We have spent a good amount of time this spring talking about the NFL Draft picks and their potential. Other topics included second-year players and what they may or may not do, rosters we like, team expectations and even the NFL schedule.
As June looms, it’s time to focus on the coaches. Not just head coaches but the league’s offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. There are several interesting storylines within the coaching rooms. Those may include a new coach taking over for an established person who’s had success, a coach taking over a group that hasn’t had success or brand new management with a different way of doing things.
10 Coaches With Interesting Storylines
Bobby Slowik, Offensive Coordinator, Houston Texans
Bobby Slowik will run the show with the Houston Texans after being the passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. It will be interesting to compare what he did in San Francisco to what he’s expected to do in Houston.
Look at the shifts at quarterback he dealt with last year. The 49ers started with Trey Lance, who was unproven and got injured in Week 2. Then, they went to a proven veteran, Jimmy Garoppolo, until he was injured before finishing the season with a rookie, who was the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft — Brock Purdy. Slowik had to figure all that out last year, but he had plenty of weapons around him in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey.
Slowik came from San Francisco where there was a wealth of assets around him and different types of quarterbacks. Now, he goes to Houston where he gets handed rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and an unproven group of playmakers.
His task is to take a Texans team that was not good on offense and improve it with Stroud. These are big changes. Kyle Shanahan’s not there, and the playmakers he had at tight end, receiver and running back are also not there.
I love the contrast in his job from one year to the next. That’s what draws me to watch what he does in Houston. — Burmeister
Sean Payton, Head Coach, Denver Broncos
We’re all fascinated this is the job Sean Payton came back for. We’re all fascinated about how Payton possibly gets to recreate New Orleans in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains in Denver.
It’s also fascinating to ponder Payton getting with Russell Wilson for what you would think would be a match made in heaven. However, Wilson is coming off his worst season as a pro, and he didn’t come close to meeting the expectations around him.
This is bigger than Payton and Russ; it’s Payton taking over a team that had high expectations last year, didn’t meet them — didn’t come close to them — and now has a confidence debt. Payton walks in with a Super Bowl ring and his winning pedigree, and he wins the room pretty quickly. Now, he has to build the room and unlock the confidence to turn them into winners again.
How will he do it? How did he do it in New Orleans? The Saints had a huge, strong offensive line, so Payton has to rebuild that. Signing guard Ben Powers and tackle Mike McGlinchey in free agency is a solid start. Who will be their “Joker back?” It was Reggie Bush when he started in New Orleans. Former Broncos coach Vance Joseph is back in town as the defensive coordinator so that part is covered.
Payton has to focus on the offense, get Wilson back to the top level and get Denver back playing with confidence on that side of the ball because the defense has been pretty good during the past few years. The Broncos were eighth in yards allowed in 2022.
This team is eager to embrace what Payton brings. As soon as he was named head coach, everyone in that locker room went, “OK. We can go back to being a professional team again. We can go back and be winners.” — Davis
Dennis Allen, Head Coach, New Orleans Saints
The NFC South has had MVP-caliber quarterbacks leading teams to division titles, conference championships and even getting to the Super Bowl. That includes Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. Now, the division is in transition because those quarterbacks are gone.
The NFC South is ripe to be won by a defense taking the lead. Which team is most likely to do that? The New Orleans Saints and Dennis Allen. He’s not the defensive coordinator anymore, but he made his name on defense at the end of Payton’s career as Saints coach. And there is a lot to like with what Allen has coming back.
The Saints were the only team in the division that was top 10 scoring defense and total defense. Most of that core is coming back, including their leading tacklers (Demario Davis, 109; Pete Werner, 80; Cameron Jordan, 66).
They used their two picks in the top 40 on big-body playmaking guys in the front seven: DT Bryan Bresee from Clemson in the first round and edge Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame’s all-time sack leader, in the second. Those two will inject some youth into the Saints’ defense.
One of these defenses will take its team to win the division, and I’m watching Allen and the Saints closely. — Burmeister
Sean Desai, Defensive Coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles
Sean Desai’s challenge is how can he present what he wants to do on defense without walking in and just going, “Well, what worked last year works exactly the same.” The flip side is whatever changes he makes, the team might say, “Hold on a second. What we did last year worked really well, so why are you coming in here changing things?”
How does he make subtle changes and put his own stamp on it without being super heavy-handed? Because when a team has had success, and a new coach walks in, they look at that coach like, “Hey, you have to prove it to us. Last year, we pretty much set a (sacks) record.”
If the Philadelphia Eagles only have 50-55 sacks in 2023, that’s a darn good year, right? It’s going to be like a failure to them. They were over 70 last year. So how does Desai inject himself into a situation with veteran players?
