Frankly Football: Players, coaches, assistants in the spotlight in 2008
Beginning Sunday we will have live, professional football games on TV for the next 25 straight weekends. How good does that sound?
Before the games kick off, I thought it might be fun to analyze three head coaches, three assistant coaches and three players who will be counted on to make a big impact on their respective teams.
Gary Kubiak, Houston: The Texans have been flying under the radar all offseason after an impressive 8-8 record last year. They would have been a lock playoff team in 2007 if they were in the NFC, but the tough AFC South is a huge challenge.
Kubiak has done a wonderful job of rebuilding that team and can really make a statement as a head coach if he can find a way to win more than two road games this season. He's extremely smart, can manage a game and has been secure enough to surround himself with some very good assistant coaches. And Kubiak's greatest strength as an offensive coach will be demonstrated in his play-calling this year.
Getting Matt Schaub to play in all 16 games will enable Kubiak the freedom to make excellent calls at critical times in games. Consistency from the quarterback position allows the play-caller this freedom. This is a defining year for Kubiak and I have a very sneaky suspicion he will rise to the challenge.
Brad Childress, Minnesota: Two years ago, there were 10 NFL head coaching jobs open and Childress was in consideration for every one. He settled on the Vikings and vowed to restore the franchise to the winning ways of the Bud Grant era. So far, the Vikings have struggled on passing offense and scoring. Childress has failed to get the Vikings quarterback ratings above 75.0, and the passing game has not shown any signs of being explosive.
But this year is his big chance to put his real mark on the team and make a statement. His expertise is based in offensive football, and though he no longer calls the plays, he can set the direction and use his talents to get this passing game to a top 10 level. If he can accomplish that goal and make his mark, regardless of whom his QB is, with the roster in Minnesota, this team can go very far in the playoffs.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati: Entering his sixth year at the helm, Lewis is four games over .500 and this year may test his talents of being a head coach. Lewis is working with his third defensive coordinator and has to find a way to improve that unit. He also has to find a way to get the offense back to the levels it achieved during the 2006 season.
Lewis has clearly allowed his assistant coaches to coach without his involvement. But now is the time to step in and do the things he wants to do. At the end of this season his success will be determined on how much he devotes his time into making his teams do the critical elements pertaining to winning. Being a leader is doing the right things all the time. Lewis needs to be the leader this year.
Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator, Jacksonville: I cannot think of coach walking into a better situation than Williams. He gains a very talented defense that ran a similar scheme to the one he ran in Washington. In Jacksonville, he can add a little spice and make all the difference in the world. Williams' ability to scheme and prepare allowed the Redskins defense to play well last year. Now with the Jaguars, he has more talent and speed. Added to his good fortune was the Jaguars spending the first two picks in the draft on defensive ends as they try and find a way to rush the passer from the outside. Williams will prove to be the best free agent signing of the offseason for the Jaguars.
Mike Heimerdinger, offensive coordinator, Tennessee: In his second stint at Tennessee, he will be asked to do the same thing he did in his prior stay -- take a natural athlete and harness his skills into becoming a legitimate NFL quarterback. As he showed with Steve McNair, "Dinger" has the skills for the task at hand. He understands the things Vince Young does very well at quarterback and will allow him to continue doing those things. Heimerdinger will craft the offense around Young and not force him into the offense. Heimerdinger has not gotten a chance to interview for many head coaching positions in the past few years, but he has a chance to make the difference in Tennessee. If he gets Young to improve his talents in the passing game, he will be a very popular head coaching candidate come January.
Turk Schonert, offensive coordinator, Buffalo: The timing is perfect now for Schonert. He has exceptional skill players on the Buffalo offense, he has a formidable offensive line and he has a very bright young quarterback. With talent that creates mismatches on offense Schonert can use his skills as an innovative coach and attack teams with these weapons. If he does, many in the NFL will stand up and take notice. Like an artist with the right tools for his craft, Schonert has a platform to make an incredible portrait.