|Former Chargers' defensive coordinator Ron Rivera takes over the helm in Carolina.
Ron Rivera takes over in Carolina, but he’s a defensive guy and he’s already indicated his focus will be on that side of the ball. To head up the offense, the former Chargers defensive coordinator brought with him Rob Chudzinski, who last season was San Diego’s tight ends and assistant head coach.
You could argue that it doesn’t take much coaching to get productivity out of a talent like Antonio Gates, but only four of Chudzinski’s 17 seasons in coaching were spent overseeing the Chargers’ tight end. He’s perhaps best known for coordinating a 2007 Browns’ offense that sent Derrick Anderson to the Pro Bowl and produced a 1,000-yard rusher (Jamal Lewis) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow). Chudzinski also spent 10 years at the University of Miami, where he was OC for the 2001 national championship team and a 2002 squad that set school records for points, total yards, and rushing touchdowns.
A former tight end at “The U”, Chudzinski is known for developing talent at the position: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Winslow in college, Winslow and Gates in the NFL. He’ll get another crack with Shockey in Carolina, making the volatile, oft-injured--yet extremely talented--tight end an intriguing sleeper fantasy candidate.
Chudzinski’s greatest task as he overhauls an offense that finished dead last in the NFL in scoring and set franchise lows across the board, is developing first-round pick Cam Newton. The Heisman-winning quarterback is clearly athletic, but he’ll need to adapt his skills to the NFL game—and soon, as Jimmy Clausen isn’t much of a placeholder at the position. Chudzinski’s experience with tight ends—often a friend to quarterbacks who are unfamiliar with reading pro defenses—will help; so will Carolina’s decision to bring in Mike Shula as the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Shula has spent the past four seasons coaching David Garrard in Jacksonville, and the skill sets of Garrard and Newton are not dissimilar: both have strong arms and a proclivity to run the ball when coverage takes away their first option or two. Shula’s work with Garrard was successful, netting him a Pro Bowl spot in 2009, and that bodes well for Newton’s future in Carolina.
Ultimately, Chudzinski’s offense is expected to be less ground-oriented than the run-heavy attack favored by Rivera’s predecessor, John Fox, and more similar to that of Chud’s mentor, Norv Turner. “I've always been involved with an attacking style of offense,” Chudzinski said this offseason, so look for Newton to use his big arm to take plenty of shots down the field. He’ll also work the tight end underneath, and the Panthers will still feature a healthy dose of the run—though perhaps not enough to produce multiple fantasy helpers in the backfield as they have in the recent past.
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