NFC South: Steve Wilks
Daniel Cox writes the Falcons have been working a lot on their no-huddle offense in the offseason program. That’s a great idea. Anyone that has watched quarterback Matt Ryan knows he’s been impressive in the no-huddle system. If I were offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, I’d go without a huddle about 75 percent of the time.
Secondary coach Steve Wilks said he is not upset about the Panthers failing to bring in any big-name defensive backs in free agency or the draft. The Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Wilks said the prospect of an improved interior pass rush should only make life easier for the secondary.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Bradley Handwerger has a nice feature on how rookie outside linebacker Rufus Johnson is drawing inspiration from his father, who has been fighting a serious illness. Johnson had some really bright moments in the recent minicamp and should make the team as a backup linebacker and special-teams player.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Roy Cummings writes that newcomers Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis are helping to mentor the younger members of the defensive backfield. That’s something that is much needed. Ronde Barber’s retirement left a leadership void. Barber was the kind of player that led by example. Goldson and Revis are taking a more-hands on approach and both styles can work equally well.
Former running back Warrick Dunn is taking his role as a limited partner in the team’s ownership structure seriously. Dunn recently earned an MBA from Emory University.
Defensive backs coach Steve Wilks has comments on the slew of cornerbacks the Panthers are carrying on their roster. It sounds like he’s counting on free-agent pickup Drayton Florence to be a leader at the position.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Drew Brees came in at No. 3 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 50 highest-paid athletes over the past year. Brees’ status was elevated because he received a $37 million signing bonus when he signed a new contract last summer.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs have only three draft picks left to sign. I wouldn't be surprised if they're done by the end of the week.
There’s been a lot of speculation that the Panthers will use an early draft pick on a cornerback this year. It could happen, but there was one guy that showed up at the Senior Bowl that doesn’t think that’s a great idea. That’s starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who lives in Alabama in the offseason. Munnerlyn pledged to beat out any cornerback the Panthers draft. Munnerlyn is one of those undersized guys that plays with a chip on his shoulder. Nothing wrong with that. You want all your players to be competitive and that’s a trait that comes in especially handy at cornerback.
This is just speculation, but Charlie Campbell suggests the Bucs might want to consider New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for their open coaching spot. That’s actually not a bad idea. Although he’s best known for taking a sideline punch from Buddy Ryan, that was a long time ago and Gilbride has a reputation as a solid offensive coach. He might be better than some of the guys the Bucs have talked to.
There’s no agreement yet, but the executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center said negotiations are continuing with the Falcons about a proposed open-air stadium.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who coached Julio Jones at Alabama, praised the Falcons for trading up to get the receiver in last year’s draft.
Former Carolina defensive backs coach Ron Meek has landed the same position with San Diego. Ironically, Meeks’ replacement with the Panthers, Steve Wilks, had been the secondary coach for the Chargers.
Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin has interviewed with the Falcons and Panthers at the Senior Bowl. As I do every year at this time, don’t put too much stock into which teams interview which players in the pre-draft events and what coaches are supposedly watching certain position groups during practices and games. All teams do their homework on every player eligible for the draft. Heck, sometimes a bad interview gets a prospect pulled of a team’s draft board.
This Insider piece says the Carolina Panthers were one of the top five underachieving teams in 2011. Let’s just say I respectfully disagree with that. The Panthers won two games in 2010. They tripled their win total in 2011 and they did that in a year with no offseason, while they hurriedly installed a new offense and turned things over to rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who had a record-setting season. Yeah, the Panthers had some big problems on defense, but I think injuries to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Ron Edwards played a big roles in the defensive issues.
The Atlanta Falcons plan to talk to Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and former Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter about their vacant position at offensive coordinator. Either of these guys would be a good fit. Clements has been a hot name around the league because Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have had so much success in recent years. Jacksonville didn’t have a lot of offensive success in 2011, but Koetter is viewed as one of the league’s better coordinators. This is going to be a huge hire for the Falcons. They have to get a guy that can figure out how to get their very talented offense to achieve.
The Panthers reportedly have hired Steve Wilks as their secondary coach. Makes sense on several levels. Wilks is a Charlotte native and he worked with head coach Ron Rivera in San Diego. Wilks will replace Ron Meeks, who was not retained after three seasons in Carolina.
Scott Fowler compares the rookie season of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to some of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. He concludes Newton had the best rookie season ever, ahead of some really big names. I can’t say I disagree with my friend and former co-worker.
While reflecting on the season and looking ahead to 2012, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons will be looking for some “battling souls." In other words, he thinks his team needs to get tougher. I think that’s especially true on defense, where the Falcons have some good talent, but lack a real identity.
Gary Shelton writes that it’s not a good sign that Wade Phillips and Jeff Fisher wouldn’t interview with the Buccaneers for their job as head coach. There’s some truth in that and you have to at least wonder if they were scared off by a team that hasn’t spent a lot of money on free agents in recent years. But Phillips’ situation was unique because the Texans went out of their way to make it attractive for him to stay in Houston. As far as Fisher, a lot of people thought he was the best coach available, but I don’t think the Bucs ever had that opinion and weren’t really chasing him. I know a lot of people are starting to laugh at the Bucs’ coaching search. But I think there’s something to be said for being thorough. They’re not rushing into anything. They’re looking for the best fit for their organization. If they figure out who that guy is, then their process will look good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
There's a school of thought out there that Jon Gruden must have had some major blow-up with the Glazer family to get himself fired Friday.
That was my first suspicion, too. But, after all I've been able to gather in the past couple of days, I don't think that's the case at all.
Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were conducting business as usual Friday. Allen was putting the finishing touches on the contract of new linebackers coach Joe Barry. Gruden was interviewing Chicago defensive backs coach Steve Wilks for Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach.
The team sent out a press release confirming Barry's hiring mid-afternoon. Heck, Raheem Morris, who was about to become head coach without ever interviewing for the job, was on his way to get his hair cut when he got the call telling him he was the head coach.
This wasn't something that was decided on the spur of the moment. Fact is, the Glazers, who operate in their own very tight little circle, made this decision over the course of almost three weeks and they had their plan all in place when they made the move.
There was no blowup with Gruden. If you want the real reasons Gruden was fired, they're simple. Start with the team's collapse in the last four games of the 2008 season. Throw in the fact that this team really didn't have any direction or long-term plan. And finish it up with Gruden's players and some of his assistant coaches not doing him any favors and simply telling the truth when the Glazers polled them about what was going on.
Again, this wasn't some verbal fight in the heat of the moment. This was a cold, calculated move by the Glazers, and it was based on Gruden's body of work and where the team stood.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, the Bucs aren't wasting any time in announcing Raheem Morris as new head coach and Mark Dominik as general manager.
The team hasn't officially announced the moves yet, but a press conference has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET. I'll be heading out to One Buccaneer Place in a bit and will let you know what transpires.
Couple of other items of interest on the Tampa Bay situation. One of Morris' biggest moves will be hiring an offensive coordinator. Word is, he plans to make a strong run at Denver quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates. That makes a lot of sense because Bates and Morris started off together as quality control assistants for the Bucs in 2002 and have remained close.
Also, and this shows how secretive the Glazer family was about its intention to fire coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, Gruden actually was interviewing Steve Wilks for the defensive backs coach job early in the day Friday (he was fired late in the afternoon). The defensive backs job remains open and it's unknown if Morris wants to add Wilks to his staff. If he does, he better act quickly. Wilks is in San Diego today to interview with the Chargers for a similar position.