NFC North: Jim Washburn

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He tried something different for a season, thinking even though he had been a defensive end for years, the transition to playing outside linebacker might work.

Tapp
After a one-year stint with Washington, Darryl Tapp decided he needed to return to some familiarity, not with a team, but with a situation. In understanding why Tapp signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, the answer is two-fold.

Going back to defensive end in a 4-3 and the coach he would play for, Jim Washburn.

“Our relationship actually started at the Senior Bowl,” Tapp said during a teleconference Friday. “Coach Washburn was with the Titans and his staff was the North, and he got his hands on me and that was my first introduction to the NFL, the way he coached me up and the way he brought me with the speed and the way they do things in the NFL.

“Then, in Philadelphia, he had me again and I’ve been trying to get with that guy for the last five years at that time, and it just worked out well in Philadelphia.”

Tapp played two seasons for Washburn, 2011 and 2012 with the Eagles, before the two were separated again. But being a free agent for the second time in his career -- the first time was last season, when he took a chance on making a position switch -- Tapp knew he wanted to play for the guy he felt could really help him.

That was Washburn, so Detroit became a viable option.

Whether he is the same player or not, though, is debatable. His production has dipped every year since 2008, when he had 54 tackles and 5.5 sacks. After a 2009 season with 49 tackles for Seattle, he was traded to Philadelphia.

He hasn’t played 16 games in a season or made more than 30 tackles in a season since. Tapp, though, doesn’t believe he has diminished as a player. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out positively in every season he played except for last season at outside linebacker and, coincidentally, the 2008 season, which was his best statistical year.

“Stat line don’t always tell the story,” Tapp said. “Let’s get that first and foremost. I’m the same player that I was coming out of the draft, just a few years older and a few years wiser.”

Whether he’s able to contribute will be determined.

If you’re looking for more on Tapp, here’s what our Washington reporter, John Keim, told me about him.
Jim Caldwell is the new Detroit Lions coach, and though there has been a lot of consternation about the hire, the Lions will succeed or fail based upon his decisions and his ability to develop players, notably quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Caldwell will meet with the media for the first time Wednesday, and based on what I’ve heard and been told about his interview on Jan. 3, he has a detailed plan for how he is going to fix both the Lions and Stafford.

Those are his two most important tasks as Detroit’s head coach. If he is unable to do that, he’ll join the line of Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Rod Marinelli and Jim Schwartz as coaches who couldn’t quite reach the level the team wanted.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDeveloping Matthew Stafford is one of the most important tasks facing new Lions coach Jim Caldwell.
If he can succeed, he’ll have a chance to do something only one coach in the Super Bowl era, Wayne Fontes, has even come close to doing with the Lions: turn the team into a consistent winner.

Here’s a look at five things Caldwell will have to do early in his tenure with the Lions.

1. Hire a competent staff: He could have some names as early as his introductory news conference, but Teryl Austin is a name I’ve been told multiple times as a likely defensive coordinator. Bill Lazor was a name for offensive coordinator, but h has been hired by Miami. If Caldwell doesn’t put together a strong staff, that will be an issue early on. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel also could end up on Caldwell’s staff.

2. Make smart decisions about free agents with GM Martin Mayhew: Dominic Raiola and Brandon Pettigrew are two of the bigger free agents for the Lions. Raiola is a strong presence in the locker room, and it might be smart to bring him back for continuity on an offensive line that was one of the best in the league last season. Pettigrew could be interesting. He is an important cog, as was Dallas Clark, Caldwell’s tight end in Indianapolis and with the Ravens this season. Of course, Clark is also a free agent, so Caldwell might push to get him to Detroit.

3. Matthew Stafford: Part of the reason Caldwell was hired was to work with Stafford, with whom the coach met on his interview. Stafford, according to receiver Kris Durham, seemed to like Caldwell. That relationship will be critical to any success Caldwell has in Detroit. He believes he has a plan to fix Stafford -- both Joe Flacco and Peyton Manning are high on Caldwell's ability to help quarterbacks -- and the coach will have to be able to implement that plan as soon as possible.

4. Keep at least two current assistants: This goes with the first point. John Bonamego did a really good job with special teams almost all season, including finding strong gunners in Don Carey and Jeremy Ross. Jeremiah Washburn turned an offensive line with two rookies on the right side into one of the top groups in the NFL, and players seemed to really like him. Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek did a good job with the defensive line, and Matt Burke was strong with the linebackers. Consider at least some of them to keep some continuity.

5. Get out in the community: This might sound silly, but Caldwell is not a popular hire with the Detroit fan base. By all accounts, he is a good, well-intentioned man, so by doing a lot of community outreach early on, he could turn some people who are currently not pleased about the hire. Of course, the best way to do that is to win games, but getting out in the community would be a strong start.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Detroit Lions' decision to hire respected veteran coach Jim Washburn, confirmed this week by coach Jim Schwartz, is a creative way to adjust their defensive coaching staff without firing anyone.

The Lions have replaced three offensive assistants, all of whose contracts had expired. They retained defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and his staff, but Washburn will take on an unspecified role that will include partnering with current defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

"The more eyes on those guys the better," Schwartz told reporters Wednesday, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "That can help with technique, that can help with scheme, it can help with the game plan, it can help with game day. There's a lot of positives there. He's very familiar with our scheme. He's had a lot of production."

Washburn, 63, has been an NFL defensive line coach for 14 seasons and coached Kocurek when both were with the Tennessee Titans. Washburn's role with the Lions is relatively unique on NFL coaching staffs, but in the end the Lions added a good coach without rocking the boat.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Schwartz said that receiver Titus Young's rant on Twitter earlier this week was "a pretty good example of a not-so-good idea." Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News has more.
  • Schwartz isn't worried about defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh's participation in a celebrity diving television show, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com. Schwartz: "Celebrity ice skating, that might be a little bit different. A lot of players did that celebrity dancing thing, even a big man like Warren Sapp. There's a high incidence of injury in all those things -- cheerleading, dancing -- a lot of foot injuries and stuff like that, but I don't think we have a lot to worry about with celebrity diving."
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines the Green Bay Packers' salary-cap situation.
  • It's not clear which of the Packers' 2012 running backs will return in 2013, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski, who played for new Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman when both were with the Oakland Raiders, thinks Trestman can earn the Bears' respect by improving quarterback Jay Cutler. More from ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has shown a knack for improving offensive linemen, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Offensive lineman prospects look good at the Senior Bowl, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune speaks with Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, a former Minnesota Vikings player and St. Paul native, about reaching the Super Bowl.

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