NFL Nation: Frank Reich

If you believed the reclamation of Philip Rivers by San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy was a short-term stint while the team found a long-term answer at the position, think again.

Rivers
In a conversation with ESPN's John Keim at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week, McCoy reaffirmed that Rivers remains the team's franchise quarterback for the long haul.

Further, McCoy believes Rivers' improved performance is not an aberration.

"He should start off where he finished and have the type of year he had last year," McCoy said. "Our team will only improve. There were a lot of first times for our team also, in a new system. There's things you're learning -- you practice things all the time but they may not be against a certain coverage.

"He was learning as we were going during the year. As time goes along you put in a new play, maybe it's a play out of a new formation, or someone else is running it, Ladarius [Green] is running it versus one of the receivers. You're still learning about one another and your system every week.

"We said the first day sitting here last year [that] Philip Rivers was not the problem. It was everyone else around him playing better. He'll be the first one to tell you also that he needed to play better. He couldn't make certain decisions he made. That's the quarterback position. You'll throw interceptions sometimes. He's going to make more good decisions than bad decisions."

McCoy said even with former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt moving on and taking the head coaching job in Tennessee, he still expects Rivers to have similar success under new offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

"The system's in place," McCoy said. "We put a system in place last year to be there for the long haul, and we all sat down and there were good offensive minds in there and there are still some good offensive minds in there. We knew this could happen at this point in time that Ken could leave. But that's what happens in this profession. We have a great staff in place. We added [tight ends coach] Pete Metzelaars and he will be great for the offense also. We built the system for the long haul."
DENVER -- San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy has a workout partner every game day when he runs the stadium stairs before his team’s pregame workout -- quarterbacks coach Frank Reich.

So it’s no surprise that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chargers are considering keeping Reich around as the team’s offensive coordinator once current offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt inevitably departs to take a head-coaching gig.

Whisenhunt interviewed with Detroit, Tennessee and Cleveland this week, discussing head-coaching vacancies with each team. The Lions reportedly are the favorite to land Whisenhunt.

According to Schefter’s report, Whisenhunt would like to take Reich with him as his offensive coordinator. The Chargers control whether Reich stays or leaves, though, and San Diego likes him as its next offensive coordinator if Whisenhunt winds up elsewhere.

Reich played 14 seasons in the NFL, serving mostly as a backup quarterback with Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit. He has developed a good rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers in his first season as San Diego’s quarterbacks coach.

“When you’re being coached by a guy who spent 14 years playing the same position you played, I think that goes a long way,” Rivers said. “Not just so you can get him to agree with you on how you see certain things, but yet he understands that. ... He’s a very good teacher. I was told as a young player, ‘Don’t get bored by the little things.’ And that’s one thing I can say about Frank Reich. He doesn’t get bored by the little things.”

One concern about Reich is experience. He has never served as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and has not called plays in his eight years as a coach in the league. So you wonder if McCoy would go back to calling plays like he did in Denver as Reich learns on the job.

“Frank’s done an outstanding job with them,” McCoy said, when asked how Reich helped in Rivers’ development this season. “I think Philip would say the exact same thing. The attention to details, the way he prepares, being a former quarterback, the fundamentals, the basics of playing the game, the progressions, all the little details of doing it right every snap. So he deserves a lot of credit for the way Philip’s played.”
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.
SAN DIEGO -- Gone is the omnipresent GM lurking from the large deck that hovers over the practice field.

Gone is the comfortable head coach who went at his own pace.

It’s a new day for the San Diego Chargers. There is new energy in America’s Finest City.

Change was badly needed. The Chargers arguably had the best roster in the NFL five years ago, but it never paid off. The lack of success finally cost general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner their jobs after another lackluster season in 2012.

The Chargers’ fans demanded new leadership for the stagnant franchise. They got their wish. The Chargers now have some of the youngest, freshest leaders in football as the team moves past the stale days of the Smith-Turner era.

Smith was famous for watching practice from the deck of his office. New general manager Tom Telesco, 40, watches practice from the sideline. There are no messages of pecking order being sent from the general manager’s office. Telesco, in a camp-issued T-shirt and shorts, could easily be mistaken for an equipment manager.

