Coaching changes in the NFL hardly affect just the offense and for those in IDP leagues, the new schemes and personnel should be reviewed to determine their impact. The NFL teams and new defensive coordinators for 2006:
Perry Fewell – Buffalo Bills
Fewell comes to the Bills after a very successful season coaching the Chicago Bears’ defensive backs. All fantasy footballers and NFL fans alike will recall the outstanding play of the Bear defensive backs last season. Before the Bears, He coached the secondary with St. Louis and Jacksonville. His coaching led to the emergence of several Pro Bowlers and outstanding interception totals. Buffalo has a very good secondary and it will be expected that they continue to perform well. Fewell has no defensive coordinator experience, but did coach the defensive line at Army from 1992 to 1994. He’ll handle the defensive play-calling in Buffalo’s 4-3 defense, and will bring the Cover 2 scheme in for the secondary. Fewell and new Bills head coach Dick Jauron worked together in Jacksonville, Jauron as coordinator and Fewell as secondary coach. IDP fantasy footballers can expect “more of the same” from the defensive backs Terrence McGee and Nate Clements. The switch to the Cover 2 scheme could increase the value of the weakside defenders (left corner and weakside linebacker). All in all, Fewell has been a very competent coach and should be a terrific coordinator who will get the most out of his players, especially the defensive backs. It should also be mentioned that the Bills focused their draft on the defensive side of the ball. "I think we made a statement that we want to play some solid defense," said Fewell. We’ll see.
Bob Sutton – New York Jets
With new HC Eric Mangini at the helm, the Jets will move from a 4-3 to the 3-4 that the Patriots have employed and excelled with. Shaun Ellis and ex-Steeler Kimo Van Olhoefen will be the defensive ends with Dewayne Robertson and Simone Pouha at the nose tackle. Bryan Thomas moves to the outside along with Victor Hobson. You can pencil them in as deep IDP sleepers, as this will mimic the shifty defense that the Patriots have used. The shifts will allow the front three to force running backs and tight ends to the outside, opening up tackling opportunities for the outside linebackers. Jonathan Vilma will continue to be a monster, but with four linebackers on the prowl, don’t expect his tackle totals to increase from last season. At this point, how Mangini and Sutton will work together with the new scheme is generally an unknown. It could prove to be very efficient, a la the Patriots. Or it could be a mess, wasting the talents of the likes of Vilma and defensive back Erik Coleman.
Jim Haslett – St. Louis
If there are any questions about the Rams’ commitment to improving both sides of the ball, they will be answered by the hiring of Haslett to coach the defense, and the bringing in of an offensive guru in Scott Linehan to head up the coaching staff. Haslett will bring much-needed fire to a defense that was downright putrid last season. Haslett will have some added firepower on the defense; namely linebacker Will Witherspoon, safety Corey Chavous, and defensive tackle LaRoi Glover. Haslett is no stranger to coaching the defensive side of the ball; he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC Championship game in 1997, a unit that led the league in run-stopping. Haslett improved the Saints’ defense almost immediately upon his arrival. His arrival in St. Louis, along with the aforementioned defensive players, should signal an improvement to the Rams’ ability to play solid defense. Witherspoon was a mainstay in the stout Carolina Panthers’ defense, and will anchor the front seven for the Rams. Glover will put pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks, alongside defensive end Leonard Little. Look for the Rams’ defense to improve dramatically this season. Fantasy footballers should value Witherspoon as a solid fantasy linebacker. Leonard Little will again be valuable on the defensive line, and look for Corey Chavous to have some value in the backfield, as he’s been a consistent tackler from the safety position for several years.
Dean Pees – New England
Despite the departure of defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, there shouldn’t be any major changes in scheming defensively. New coordinator Eric Pees, formerly a head coach at Kent State, has plenty of experience coaching the defensive side of the ball. Pees was formerly the linebackers coach at New England, and much of the Patriots’ defensive successes were brought to the forefront by their talented linebackers and effective schemes. Patriot fans and fantasy footballers alike should not expect much change in the defensive output from the Patriots this season. Bottom line, though, is that Bill Belichick still ultimately runs the show.
Gary Gibbs – New Orleans
Gibbs comes over to the Big Easy from Big D, where he coached the Cowboys’ linebackers for four seasons. Gibbs was the defensive coordinator at nearby LSU, under now Miami head coach Nick Saban. He also worked with ex-Cowboy HC Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma. Gibbs ran the 3-4 defense in Dallas, but at this point, the Saints’ roster doesn’t appear to be able to support this scheme. Ex-Cowboy linebacker Scott Fujita and linebacker Brian Simmons will certainly help the linebacking, but neither is a game-changer. The Saints’ defensive strength is in their defensive line, with defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant. Local Saint insiders claim there has been some grumbling about trading Grant, who had an ineffective 2005 season. The defensive backfield will also see some shifting. Safety Bryan Scott was brought over from the Falcons, but could be buried behind Jay Bellamy and second-year player Josh Bullocks. Bellamy had some injury issues last season, so Scott and Bullocks could man the safety spots, or Scott could move to corner if Bellamy returns to form. In either case, the defensive backfield may take some time to fully jell. Expect a bumpy road from the beginning in terms of this defense and how they progress with a new defensive coordinator and some new faces.
