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The next generation: Defensive assistants on the rise

There are a number of defensive coaches who are poised to do the things coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did for the New York Giants last year.

It usually takes a combination of a creative mind, good communication skills, and the ability to sell what they want to do. And it never hurts if they are learning from a great coach. Spagnuolo learned his trade from Jim Johnson in Philadelphia; Eric Mangini was under the guidance of Bill Belichick; and the Monte Kiffin coaching tree has had Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Rod Marinelli and Herm Edwards.

Here are five coaches who are ready for the next jump in their careers:

1. Raheem Morris, defensive backs coach, Buccaneeers
Morris is known as a great communicator, the players love his style, and he really understands Tampa's defense. He will add some of his own wrinkles to Kiffin's defense in the coverage area, and I suspect he'll be even more effective when he gets out on his own. The former Hofstra defensive back is entering his seventh year in the NFL and could be the next Mike Tomlin.

2. Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Titans
Tennessee has always been known as a defensive team and Jeff Fisher has helped Schwartz develop quickly as an NFL coordinator. So many NFL assistants want to over-coach the players but Schwartz lets his smart players manage the game from the field. Kyle Vanden Bosch has the liberty of calling the line stunts as he sees fit; players love the flexibility. At 42, Schwartz already has 14 years of NFL experience.

3. Greg Blache, defensive coordinator, Redskins
Blache is in his first year with the Redskins and players have told me they love his style. He paid his dues with 14 years of college coaching and 21 years of NFL coaching. Teams in the NFC East are all wondering how he will use Jason Taylor and Andre Carter as he tweaks the team's former system.

4. Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator, Vikings
Frazier picked up in Minnesota where Mike Tomlin left off when he went to Pittsburgh. Frazier's defense stopped the run better than anyone in the NFL last year and now has Jared Allen to rush the QB. Frazier has the personnel to play it straight and not blitz but sometimes that is the most effective time to bring heat. Another big year from the Viking defense and his name will be on the short list for a head coaching spot.

5. Joe Barry, defensive coordinator, Lions
Another disciple of the Tampa Bay defense, Barry is now in Detroit trying to get it done with less talent. I've watched him coach and he brings a fire and intensity that can be contagious. He will be forced to be creative; as most coaches know, some of the best coaching is done in tough situations. Look for some interesting pressure schemes and variations on the Cover 2 package to remain competitive.

There are three other up-and-coming defensive coordinators worth watching this season: Chicago's Bob Babich, New England's Dean Pees, and Dallas' Brian Stewart.

Under Babich, the Bears look to return to an elite defense. Pees taps into the mind of Dom Capers and Belichick. The Patriots gave up just 17 points a game last season and recorded 47 sacks. Stewart is a relatively unknown coordinator working for Wade Phillips. Dallas understands how to play an attacking 3-4 package and if the Cowboys go deep into the playoffs, as expected, Stewart will make a name for himself.

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