The head-coaching switch from Turner to Mike McCoy, 41, is almost as distinctive as the change at GM. McCoy’s practices have appeared to be crisper and more detailed-oriented than in the past. There isn’t much downtime in San Diego’s practices. Everyone’s moving at all times. That wasn’t always the case under Turner.

“I think we’re getting a lot done,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Coach McCoy clearly has a plan. It’s been impressive. ... The big thing is everyone has bought in to him. The reality is we are .500 over the past three years. It was pretty easy to buy in what’s now going on here.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziPhilip Rivers threw 15 picks last season to just 26 touchdown passes.
1. The quarterback: Rivers is a major focal point of this training camp. Telesco hired McCoy, Denver’s former offensive coordinator, with an eye toward fixing Rivers. The quarterback has struggled the past couple of years, particularly with turnovers. McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the former head coach of Arizona, form a strong quarterback-coaching tandem and quarterback coach Frank Reich is also highly regarded. All three men believe in Rivers, and it seems to be paying off. Rivers has looked fantastic in training camp. His confidence is high, and his passes are accurate. It is vital for both Rivers and the Chargers that he has a good season and the team continues build around him. If not, it could be a crossroads season for both the franchise and Rivers’ career.

2. The offensive line: Because of injuries, this unit has been terrible the past couple of years. No matter how much Rivers improves, he won’t have much of a chance if he doesn't have protection. The Chargers' line has four new starters. It is not a great unit, and there will be some growing pains. But the group is getting rave reviews for being athletic and tough. Rivers is impressed and trusts the group. He thinks it’s deeper with players such as rookie D.J. Fluker at right tackle and veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks competing at left tackle. Dunlap is leading the race. But if there are injuries, this group appears better equipped to weather them than last year's squad.

3. The rookie linebacker: The Chargers are thrilled with inside linebacker Manti Te'o. He will start in the team’s 3-4 schemes. He has looked good in training camp and has fit in with the locker room. The hoax he was involved in at Notre Dame is not a factor. The Chargers love the way he works and practices. He is instinctive, and he plays faster on the field than his combine times suggested. The Chargers think Te’o is ready to make a big impact.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers are happy with the progress of second-rounder Manti Te'o, who's slated to start at inside linebacker.
The Chargers are loaded with young talent on defense. Any defense that has Eric Weddle at safety, Te’o and Donald Butler at inside linebacker and Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes at defensive end is an impressive group.

I think these players will be the core to one of the better defenses in the coming years. The Chargers are doing backflips over the combination of Liuget and Reyes. Liuget is entering his third NFL season, and Reyes is entering his second. Liuget was terrific all of last season, and Reyes showed serious pass-rush potential toward the end of the season.

While this defense has some holes, there are some exciting pieces here.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers are pretty thin in a lot of places. I think this team is on the rise, but it may not be a quick fix. There are too many positions where depth is an issue.

San Diego has dealt with the injury bug already. Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, the No. 18 overall pick in 2012, suffered a torn ACL in May. Starting receiver Danario Alexander and backup linebacker Jonas Mouton suffered the same injury during camp.