Remember, James Bradberry and Darius Slay came back at the cornerback spots. The Eagles thought both of them would be gone. Fletcher Cox is back. Brandon Graham is back. Jordan Davis has to mature at defensive tackle for them. Second-year player Nakobe Dean is going to be starting in the middle.
Whatever Desai puts in there, he has to show it works for that team to grasp it. It will be fascinating to watch as they try and make another Super Bowl run.
Desai got some help in the draft: Jalen Carter at No. 9 and Nolan Smith at No. 32, so he gets a new defense tackle and another edge rusher. He has no excuses for not having a great defense again this year. — Davis
Ken Dorsey, Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Ken Dorsey is heading into his second season, and he inherited a group from Brian Daboll that was almost the best in the league. They had two seasons in a row of averaging just fewer than 30 points per game, the third-best in the NFL. Daboll then went to coach the Giants last season.
The Bills promoted Dorsey, and he kept them right where they were: third in the NFL in scoring at 28.4 points per game. That’s good, but they need to be better. This is a really, really difficult task. Not only the type of challenge but how difficult it is draws me to it.
Can he make them a level better? Look at the challenge of what they’re trying to do there. Their season will be judged a success or failure based on: Do they catch Cincinnati and Kansas City? That’s it. Not can they win most of their games? Not can they go a couple of levels deep in the playoffs? Can they beat the Bengals and the Chiefs? That’s why this challenge is so difficult. And can the Bills hold off the Dolphins, Chargers and Jaguars?
It will be hard for him to make this group even better while catching the teams in front of the Bills and holding off the teams that are hard-charging.
There are a couple of specifics that can help Dorsey take a really good group and make it better.
Compare the difference in the production of their top receiver, Stefon Diggs, with their second-best pass catcher. Diggs had more than twice as many catches as the next best. The discrepancy wasn’t that big in Kansas City between Travis Kelce and No. 2, and it wasn’t that big between Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in Cincinnati.
Dorsey needs to help Josh Allen develop that. Maybe it’ll be Dalton Kincaid, who they used a first-round pick on. Maybe that combination of Kincaid and Dawson Knox at tight end can walk their production together right up to Diggs and make that less of a concern.
The second thing Dorsey must accomplish is not having Allen as the team’s second-leading rusher. Maybe James Cook can lead the way. I would rather see Damien Harris close to him or the next closest to him rather than Allen. I want to see Allen create. The design runs are great. Let’s see it five times a game and not 10 times again.
Dorsey’s task is taking an A-level group and seeing how close he can get it to an A-plus. — Burmeister
Steve Wilks, Defensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Steve Wilks takes over for DeMeco Ryans, who moved on to become Houston’s head coach after a really successful run in San Francisco.
The goal for the Bills’ offense is to go from an A to an A+ with Dorsey. Wilks also has the same task ahead of him with the 49ers’ defense. A lot of the pieces are still in place, but I’m looking at it a little bit differently.
Wilks was a head coach with the Arizona Cardinals but only got one season. He was the interim head coach for Carolina last year, and they played well down the stretch. There was a lot of momentum for Wilks to keep the job.
This is an opportunity for Wilks. He’s not going to look at it that way because he’s doing it to win games for San Francisco and help them get to a Super Bowl. Wilks deserves a second chance to be a head coach in this league. This could cement it for him. Take this great defense, continue to have it be great and make it even better in certain situations.
Get back to another Super Bowl. And guess what? He will become a hot ticket again and deservedly so.
He will get interviews and an opportunity to be a head coach again because there’s no underscoring what he did or underselling what he did the last half of the year in Carolina; they were really floundering. Somehow, he pulled that team together and galvanized it. They got better on offense, made a few moves with the coaching staff he felt were necessary and put his stamp on the team. — Davis
Matt Eberflus, Head Coach, Chicago Bears
When you think about the Chicago Bears recently — or even way back when they were good and had teams playing in January — you think about the Bears’ defense.
It’s not only the city’s identity; it’s the identity of Matt Eberflus. For the last 10 years before he came into Chicago, he was either a part of — or in charge of — good defenses in Dallas and Indianapolis. That’s why he got the Bears’ head coaching job.
Consider what the Bears did last year. They were dead last in the NFL in points allowed, the most important stat in the NFL. So in the offseason, they spent a lot of money right away in free agency on making the linebacker group better, signing Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.
They took an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft, but the next three picks went to defense. Seven of their 10 selections were spent on defense. They know where the improvements had to be made.
Do you know who finished last in the NFL two years ago in scoring defense? It was the New York Jets. Think about what the Jets did on defense last year. They were third in the AFC and fourth-best overall in scoring defense. That’s a drastic jump.
Consider the Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of the season. Two years ago, the Jaguars had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence hadn’t found his footing yet. There were more negatives than positives at that point.
