NFC North: Matt Burke
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.
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.
Tommie Harris and Olin Kreutz make Pete Prisco's list of the top 25 free agents.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz on drafting Idaho's Nathan Enderle: "We didn’t draft [Enderle] to be the third quarterback. If that was the case, then there was no reason to draft a quarterback."
Linebackers coach Matt Burke likes what he has to work with in his group of linebackers.
The Lions' draft received the highest grade among NFC North teams from NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks.
Green Bay Packers
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an excerpt from the new book on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In it, Rodgers describes how his time in junior college helped shape him as a leader. "I learned a lot about myself that year, being an 18-year old playing with guys from all over the country and different countries: Canada, 25-year old center, guys who had been to prison, guys who had been bounce-backs from Division I, local guys and trying to be an 18-year old and lead those guys and figure out a way to lead them."
Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette offers his winners and losers regarding the Packers' draft.
Ray Edwards is carrying a lot of confidence with him into his boxing debut later this month.
Chip Scoggins takes a look at Arkansas offensive tackle DeMarcus Love, who was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round.
Among the many interesting angles playing out in these final weeks of August is the short-term future of the Green Bay Packers' first-round draft pick, offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga. Whereas many of us figured he was due for a so-called redshirt year behind left tackle Chad Clifton, there is growing anticipation that he could beat out left guard Daryn Colledge for a Week 1 starting job.
Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com writes that Bulaga will get "every opportunity" to win the job. You figure the Packers' coaches wouldn't have subjected him to learning a second position if they thought he was a long shot to play there. This has the feeling of a job coaches want a player to win, and you know how that goes.
Bulaga: "Like I've said this entire time, none of these guys come here to play behind someone. Everyone wants to be on the field and play. That's what makes a team great: Guys push each other to get competition. It feels good to have an opportunity to get on the field and win a job, and if I don't, then I wasn't the best guy for the spot and that's just the way it's going to be."
Look for Bulaga to get first-team work at left guard in Saturday night's preseason game at Seattle.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers are adding to their options for the slot receiver position, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji has been "sound" and "capable" during training camp, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. But Dougherty adds: "Anyone looking for the No. 9 pick overall in the 2009 draft to take off as a dominant defender in training camp of his second NFL season will be disappointed."
- The Star Tribune has details on Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin's collapse Thursday at practice.
- Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Perhaps no one is more eager to reconnect with Vikings quarterback Brett Favre than wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who was an afterthought in 2009 as Minnesota's passing game became a big-play machine."
- The Vikings are attempting to work out free-agent receiver Brandon Jones, who also was scheduled to visit Seattle, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- Defensive end Lawrence Jackson sees a big opportunity following his trade to the Detroit Lions, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- The Lions claimed veteran safety David Roach on waivers, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has the story of Lions linebackers coach Matt Burke, who did a 440-foot bungee jump during a trip to New Zealand this spring.
- Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has some difficult decisions to make soon, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the offensive line is the team's biggest question mark this summer, according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour should get plenty of snaps in the Bears' preseason game Saturday against Oakland, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune summarizes the Bears' training camp on the occasion of its final open practice.
Busy day here in the NFC North. The latest comes from Detroit, where the Lions just announced their full coaching staff.
Coach Jim Schwartz's 18-man staff includes six holdovers from predecessor Rod Marinelli's staff. Here is the full list, with an asterisk (*) next to the holdovers:
- Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator: Gunther Cunningham
- Offensive coordinator: Scott Linehan
- Quarterbacks: Jeff Horton
- Offensive line: George Yarno
- Running backs: Sam Gash*
- Wide receivers: Shawn Jefferson*
- Tight ends: Tim Lappano
- Offensive quality control: Todd Downing
- Defensive line: Bob Karmelowicz
- Assistant defensive line: Kris Kocurek
- Linebackers: Matt Burke
- Secondary: Tim Walton
- Assistant secondary: Daron Roberts
- Defensive quality control: Don Clemons*
- Special teams coordinator: Stan Kwan*
- Assistant special teams: Bradford Banta*
- Coordinator of physical development: Jason Arapoff*
- Strength and conditioning: Malcolm Blacken*
Here is a link to a page with biographies for each coach. I'll have a bit more analysis on this list Thursday. Please don't go blue holding your breath.