Donnie Henderson – Detroit
Donnie Henderson joins the revamped Detroit Lion coaching staff after coaching the New York Jets’ defense for two years. Henderson made immediate impacts to the Jets’ defense, and the Lions staff (and fans) hopes he can do the same in Detroit. Prior to working with the Jets, he was part of the Baltimore Raven defensive dynasty. Now with the Lions, Henderson, paired with defensive-minded HC Rod Marinelli, will bring a new an aggressive and disruptive scheme in. Question is, do the Lions have the defensive playmakers to run this with success? Well, Marinelli and Henderson have coached together before, and made things work. According to some local Lion gurus, current Lion stalwart Dre Bly may be too much of a “freelancer” on defense, thereby he may not have the discipline to run the Cover 2 which Henderson and Marinelli will employ. The defensive linemen that the Lions currently have on the roster could easily flourish in this system. Shaun Rogers, James Hall and Kalimba Edwards will man the ends, and have enough speed to disrupt the passing game. If 2nd year defensive tackle Shaun Cody continues to improve, he may have a significant impact in the middle of the line. The linebackers seem to fit the mold. The addition of LB Ernie Sims from Florida State will help, too. He’s slated to move right in and start on the weak side. I seem to recall another weakside linebacker from FSU that has had a pretty solid career in this scheme. As noted earlier, Lion mainstay Dre Bly may be the odd man out here. Look for left cornerback Fernando Bryant to flourish given his new role in the Cover 2. The safeties may be on the slow side, hence the drafting of free safeties Daniel Bullocks. If they can iron out the deficiencies in the secondary, this scheme could certainly work, both in improving their defense and making some IDPs worthy of drafting.
Richard Smith – Houston
The big defensive news in Houston really isn’t the addition of defensive coordinator Richard Smith, but the drafting of defensive end Mario Williams. Williams will make an immediate impact to the otherwise anemic defense of last season. Williams will step right in and start at defensive end for Smith, employing the 4-3 defense. DeMeco Ryans was drafted to add even more depth to the linebacking corps. The linebacker starters will most likely be the veteran Sam Cowart manning the middle, Morlon Greenwood on the weak side and either Kailee Wong (coming off injury) or Shantee Orr starts on the strong side. The Texans will have Ryans, DaShon Polk, and Wali Rainer as backups. Smith is known for getting his guys to play an attacking style of defense, so expect Greenwood to again be a solid linebacking option, fantasy-wise. Sam Cowart may be getting up there in age, but will have value in the middle. Should he falter, last year’s defensive sleeper, DaShon Polk, could certainly step up yet again. That is, if he’s still on the Texan roster come the start of the season. In conclusion, the Texans added a solid defensive coordinator with experience (Miami as coordinator, Detroit and San Francisco as linebacker coach and with head coach Kubiak in Denver) that will need the explosiveness of DE Mario Williams to be successful.
Bob Sanders – Green Bay
Bob Sanders steps up to the defensive coordinator position a season after coaching the defensive ends for the Packers last season. Sanders was the linebackers coach under ex-Packer defensive coordinator Jim Bates in Miami from 2001-2004. While he does not have any defensive coordinator coaching experience, he is held in strong regard in the organization. He’ll have to deal with some rough road in the beginning as a first-year coordinator, but as a whole, the defense should perform better than it did last season. Why? Well one Packer insider claims that the Packer defensive starters, in their second year in this defensive scheme, will start to make serious strides as unit. The addition of linebacker A.J. Hawk will also be a positive step in the progress this defense will need to make this season. Hawk is already slated to start on the weak side, with Nick Barnett again roaming the middle, and Ben Taylor on the strong side. They also drafted linebacker Abdul Hodge for some depth in the middle, and still have some capable backups both on the weak and strong sides. The secondary will remain mainly intact from last season, but added hard-hitting Marquand Manuel from Seattle. He will take over for Mark Roman, who was burnt like a Roman candle on more than one occasion last season. Overall, the defense should improve from last season, but given the new faces, including Sanders, it may take awhile. IDP-wise, Hawk and Barnett will have tremendous value, and Manuel should perform admirably, as he did for the Seahawks.
Mike Tomlin – Minnesota
The Vikings landed quite possibly the hottest rising stars from a defensive coaching standpoint this offseason. Tomlin’s yet another Tony Dungy disciple who will bring the Cover 2 scheme with him. He’s an intense competitor who spent five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their defensive backs coach. While Tomlin does not have any head coaching or defensive coordinator experience, he is primed for this position. He will have some very young linebackers to work with, but E.J. Henderson is thought to be able to handle the middle spot. Chad Greenway, a linebacker from Iowa, will step right in and will man the weak side. Napoleon Harris or San Diego castoff Ben Leber will run the strong side. The very competent secondary will certainly be able to run the Cover 2. Antoine Winfield is an aggressive corner who will flourish in this system. Bump him up slightly in your rankings. Tomlin brings fire and a great resume to the Vikings, and it would be a shock if they didn’t continue to build on last season’s somewhat surprising defensive improvements.