NFC North: Sam Gash
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- That the Packers released backup center Greg Van Roten on Tuesday wasn't as surprising as the timing and their reason for doing so.
According to his agent, the Packers wanted to get bigger at his position.
Van Roten, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, was actually up to 315 pounds last season before he injured his foot in Week 5. That would have made him the biggest center on the roster. Instead, after two seasons as a backup, Van Roten is looking for work.
It's worth wondering what that means for Evan Dietrich-Smith, who took over as the starting center in late 2012 and held the job for the entire 2013 season. At 6-2 and 308 pounds, Dietrich-Smith is no bigger than Van Roten.
If the Packers indeed want to get bigger up the middle, then perhaps Dietrich-Smith, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, might not be re-signed.
The only other centers on the Packers' roster are JC Tretter (6-4, 307) and Garth Gerhart (6-1, 310).
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- The first in a series of profiles of the new assistant coaches or those with new jobs focused on running backs coach Sam Gash.
- There were plenty of interesting topics in our weekly chat, the full transcript of which is available here.
- All of the NFL Nation reporters looked at their team's strength of schedule for this season. See where the Packers' ranked.
- NFL Nation also looked at each team's chances of drafting Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who revealed that he is gay.
- At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde profiled Gash, who talked about the rigors of playing 12 years as an NFL fullback.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz also profiled Gash. Also in the Press-Gazette, via USA Today, Jim Corbett talked to Vince Lombardi Jr., who explained that his legendary father might have been the perfect coach for Sam.
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that Sam's position coach at Missouri, Craig Kuligowski, believes his former player will have to adjust to playing outside linebacker in the NFL but that he should be drafted within the first three rounds.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy now has a former running back coaching running backs and a former quarterback coaching quarterbacks.
Not that it's imperative to do it that way but in his most recent restructuring, McCarthy has restored some order to his staff with Sam Gash in charge of the running backs and Alex Van Pelt tutoring the quarterbacks.
Van Pelt, an NFL quarterback for nine years with the Buffalo Bills, spent the past two seasons coaching the Packers' running backs. It was the first time working at that position for him after serving as a quarterbacks coach with the Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McCarthy said he hired Van Pelt two years ago not necessarily because he thought he would excel as the running backs coach -- although he did so -- but in part to one day move him up on his staff.
“I think it definitely has broadened his horizons as far as coaching offense,” McCarthy said of Van Pelt. “I know he's very appreciative of the two years coaching running backs. But he's a quarterback coach. You're talking about a very talented football coach, played the position, knows this offense.”
Van Pelt replaced Ben McAdoo, who spent two years coaching quarterbacks despite having never played the position. McAdoo was hired last month as the New York Giants offensive coordinator.
“Anybody can coach the position,” Van Pelt said. “The only thing [having played quarterback] gives you is the ability to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this.' That's about it in that regard. I actually took a five-step drop and had to pressure out to the right side and threw an interception. I know what that's like. I've done that. That's really about all it does give you is [the ability to] say ‘Hey, I've had these experiences and this is what I've learned from them.'”
Meanwhile, Gash, a former teammate of Van Pelt's in Buffalo, was twice a Pro Bowl fullback in his 12-year NFL playing career and spent six seasons as the Detroit Lions running backs coach before sitting out of coaching last season.
“I've always like Sam Gash,” McCarthy said. “He's an excellent fit for us. He's played the position. He's coached running backs. He did a very good job in the interview process. He's worked with Alex Van Pelt in the past, I think his transition will be very easy to our offense.”
In its current form, McCarthy's offensive staff includes four players who were NFL players at the position they now coach -- Gash, Van Pelt, offensive line coach James Campen (offensive line) and Joel Hilgenberg (assistant offensive line). In fact, all of his offensive position coaches played in the NFL. Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot was an offensive lineman, and receivers coaches Edgar Bennett was a running back.
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- In the wake of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam revealing that he is gay, McCarthy said the Packers would view him like any other player in the draft and would evaluate him based on his playing ability and his character.
- Despite some juggling of responsibilities on his defensive staff, McCarthy said he's committed to sticking with a 3-4 defense -- albeit with some tweaks.
- The Packers might have the most overqualified assistant special teams coach in the NFL with the addition of two-time former college head coach Ron Zook in that role. But both McCarthy and Zook see it as a good fit.
