Since none of the seven coaching vacancies was caused by retirement or someone being traded ala Gruden or someone taking a promotion to a better gig (you don’t see that much anymore), every new head coach is going to be trying to bring a lost team back to prominence. I ranked the situations for each of the new head coaches (with three new old head coaches).
1. Colts camp with Chuck Pagano. I would like the freedom of being at the bottom. A handful of Colts fans may not have accepted that Manning is gone yet, but most are going to embrace the youthful swagger of this camp at Anderson University. With Pagano, he won’t need to worry about stepping on egg shells (I think the players and management welcome – at least initially – a more vocal guy after their last two coaches), and he can just be himself without worrying about expectations. He’s also paired with some very nice offensive talent in QB Andrew Luck, WR Reggie Wayne, a healthy WR Donnie Avery, and the two mega-receiving tight ends they selected in April (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen). They need to spend camp listening to Andrew Luck and what he likes, and build the offense around that.
2. Bucs camp for Greg Schiano. Continuing with that logic, if Schiano can just get the Bucs to tackle and play hard it would be a step up from what happened with Raheem Morris. The bye week hangover from London set the Bucs on a historic run. They dropped all of their last nine games, allowed 27 or more in 8 of them, and had 4 or more giveaways in 5 of them. They need to figure out how they are going to use their running backs in camp.
3. Dolphins camp for Joe Philbin. It’s a good roster. However, Joe’s in a tough division. They need to decide on a QB (no hurry there, in my opinion) and find ways to disrupt opposing offenses more (a mere 16 INT and 3 fumble recoveries last season).
4. Raiders camp for Dennis Allen. The real drop-off is from 4 to 5 on this list. Raiders camp is just behind the Bucs and Dolphins because – while I like the young talent on the Raiders defense even more than that of the Bucs – the Bucs’ offense has more diversity with some nasty guys at the skill positions (and the Dolphins have a far superior D). The top 4 for the Raiders is nicer than that of the Bucs, as I am high on Darrius Heyward-Bey AND Denarius Moore, and Carson Palmer has all that experience. If it just came to which job or challenge you would most want, the Raiders would be #1 as you could bring a storied franchise back to majesty. They land at #4 as Allen will struggle to keep up in an AFC West with rosters that got more sizzle with players like Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Ronnie Hillman, Shaun Phillips, Demaryius Thomas, Ryan Mathews, and Melvin Ingram. Outside of McFadden, the wideouts and Taiwan Jones, I don’t see a lot of elite playmaking potential.
5. Jaguars camp for Mike Mularkey. Jacksonville has one playoff win in the last 12 seasons. The expectations are low. If you were to rank all the offensive and defensive units blended together, the Jacksonville defense would be the best of these (7 of their first 11 opponents were kept to 20 points or less before injuries derailed them a bit), edging out the underrated St. Louis one. This team has so much to figure out on offense that I put them down at #5. They need to put together an NFL offense this training camp.
6. Chiefs camp for Romeo Crennel. At the start of the off-season, it looked like the Chargers were sure to lose Vincent Jackson (that happened), and might lose Eric Weddle (a year after losing Darren Sproles). John Elway expressed that the Broncos were going forward with 47.3% completions QB Tim Tebow. Things were looking great. But, the Chargers resigned Eric Weddle and added a lot of talent in free agency and the draft, and it wasn’t deep into the off-season before Peyton Manning joined the Broncos. Crennel has the advantage of having been with the Chiefs defense since 2010 and with Scott Pioli for forever, but this is going to be tough sledding. Their best bet at training camp is to see if a quarterback more mobile than Matt Cassel can step up or if Cassel will begin making more deep strikes. They gotta find their offensive identity in training camp.
7. Rams camp for Jeff Fisher. I don’t think Jeff is going to have a smooth first year. He has no defensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer is his offensive coordinator, and all the other teams in the West have more playmakers on both sides of the ball (St. Louis has Chris Long and Brian Quick?). Fisher won’t be on the hot seat until at least year two, but it’s worth noting he had zero postseason wins in his last six seasons in Tennessee. For their camp, it’s crucial that they work on getting consistency from the offensive and defensive lines, because they have a very good group of corners and linebackers, with safeties that they can survive with.
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