Alexander's and Ingram’s injuries are particularly worrisome. This team can’t afford to lose high-end talent before the season starts. Other positions vulnerable to injuries include the offensive line (even though the depth is better than in the past), defensive tackle, edge rushers and the secondary. There isn’t much wiggle room on this roster.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Chargers appear to be well-coached. The influx of offensive coaches and the return of several defensive coaches, led by coordinator John Pagano, makes for a nice mix. Most of the new blood was needed on the offensive side of the ball.
  • The team feels great about Dwight Freeney, who was signed to replace Ingram. The Chargers are convinced Freeney still has something left in the tank and will be a difference-maker.
  • The Chargers like the progress of nose tackle Cam Thomas, who they think is ready for a breakout year. Coaches and teammates are talking him up big.
  • San Diego is looking to add depth on the defensive line. Free agent Justin Bannan on is still on the team’s radar. I think we will see the Chargers be active on the waiver wire at a few positions.
  • Free-agent guard Chad Rinehart is showing solid leadership skills.
  • The team loves free-agent running back Danny Woodhead. He has been a camp star and should take pressure off starter Ryan Mathews. Expect to see Woodhead used in several different ways. He could be a poor man’s Darren Sproles, perhaps.
  • Yes, tight end Antonio Gates hasn’t had a superstar season in years because of injuries, but the team likes what they see from him. He may have another year or two left in the tank.
  • Ladarius Green, Gates’ potential successor, is still growing. But he has shown flashes. He has natural pass-catching ability.
  • While there are questions at cornerback, the Chargers feel like Derek Cox and Shareece Wright will be an upgrade over last year’s starting duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
  • Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen has been up and down. He has a good enough arm to keep him on the 53-man roster.
  • Cornerback Johnny Patrick has looked good. He could see a lot of action in nickel situations.
  • Fifth-round pick Tourek Williams is getting looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The team would like for him to contribute at linebacker.
  • Robert Meachem, a big-money, free-agent bust last season, has been given new life after Alexander’s injury. Still, I have my doubts that Meachem will make much of a difference. He hasn’t been a standout in camp.
SAN DIEGO -- Those expecting complete changes to the San Diego Chargers' offense may be disappointed.

Yes, Mike McCoy’s offense will be different than Norv Turner’s. But there will be remnants from the past. Turner was the Chargers’ head coach since 2007 before being fired and replaced by McCoy, who was a successful offensive coordinator in Denver.

“You’ll see some of the things we did in the past,” Rivers said. “You will see Antonio Gates run of the same routes. ... There are only so many plays. This thing is not going to be totally different.”

Yes, with that said there will be philosophy differences and there is hope for better results under McCoy, Rivers said. He said the combination of McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich is strong.

“It’s just a different approach,” Rivers said. “It’s nothing against the former approach. But sometimes change is good. Sometimes fresh approaches and tweaks and new ideas help. I will be friends with Norv Turner for the rest of my life. This is not about him, but I do think this change will be good for me and us as a team ... I’m excited about these guys.”

More help for Philip Rivers

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
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The Philip Rivers Reclamation Project continued to add to its arsenal on Friday morning.

Sports Illustrated reported that Frank Reich will become San Diego’s quarterbacks coach. The former longtime quality backup quarterback was Arizona’s receivers coach under head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt became the offensive coordinator in San Diego on Thursday. Reich worked with Peyton Manning while serving as Indianapolis' quarterbacks coach in 2009-10.

The Chargers’ new head coach is former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. There is an obvious theme here. McCoy, Whisenhunt and Reich all have strong backgrounds working with quarterbacks.

The key to the Chargers returning to the playoffs after falling short for three straight seasons is an improved Rivers. Rivers, 31, dealt with turnover issues the past two years. However, the Chargers believe getting Rivers some help, starting on the offensive line, is paramount.

San Diego has completed the first step in the coaching department.
ESPN recently published a list of the 25 greatest playoff performances in NFL history.

The ballot I submitted featured five performances for franchises currently aligned in the NFC West. It included three performances for the San Francisco 49ers and three for the Washington Redskins. There were two from Kurt Warner, including one each from his years with St. Louis and Arizona. All 15 were for offensive players, a disparity I couldn't reconcile.

Several worthy performances just missed the cut. You'll find most of them accounted for in the top 25.

Keith Lincoln's 329-yard game (206 rushing, 123 receiving) ranked seventh on my ballot, 13 spots higher than it ranked in the top 25. This performance wasn't on my ballot initially because Lincoln played for the then-AFL San Diego Chargers. I gave it a prominent spot when told this performance was eligible because it appeared in the NFL record book.

All for now. Here's hoping this Saturday ranks among your top five this month.


SeattleAztec from San Diego asks whether Matt Flynn might be the "most developed" quarterback in the NFC West after learning from Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.

"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"

Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.

"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."

That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
  • Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
  • Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
  • