryan lieutenant has won over his young locker room with an aura of accountability. Some of Pettine's in-game decisions have raised questions, but wiping out the Steelers at home earned eternal points. He won't pay for a drink in Cleveland again if the Browns are alive by season's end.

2. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings: The most experienced of the bunch, Zimmer was the ideal choice for a Vikings team thin on identity after the Leslie Frazier era. His work with Minnesota's defense -- especially its pass rush -- has our attention. Zimmer also earns props for weathering the Adrian Peterson storm to keep the Vikings competitive with a rookie quarterback and new faces on both sides of the ball. They're in a rugged division, but the Vikings have found a coach to hold onto deep into the future.

3. Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans: O'Brien propelled the Texans to a 3-1 start, but dropping four of five since has plenty to do with Houston's core weakness: The lack of a franchise quarterback. It's anyone's guess what the Texans expected to net from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the results have been predictable. After nobody in the organization thought enough of using May's top draft pick on Blake Bortles or any of his fellow passers, O'Brien is under pressure to unearth his long-term signal-caller sooner than later.

4. Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: Starting three quarterbacks over nine games, Gruden admitted Monday that the "jury is still out" at the position. This Washington gig always felt like a tall order because of the presence of Robert Griffin III. While the one-time wunderkind offers a rare and remarkable skill set, Gruden himself hinted in September that Kirk Cousins -- before playing himself out of the job -- was a better fit for Washington's West Coast-style attack. Something just feels off in Washington.

The coordinators


1. Teryl Austin, Detroit Lions DC
2. Bill Lazor, Miami Dolphins OC
3. Paul Guenther, Cincinnati Bengals DC

Austin took over a talented defense and made it better. Earning praise from within for his in-game play-calling, the Lions defensive coordinator oversees a unit allowing a league-low 15.8 points per game. The pass rush shows streaks of dominance and the once-leaky secondary has improved from 23rd in the NFL last year to fifth in 2014. "We go into the games knowing exactly what (the coaches) want from us, exactly what they expect from us, but they also do a great job in my opinion of letting the players play," safety Glover Quin recently said.

Lazor is beginning to produce the results we expected. The Dolphins play-caller helped Miami win four of their past five with an offense posting 30.6 points per game during that span. After Lazor told Around The NFL this summer that he planned to challenge Ryan Tannehill daily, the Dolphins quarterback is playing his best football behind a revamped and well-coached line. Matched with Miami's frisky defense, Lazor has the 'Fins in prime position to challenge for a postseason berth.

Unlike Lazor, longtime Bengals aide Guenther wasn't asked to recreate the wheel. Taking over for Zimmer -- his mentor for years -- the coordinator's steepest challenge has been overcoming a slew of injuries to key players. After giving up just 11 points per game through Week 3, the banged-up Bengals have been lashed for 30.8 points per outing since.

4. Frank Reich, San Diego Chargers OC
5. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants OC
6. Sean McVay, Washington Redskins OC
7. Jim O'Neil, Cleveland Browns DC

Reich has thrived since taking over for Ken Whisenhunt. Football Outsiders ranked San Diego as the NFL's third-best offense prior to Sunday's 37-0 loss to the Dolphins. The Chargers have struggled on the ground, though, and desperately need Ryan Mathews back in the lineup. ... Big Blue's offense remains inconsistent. McAdoo's attack is averaging 35 points and 395 yards per game in three wins, but just 14.6 points and 316.4 yards per tilt in four losses. ... McVay seems to have a new quarterback every week, but give the Redskins play-caller credit for involving DeSean Jackson as a deep threat averaging a league-leading 21.8 yards per catch. ... O'Neil's injury-riddled defense has been an open barn door against the run, but we've seen improvement from a secondary that's helped the Browns create 13 takeaways -- fifth-best in the NFL. Cleveland also boasts the league's second-best red-zone defense.

8. Joe Lombardi, Detroit Lions OC
9. Jason Michael, Tennessee Titans OC
10. Jeff Tedford/Marcus Arroyo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC

Lombardi has labored for most of the year without a healthy Megatron, but the weapon-heavy attack we crowed over all summer is 24th in scoring and still plagued by skittish play from Matthew Stafford. ... Michael is saddled with a milquetoast roster and his third quarterback in as many months. We'll keep a close eye on his work with rookie Zach Mettenberger. ... I'm tempted to give an N/A to Tampa's duo. Tedford was lost to an illness, thrusting Arroyo into a role he never anticipated. Few teams have accomplished less on offense.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from an action-packed Week 9. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

Print

Fan Discussion