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Thursday, May 27, 2010
On the radar: Shuffling O-line coaches

By Mike Sando

NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

If it all starts up front -- and most quarterbacks will tell you it does -- NFC West fans will want to keep an eye on the men coaching their teams' offensive lines.

No division in the league features higher-caliber line coaches across the board. And in an unusual twist, NFC West teams used the offseason to play musical line coaches. A look at what it means for each team:

Alex Gibbs
Seahawks line coach Alex Gibbs is one of the most respected in the league.
Arizona: The Cardinals were the only team in the division to keep the same coaching dynamic at the position, and why not? Russ Grimm ranks among the most acclaimed line coaches in the league and one of the few to command serious consideration as a head coaching candidate. When Grimm arrived in Arizona with Ken Whisenhunt for the 2007 season, he replaced Steve Loney, now the Rams' line coach. More on Loney in a bit.

Seattle: For years, Alex Gibbs has ranked among the most highly regarded line coaches in the league. He's the absolute best for installing a pure zone blocking scheme. Gibbs is also 69 years old, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll stick around. Gibbs is a coaching lifer and an extremely intense personality. Gibbs' hiring has changed what the Seahawks want in their offensive linemen -- see Rob Sims' departure -- while more clearly defining the team's approach to offense. This is a zone team all the way.

San Francisco: The 49ers were big winners this offseason when the Seahawks fired coach Jim Mora. The change from Mora to Pete Carroll led to Gibbs' hiring, displacing Mike Solari as offensive line coach. Solari was the perfect fit for the 49ers because he's an excellent teacher and he worked previously with San Francisco offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Raye largely had inherited the 49ers' offensive staff upon his hiring by Mike Singletary before the 2009 season. Solari gives Raye a trusted lieutenant at a position critical to the 49ers' success -- just as the 49ers were about to add two offensive linemen in the first round of the draft. Solari likes his linemen to have quick feet.

St. Louis: The Rams felt good enough about Steve Loney to keep him around as line coach when Steve Spagnuolo took over for the 2009 season. Art Valero also stayed on staff, serving as Loney's assistant, but Valero left the Rams for the same job in Seattle this offseason. That makes Valero a potential heir-apparent to Gibbs.