I'm a big believer in the value of offseason workout programs in the NFL. They provide an opportunity to establish a tone, log some quality work and see who gets it ... and who doesn't.
Per league rules, teams with new head coaches get to begin their programs first -- and they're allotted one additional voluntary veteran minicamp. This makes perfect sense. As a new head coach, that first offseason is vital, full of monumental trials. (After all, in almost every coaching transition, the previous guy on the post got canned for failing to live up to ownership's expectations.)
One thing all of these coaches have in common: They're facing immense pressure to cultivate a winning culture. That said, their individual circumstances are unique. Pressure comes in many forms ...
So let's take a look at these seven teams (in alphabetical order) and examine the biggest challenge facing each new head man at the outset of his tenure:
Dan Quinn's initial challenge: Bringing energy to a sleepwalking defense.
The former Seahawks defensive coordinator certainly made his mark on the league over the past couple seasons, directing the D that guided Seattle to consecutive Super Bowl appearances (and earned the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy). Even with the defensive-minded Pete Carroll as his boss, Quinn's preparation, scheming and energy earned him a fine reputation around the NFL.
If only he could have brought the "Legion of Boom" with him to Atlanta ...
New sheriff. New culture. It's time for Atlanta to win with Quinn. And that begins with a reinvigoration of effort and energy on the defensive side of the ball. Quinn is a fine man for this job.
Rex Ryan's initial challenge: Getting veterans on board with his larger-than-life vision.
As readers of this space know well, I'm not a believer in Rex's in-game coaching. And precedent says he will put his foot in his mouth and generally do inflammatory things. But for the sake of accuracy and fairness, I have to say Rex has a gift -- a knack -- for rallying the troops.
Now he needs to find his guys, his veterans who buy in and deliver the message. The hype is building around this team; Rex needs a hot start with the program.
It was easy to rip Doug Marrone, who doesn't have Rex's bravado and gift of gab, on his way out of town. Now Rex needs to make sure his talented team is ready to walk the walk.
Cutler has plenty of talent, but his lackadaisical demeanor and underwhelming play have made him into a modern-day coach killer of the Jeff George variety.
A divorce would serve the Bears best, but they're stuck with Cutler because of his bloated contract.
Can Fox's rah-rah message break the mopey spell of Jay Cutler that looms over Chicago? Color me skeptical.
John Elway allowed John Fox to move on because he understandably felt that Denver underperformed in the postseason under the coach. (Two one-and-dones and a Super Bowl embarrassment over three years doesn't leave the best taste in your mouth.) Denver has talent and a legendary quarterback -- albeit one in the twilight of his career. And therein lies the challenge: Kubiak, Elway's long-time friend, needs to win now -- but he also needs to strike a balance.
The last time we saw Kubiak as a head coach, he was presiding over a grossly underachieving Texans team in 2013. That should increase the scrutiny he'll face. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges he's dealing with in Denver.
Manning is omnipresent. When he is your quarterback, he is the face of your franchise and a pseudo-coach. I'm sure Kubiak will embrace that. But Manning took some time before deciding he'dreturn after last season, with physical ailments piling up and play sputtering in the final quarter of 2014. In 2015, Kubiak must find a way to protect the prideful quarterback from himself.
In blowouts, should Kubiak look to Brock Osweiler early, to see if the quarterback will be ready to take the torch when Manning eventually hangs 'em up? Sounds smart, but good luck selling Peyton on this plan.
It's all a delicate balance.
New York Jets
Todd Bowles' initial challenge: Dealing with the absence of his top dog.
A few months ago, Bowles received the first-ever Assistant Coach of the Year award for his brilliant work with the Arizona Cardinals' defense. He certainly deserved the honor -- he got my vote -- and he deserved to become a head coach. The Jets landed themselves quite a catch. But it'd be nice if Bowles were entering his first offseason with his best new toy in the playpen.
Muhammad Wilkerson is skipping voluntary workouts. The safe assumption is that Wilkerson wants a new deal, something overmatched/former general manager John Idzik should've taken care of last offseason. Wilkerson, not Darrelle Revis, is the best player on the Jets -- and should be compensated accordingly.
Bowles understands the business of football. And I don't blame Wilkerson for not attending something voluntary. It's his right and he's making a purposeful statement. He deserves to get paid. It's early in the process, but that's a rather large (literally and figuratively) player to have absent from your first team workouts as an NFL head coach.
Jack Del Rio's initial challenge: Tuning out all the noise.
Quarterback issues and franchise drama helped doom Del Rio after a relatively successful start in Jacksonville.
The Raiders should be improved this year. Del Rio can enjoy some success in Year 1. Maintaining focus in the locker room and learning from past mistakes is paramount.
San Francisco 49ers
Jim Tomsula's initial challenge: Making fans/players/media forget about Jim Harbaugh.
Frankly, I don't know how he accomplishes this.
I didn't like the hire at all, as I wrote back in January. Tomsula's best trait was that he was there. Location is everything in real estate, but not so much in a coaching search. The Niners let one of the best coaches in football leave town because he had a strong personality and clashed with Jed York and Trent Baalke. It's unfathomable.
And with an offseason full of retirements and free-agent defections, there's very little reason for hope in San Francisco, which is sad for a fan base that realistically thought about the Super Bowl every year Harbaugh was on the job.
No coach has bigger shoes to fill than Tomsula. Thus, no coach faces a more crucial offseason.