We noted earlier Wednesday that Detroit hasn't announced the majority of its new coaching staff, even though some of them apparently are on the job already. But names have been floating around for each job, so for reference, here is one version of new coach Jim Schwartz's first staff as culled from various sources and reports:
Offensive coordinator: Scott Linehan
Offensive line: George Yarno
Running backs: Sam Gash
Wide receivers: Shawn Jefferson
Tights ends: Tim Lappano
Defensive coordinator: Gunther Cunningham
Defensive line: Unknown
Linebackers: Matt Burke
Defensive backs: Tim Walton (or Bob Slowik)
Special teams: Stan Kwan
I don't want to draw too many conclusions because nothing is official yet. But there are a few facts worth noting:
- At least three holdovers from former coach Rod Marinelli's 0-16 team appear to have survived: Gash, Jefferson and Kwan.
- Of the new assistants, two came from the college ranks: Lappano and Walton. (There have also been reports that Slowik would coach defensive backs, so this position is not entirely clear yet.)
- Yarno and Burke received promotions from their previous jobs as assistants in Tampa Bay and Tennessee, respectively. Yarno was the Buccaneers' assistant offensive line coach, while Burke was a defensive assistant for the Titans.
- Youth is balanced by the experience of Linehan and Cunningham, both of whom are former NFL head coaches and have been coordinators for multiple teams.
Although there haven't been any official announcements, it appears new Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has lined up most of his coaching staff.
David Birkett of the Oakland Press reports that former Tampa Bay assistant George Yarno will be the Lions' offensive line coach. Meanwhile, holdover Shawn Jefferson (receivers) and Sam Gash (running backs) are expected to be retained in their current positions. Former offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, who was demoted to offensive line coach earlier this month, is not expected to be retained.
Previously, it's been reported that former Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik will coach defensive backs and former Tennessee assistant Matt Burke will handle linebackers. That leaves the defensive line as the only job that is publicly unaccounted for.
Continuing around the NFC North on Super Bowl hump day:
- New Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham expects his staff to be formally announced within a week. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press reports.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down Pittsburgh's version of the 3-4 defense, one that new Packers coordinator Dom Capers likely will emulate.
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times traces the path of former Bears offensive lineman Mike Gandy, who will start in the Super Bowl for Arizona.
My AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky reports that a former Tennessee assistant has officially joined new Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Detroit.
Matt Burke, the Titans' defensive quality control coach for the past three seasons, will be the Lions' linebackers coach. During that time, Burke has joined Schwartz in taking an quantitative approach to football strategy through statistical analysis. Here is Burke's biography from the Titans' web site.
Burke and new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are the first two appointments of Schwartz's defensive staff. There have been reports that former Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik will coach the Lions' defensive backs, but Schwartz has yet to confirm it.
The Detroit Lions are trying an old political trick that isn't always on an NFL team's short list of ideas to sell tickets.
Monday night, the Lions will hold a town meeting at Ford Field to give season-ticket holders a chance to ask questions of team president Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz. There will be another gathering Tuesday. Both are private and by invitation only, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News.
Many pro sports teams have barnstormed to drum up interest during the offseason. In this case, Lions fans will have a chance to ask questions of the decision-makers rather than mingle with a few of the players.
If handled right, this can be a good idea. After having four blackouts during an 0-16 season in 2008, the Lions need to take action to convince their season-ticket base they are on the right track. It's fair to keep the audience limited to season-ticket holders; they are the team's most loyal fans and customers.
But Mayhew and Schwartz, especially, are going to have to show some transparency during these events. They need to provide some level of detail about the team's direction and not give the type of non-answers that sports officials usually give the media in public situations.
Season-ticket holders who show up seeking answers and/or reassurance but hear only platitudes won't be sold. The Lions' new leaders are on the right track with this idea, but they need to follow through during the actual events.
Continuing around the NFC North on this fine Monday morning:
- Schwartz wanted coordinators who could handle the daily duties of running the offense and defense so he could focus on the big picture of game-day management, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Schwartz is hoping to bring at least one of his former Tennessee assistants with him: Defensive quality control coach Matt Burke, according to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean via ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky.
- Like some other top NFL officials, Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo skipped last week's Senior Bowl festivities, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Angelo will attend the "Texas vs. The Nation" all-star game in El Paso, Texas.
- Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette traces the rise, fall and latest rise of the 3-4 defense, which the Packers will implement in 2009.