That brings us to the Bears, who had the NFL’s worst defense in 2022. They had a young quarterback who showed potential, but they weren’t winning games yet. It’s not unprecedented that a team can go from having a poor defense and a struggling young quarterback into the playoffs. The Jaguars did it last year.
Eberflus and the Bears can do it this year if they take a giant step up on defense and go from poor to the middle of the pack. — Burmeister
Arthur Smith, Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons
If the NFC South does go to a team with the best defense, that makes a lot of sense. The division has a lot of young quarterbacks. So what will teams want to do on offense? Run the football and take pressure off of them.
The Carolina Panthers drafted Bryce Young No. 1 overall and signed Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders. New Orleans has Alvin Kamara, who can do it all for new quarterback Derek Carr. In Tampa Bay, it will either be Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask. They have an emerging second-year back in Rachaad White. Defense and a good running game are the ingredients.
What did the Atlanta Falcons do? They drafted Bijan Robinson, the top running back — by far — on everyone’s draft board. There were other good ones, but Robinson was the best. Now, the Falcons can run everything through him if Arthur Smith wants to. Robinson also is excellent at catching the ball out of the backfield. He can do it all.
Everyone likes to talk about how running backs don’t last, so why invest a high pick in one? The future is now, put the ball in his chest and throw it to him out of the backfield. He gives the Falcons an identity. He’ll allow young quarterback Desmond Ridder to grow at a faster pace.
If you don’t think they have their hopes pinned on Robinson, did you see which number they gave him? No. 7. In Atlanta, that’s Michael Vick’s number. The star wears No. 7 there.
Smith made his bones in Tennessee as an offensive coordinator by putting the ball in the chest of Derrick Henry and having great success. – Davis
Sean McVay, Head Coach, Los Angeles Rams
Of all the interesting coaching storylines this offseason, Sean McVay’s had to have a home somewhere. This has everything to do with the Los Angeles Rams‘ past two seasons. They ended the 2021 season as Super Bowl champions. They ended last season as the most disappointing, frustrating and angst-filled team in the NFL. There isn’t a close second.
They were 5-12, the worst record ever by a defending Super Bowl champion. There was a feeling when you watched them at the end of the season that five wins seemed high. They looked like a team that won two or three games.
Then McVay, who is 37, had to take some time to consider if he wanted to come back or retire from coaching. The way those two seasons fit together in a puzzle, if it doesn’t create a spectacle for what the third season will hold, it certainly creates interest.
It’s interesting because of the extremes of emotion it created for the players, coaches and fans. It’s become a human interest story. How this team responds will be a draw from that standpoint.
How will they respond in the passing game? The season they won the Super Bowl their passing game and the connection between McVay and Matthew Stafford was efficient and brazen in how it was efficient. It wasn’t careless, but it wasn’t afraid to take chances, either.
I loved it, but it went away last season for a lot of reasons. Stafford wasn’t healthy, McVay wasn’t himself and the offensive line was banged up. Can they find their way back to the way that passing game was at the end of the 2021 season? – Burmeister
Bill O’Brien, Offensive Coordinator, New England Patriots
Bill O’Brien is the new offensive coordinator, or if you prefer, the offensive coordinator re-do of the New England Patriots.
We all know what happened last season with the experiment of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge coordinating the offense. Mac Jones, who had such a terrific rookie year, was kind of a mess, and then he had some injuries. Bailey Zappe, their fourth-round pick, became the people’s choice for a while, but the Patriots never could get things going on offense.
O’Brien has run great offenses everywhere he’s coached. It’s not just that he had Tom Brady the last time he was in New England. He knows what he’s doing, and he will give the players on offense a jolt of confidence by having someone in charge who has put the skins on the wall.
There is no way Zappe should beat out Jones if all things are equal. O’Brien gives the quarterback the guy he needs to have every day to talk to, to get himself going, to answer all of those questions and allow him to go out and play free.
The Patriots need to continue to add playmakers because they don’t scare people with their perimeter players. Can rookie receiver Kayshon Boutte regain the promise he showed earlier in his career at LSU? He could be a surprise pick from the sixth round who could give the Patriots some juice downfield.
As soon as O’Brien walked back into that building, things changed for the better for that offense. I’m looking forward to watching how it goes down in New England because they have to chase down Buffalo, Miami and the Jets with Aaron Rodgers. The AFC East is brutal. – Davis
Charles Davis is an NFL analyst for CBS and NFL Network. He joined the sports media world after playing safety at the University of Tennessee.
Paul Burmeister, a former starting quarterback at Iowa, is a studio host with NBC Sports and the radio voice of Notre Dame Football. For a decade, he worked as a studio host at NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulWBurmeister