NFC North: Karl Dunbar
We noted last month that all four NFC North teams faced decisions on their quarterback depth this offseason. The Detroit Lions, specifically, had to decide whether to bring back backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton -- both of whom are pending free agents -- or if they would use the positions to help draw down their bloated salary-cap structure.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Hill is likely to return, one way or the other, even if it means taking a "slight discount" to make it happen.
That makes sense for all parties. Hill has a longtime connection with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, performed well when the Lions needed him in 2010 and understands that he won't get a chance to beat out starter Matthew Stafford. That's a pretty good combination for a backup quarterback.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Lions added former NFL safety Marcus Robertson to their coaching staff as a defensive assistant, notes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Secondary coach Tim Walton has received added duties in coordinating the Lions' third-down package, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
- Chicago Bears rookie linebacker J.T. Thomas was arrested Monday morning and charged with misdemeanor drug possession in West Virginia, notes ESPNChicago.com.
- Former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris is "overwhelmed" by support from the Bears and the city of Chicago after his wife died suddenly over the weekend. Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times has more.
- The Bears' window to place the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte opens Monday, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has anticipated moving Ben McAdoo to quarterbacks coach for the past two years, writes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Former quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, now the Packers' offensive coordinator, plans to spend a lot of time around the quarterbacks, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- McCarthy considered hiring Alex Van Pelt to his staff in 2006, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Minnesota officials need more input from Minneapolis leaders in order to push the Minnesota Vikings' stadium proposal to the next level, writes Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Former Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar was hired by the New York Jets, according to Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
A news release made no mention of former coordinator Fred Pagac, who reportedly will share duties as linebackers coach with Mike Singletary, who will also be a special assistant to the head coach. I'll withhold most comments until later Thursday, when we should hear from coach Leslie Frazier.
In general, however, I would view these moves as more of a re-shuffling than a shakeup considering the familiarity of all involved. Frazier and Williams worked together on the Colts' staff in 2005 and 2006, and both are devoted to former Colts coach Tony Dungy's Tampa-2 defense. Williams was once part of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff that included Dungy as the head coach and former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as the defensive backs coach.
Daly was the Vikings' assistant defensive line coach from 2006-08, the final two years under Frazier. He replaced Karl Dunbar, who was fired. It is presumed that defensive backs coach Joe Woods will return in his current role. More to come.
Toub's contract had expired and he recently interviewed for the head-coaching position with the Miami Dolphins. It appears the Dolphins have moved on to a new batch of candidates, and the Bears jumped at the opportunity to bring back one of the game's top special-teams gurus before he began soliciting offers from other teams.
The conclusion to the Toub story leaves us with these coaching storylines in the division:
- The Bears still need to hire a quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator and an offensive line coach to replace Mike Tice, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.
- The Minnesota Vikings' entire defensive staff remains in flux without a coordinator in place. Indianapolis Colts defensive backs Alan Williams is the latest candidate to get an interview for that job. Coordinator Fred Pagac and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar have both been fired.
- Up to five Green Bay Packers assistants could be candidates for promotion elsewhere, some for the same job. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has interviewed for the head coaching job in Miami, has another interview scheduled with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and could generate interest from the Oakland Raiders. Assistant head coach/inside linebackers Winston Moss could be a candidate for the Raiders, as could Philbin, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and safeties coach Darren Perry. Finally, quarterbacks coach Tom Clements has an interview scheduled with the Buccaneers.
The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to name Romeo Crennel their permanent head coach, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin had also interviewed for the job. Philbin is believed to still be a candidate for the Miami Dolphins' opening.
Meanwhile, there has been plenty of discussion about the state of the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coaching staff since former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris interviewed for an unspecified job Friday. Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has confirmed that he won't return, but the Vikings have made no announcements about the fate of defensive coordinator Fred Pagac.
The Vikings followed a similar tack last season, interviewing several offensive coordinator candidates while leaving the future of incumbent Darrell Bevell unaddressed, at least publicly. It's not clear whether Morris interviewed for the Vikings' defensive coordinator job or an assistant head coach/defensive backs job; ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported only that it would be a "high-profile" assignment. But let's just say it's not a good sign for any sitting coordinator to have high-profile candidates interviewing for "high-profile" jobs.
If Morris joins the Vikings, his arrival would provide another argument against shifting to a 3-4 scheme, as the team reportedly is mulling. Morris spent the past 10 seasons with Tampa Bay, where the "Tampa 2" framework the Vikings currently use was originally developed. Would you hire, or even consider, a 4-3 specialist at the start of a shift to the 3-4?
Back in a bit.
The Vikings hold the No. 12 overall pick, and as we noted Wednesday, early mock drafts suggest anywhere from two to four quarterbacks could already be off the board by that point. But past decisions have put the Vikings in an unenviable position this spring: They have little choice but to force a pick. The only question is whether the rookie will be ready to play right away or if the Vikings will also have to acquire a veteran option.
