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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Most important assistant coaches in AFC West

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Inspired by a similar post by NFC West blogger Mike Sando, we are going to look at the 10 most important assistant coaching positions in the AFC West early in the offseason, heading into the 2009 season:

Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers: Rivera's promotion to defensive coordinator from inside linebackers coach last season sparked the Chargers. Many players attributed Rivera's promotion, after the firing of Ted Cottrell, to the team's turnaround and playoff run. With Rivera in charge of the San Diego defense all season, the Chargers have a chance to avoid an early-season stumble that affected them the past two seasons. If San Diego's defense is in high gear all season, it will be difficult to beat in the division.

Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are San Diego's closest competition at this point. But the only way Denver will challenge for the division is if its defense improves dramatically. Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach, is in charge of that task. The Broncos want to run a 3-4 defense, but they will have to find the personnel to do so. If Nolan can change this defense around, Denver has a chance.

Rick Dennison, run offense coordinator; Bobby Turner, running backs coach, Denver Broncos: Dennison and Turner are a package deal. They perfected former Denver coach Mike Shanahan's vaunted run offense. It was critical that new Denver coach Josh McDaniels keep Dennison and Turner. Now, Denver doesn't have to change its run offense and its usual success on the ground should continue.

Ted Tollner, offensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The longtime college and NFL veteran coach needs to establish the running game better than the Raiders did last season. The Raiders have excellent running backs. The run game has to be more of a focus under Tollner.

Unnamed, defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs haven't announced who will be the defensive coordinator under new coach Todd Haley, but this unit needs a new direction. It has to be much more aggressive. Kansas City set a record for the fewest sacks in NFL history with 10 in 2008. If the Chiefs are going to improve, the Chiefs need a quick turnaround on defense.

Paul Hackett, quarterbacks coach, Oakland Raiders: Hackett needs to develop quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He is entering his second season a starter and has been slow to develop. Hackett is a respected quarterback coach. Russell needs to make strides now and it is up to Hackett to make it happen.

Unnamed, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: Haley may call the plays, but the Chiefs need a strong offensive coordinator. The Chiefs aren't bad on offense, but it needs to score a lot of points to make up for a porous defense.

Rob Chudzinski: assistant head coach/tight ends coach, San Diego Chargers: The former Cleveland offensive coordinator returns to San Diego where he will be coach Norv Turner's right-hand man. Chudzinski will be an in-game sounding board for Turner and should be very valuable.

John Marshall, defensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders' defense has some talent, but it also gave up a lot of points and was blown out often in 2008. Marshall, an NFL veteran, needs to bring balance and consistency to this group if Oakland is going to improve.

Unnamed, quarterbacks coach, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will likely have a good quarterback and whoever is Haley's quarterbacks coach will have a task of bringing the youngster along quickly.