- Finally, please join me in our weekly Packers chat at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. in Green Bay and the surrounding areas). You can submit questions ahead of time or do it in real time. Either way, it can be found by clicking here.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause wrote that assistant head coach Winston Moss, whose role was expanded this offseason to coach both inside and outside linebackers, believes improvement on defense will come through technique and fundamentals rather than a change in scheme.
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that Gash compared running back Eddie Lacy to Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, who was Gash's teammate with the New England Patriots.
There will be a total of at least five departures from the Detroit Lions' 2012 coaching staff, counting Adam Schefter's ESPN report late Tuesday that the St. Louis Rams will hire defensive backs coach Tim Walton as their new defensive coordinator.
Earlier, the Lions decided not to renew the contracts of three offensive coaches: receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, running backs coach Sam Gash and offensive line coach George Yarno. Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman left to join the Buffalo Bills, who are coached by his close friend, Doug Marrone.
The Rams have been trying to hire Walton for two years. Credit goes to the Lions for not blocking his way to a promotion. Still, by definition, the Lions' staff will have a different look in all three phases in 2013.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Lions have set up a visit with free-agent safety George Wilson, released recently by the Bills, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
- Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press wonders if place-kicker Jason Hanson will have the desire to return to play in 2013.
- Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com addresses the Lions' five most important offseason decisions, beginning with the pending free agency of defensive end Cliff Avril.
- Former Chicago Bears receiver Johnny Knox, whose contract was terminated Tuesday, will consider all of his options in terms of playing in 2013, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com looks at the Bears' free-agency options at center.
- Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune answers reader questions about receivers, among other topics, in his weekly Q&A.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin: "[T]he Vikings can afford to gamble on a 24-year-old player at a position of great need who three months ago was considered one of the most valuable players in the league."
- Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson on Harvin, via KFAN-FM: "To be honest with you, I don't know if we will or not. But me, individually, and giving you my opinion, I wouldn't trade him for nothing."
- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith watched every snap of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 2011 season on tape, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com reviews the Packers' running back situation.
- Former Packers and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre speaks to Jon Saraceno of USA Today about the tornado that swept through his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. Favre: "Nobody was killed! Look, everybody here is scratching their heads -- 'Can you believe it?' Amazin'."
Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson and running backs coach Sam Gash were informed Monday that their expiring contracts won't be renewed. My understanding there is at least one more offensive assistant who also will be leaving, but I don't want to publish his name until it can be confirmed. (The Lions' web site reporter did not refute the departures of Jefferson and Gash.) *Update: Multiple reports confirm offensive line coach George Yarno is the third coach who won't return.
For the moment, I'm aware of no developments regarding any of the Lions' three coordinators -- Scott Linehan, Gunther Cunningham and Danny Crossman -- but I can't say for sure that all three will return in 2013.
A team that loses eight consecutive games and finishes 4-12 in the fourth year of a head coach's tenure is bound to undergo staff changes. Jefferson and Gash are well-respected within the NFL and should have offers to work elsewhere in 2013. Jefferson's work with receiver Calvin Johnson should be obvious to anyone who has seen him grow into a polished receiver.
I'll be back Monday night if necessary, but otherwise have a pleasant and safe New Years' Eve.
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.
New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz will retain at least three assistant coaches from predecessor Rod Marinelli's regime, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press.
The latest name to surface is special teams coordinator Stan Kwan, who will return for a 10th season with the team. (It will be his third as special teams coordinator.) Kwan will join receivers coach Shawn Jefferson and running backs coach Sam Gash as holdover assistants.
It's possible there will be others. When they fired Marinelli after the season, the Lions retained 14 of his 18 assistants for the next coach to consider. Schwartz has hired his own defensive and offensive coordinators -- Gunther Cunningham and Scott Linehan, respectively -- but to my knowledge no other assistants have been formally announced. The team's Web site lists only Cunningham and Linehan under the assistant coach category.
This partial retention falls in line with the Lions' refusal to completely overhaul their operations following an 0-16 season. New president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew were both internal promotions. Schwartz obviously came from outside the organization, but it's now clear he'll be inheriting at least some assistant coaches from the previous regime.
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.