"I guess it depends on that young guy," Frazier said. "Ideally, you'd like to find the Matt Ryans of the world, the Joe Flaccos of the world and ride with one of those guys. But it doesn't always happen that way. We just kind of have to see where things fall. If we find someone like that, you'd like to build around him. That really gives you a chance for the long term. But as I mentioned it doesn't always happen that way. If we have to go with a veteran guy while we're developing that young guy, I'm not opposed to that either. But ideally, find a young guy, build around him and know you're going to have him for that next nine or 10 years as your starting quarterback. But those guys are sometimes hard to find."
Said Musgrave: "Ideally, you would like to find a young guy that has a bunch of promise and potential and you would hand him the keys and let him make his mistakes and learn and but also know that he would be there for you in the long term. That's ideal. I believe that will be one of our goals to identify any candidates that can fit that role but at the same time be ready to find some other fellows that may have some experience, that can come in and be effective and also have some upside to them as well."
Frazier announced most of the additions he has made to the coaching staff Thursday, acknowledging Musgrave along with Mike Priefer (special teams), Fred Pagac (defensive coordinator), Jeff Davidson (offensive line), Craig Johnson (quarterbacks) and Mike Singletary (linebackers). Holdovers will include George Stewart (receivers), Jimmie Johnson (tight ends), Karl Dunbar (defensive line) and Joe Woods (defensive backs).
Where that staff is working on game days next season is anyone's guess. Ted Mondale, the new chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said Thursday it could take up to six months to replace the damaged roof of the Metrodome, if engineers determine a total replacement is necessary. That timetable could threaten the Vikings' preseason schedule if a lockout doesn't do the trick first.
As we've noted before, the Vikings have already questioned whether they will be able to play next season in the Metrodome. It's possible they'll move to TCF Bank Stadium, at least for 2011, while awaiting approval for a new stadium to replace the Metrodome. Stay tuned.
The Miami Dolphins were nationally lambasted for interviewing at least one candidate for their head-coaching position while incumbent Tony Sparano remained on staff. So even on a lesser scale, it's interesting that no one seems upset as the Minnesota Vikings interview possible replacements for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, both of whom remain employed by the team.
Over the weekend, coach Leslie Frazier indicated he would not stand in the way of either Bevell or Murphy leaving for another job. But if either man has been fired, the team hasn't announced it and it hasn't been confirmed elsewhere. Nevertheless, Frazier has interviewed Josh McDaniels for Bevell's job and Mike Priefer for Murphy's role.
Frazier has managed to keep a lid on most of what is going on behind the scenes, so for all we know he has already dismissed the incumbent coordinators. Or he is giving them time to find another job without the public stigma of being fired. But if neither of those scenarios is accurate, then the Vikings have followed bad form.
Frazier has coached with Bevell and Murphy for three years. He should know by now if he wants them to run his offense and special teams, respectively. Are we to believe that he only wants them only if he can't get anyone better? I hope that's not the case.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pursuing Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Frazier has committed to building his offense around tailback Adrian Peterson, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- The Green Bay Packers game-planned almost purely to throw the ball in their first meeting with the Atlanta Falcons, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers coach Mike McCarthy on rookie tailback James Starks, via Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Well, he definitely deserves opportunity. He'll run the ball against Atlanta, if that's what you're asking me. Yeah, he's going to carry the ball in Atlanta. He earned that."
- McCarthy said Monday the Packers are a "championship-caliber" team," writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Chicago Bears' offense is vulnerable to secondary blitzes, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't play in the team's regular-season matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, notes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune examines the improvement of the Bears' offensive line.
- Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz reached out to the family of a man who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 39, writes Tony Paul of the Detroit News.
It turns out that St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo has grabbed two assistant coaches off Minnesota's staff.
Last week, Spagnuolo hired Vikings special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro as linebackers coach. Monday, the Rams announced Vikings defensive assistant Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach.
Daly worked mostly with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar over the past three years and is well-liked by players. He has also been the assistant coach who sends in defensive playcalls from the defensive coordinator, whether it was Mike Tomlin or Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings haven't announced replacements for either coach. One possibility for Ferraro's job is assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy. Overall, there are four ex-Vikings assistant coaches on the Rams' staff. In addition to Ferraro and Daly, Spagnuolo has also hired Charlie Baggett as receivers coach and retained Steve Loney as offensive line coach.
Meanwhile, the Rams hired former Green Bay strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. Former Packers and Lions assistant Sylvester Croom is the Rams' new running backs coach.
Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could learn as early as Friday whether he will be the St. Louis Rams' next coach. If he gets the job, the Vikings will be searching for their eighth defensive coordinator in the past 11 years.
Who will coach Brad Childress select to replace him? The two defensive coordinators of his tenure -- Frazier and Mike Tomlin -- both share Tampa-2 roots. That is the base formation of Childress' preferred defense, although Frazier has brought a significant level of Philadelphia-style blitzing during the past two years.
For now, I'll throw out a few names as possible candidates to replace Frazier if it comes to that. A lot could change based on availability and whether teams allow Childress to interview assistants who remain under contract. So consider this a working list:
Name: Fred Pagac
Current position: Minnesota linebackers coach
The skinny: More than a few people thought Pagac when Tomlin departed after the 2006 season and were surprised when Childress waited until after Super Bowl XLI to interview Frazier. A longtime college assistant, Pagac has never served as an NFL coordinator but has done a fine job with the Vikings' linebackers during the past three seasons. He has pushed E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway to near-Pro Bowl status and appears to be the only coach who has ever gotten through to Napoleon Harris. The Vikings made a seamless transition from Henderson to Harris at mid-season, a credit to Pagac's skills.
Name: Sean McDermott
Current position: Philadelphia secondary coach
The skinny: He won't be available to interview until Monday at the earliest, but Childress has shown a willingness to wait before. (See Frazier.) McDermott and Childress spent six years together on the Eagles' coaching staff and Childress, like many coaches, often hires based on familiarity. You could expect McDermott to bring many of the Eagles' blitz packages to his next job, but the Vikings could have competition for his services. Green Bay might also be interested. And there is no guarantee that the Eagles will let him out of his contract.
Name: Karl Dunbar
Current position: Minnesota defensive line coach
The skinny: Shortly after the season, Dunbar said on KFAN-AM radio that he was not interested in the job if Frazier left. It's possible Childress has let him know already that he wouldn't be a candidate, but it's also possible that Dunbar didn't want to be perceived as campaigning for the job. He is highly regarded as a defensive line coach and Vikings players swear by him. This would be his first coordinator's job but he's a name at least to keep an eye on.
Is this the biggest moment at the Metrodome since the 1998 NFC Championship Game? That seems to be the suggestion from the Star Tribune, which chose Sunday to commemorate the 1998 Vikings team that went 15-1 but were stopped by -- yes -- Atlanta in its march to the Super Bowl.
Ten years later, those same Falcons have arrived in Minnesota in hopes of delaying the Vikings' march to the NFC North title. The Vikings have won only one division title since the 1998, but they can clinch it Sunday with a victory over the Falcons. (Or a Chicago loss Monday night to Green Bay).
To give this game its due, let's take an expanded look from a local perspective. Check one post above for the Bears' playoff scenarios, as well as links to coverage in Green Bay and Detroit.
- Mark Craig of the Star Tribune spoke with former Vikings coach Mike Tice, who said: "As an alumni and now a fan of the team, I'm excited. We're all excited to be this close to winning the division."
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune catches up with three Minnesota women whose forlorn expressions in a 1998 photograph captured a decade of disappointment for Vikings fans.
- Former owner Red McCombs tells Craig that he still gets questioned about why he traded the star of the 1998 team, receiver Randy Moss. Even from Tiger Woods.
- The Vikings have returned their faith to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Does that mean he will be their starter in 2009?
- The Vikings should unleash Jackson against the Falcons, urges Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar will have his strong reputation tested by the loss of nose tackle Pat Williams, writes Rick Alonzo of the Pioneer Press.
CHICAGO -- Not sure what they were calling for here in the midwest, but it's a pretty perfect day for football in Chicago. I'm looking at a cloudless sky on the other side of the hotel window. It's 44 degrees now but the temperature should break 60 by this afternoon. There's no wind to speak of, but I'll let you know if that changes once we arrive at Solider Field.
The media buildup to this game has been interesting from the perspective of both starting tailbacks. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson ranks third in the NFL with 563 yards and Chicago's Matt Forte is fifth with 459 yards, but there is some local hand-wringing going on with both players.
As Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune notes, Peterson has created such wild expectations that it's hard to get excited about three 100-yard efforts in the first six games of the season. Maybe that's because Peterson has seen a notable decrease in explosive plays of late. In fact, Zulgad points out this statistic: In the 12 games since rushing for an NFL-record 296 yards in November 2007, Peterson's longest run is 34 yards.
Forte, meanwhile, hasn't had a 100-yard game since debuting with 123 yards on opening night in Indianapolis. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune suggests Forte has proved himself to be talented enough that he should be judged with higher expectations.
The way this game matches up, you would think the passing games will be more critical than the run games. But there will be plenty of eyes on Peterson and Forte. See you there.
Continuing around the NFC North this morning:
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times notes how unusual it was for Bears coach Lovie Smith to admit he erred by ordering a squib kick at the end of last week's game against Atlanta.
- Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune tried to get inside the head of the Vikings' quietest star, defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Here's one nugget from Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar: "When you hear people talk about football IQ, I think his football IQ is off the charts."
- The father of Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian didn't raise his son to be a braggart, Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. That's probably why you didn't hear Berrian say much this week about his triumphant return to Solider Field.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy has never won in Green Bay. Dungy is 0-7 at Lambeau Field but will try to get his first win Sunday afternoon.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at the film study of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press generates Sunday's depressing Lions statistic: Since 2002, the Lions (29-72) have a worse record than the expansion Houston Texans (33-68).
- Jerry Green of the Detroit News suggests it's time for Bill Ford Jr. to take over the Lions franchise from his father, William Clay Ford.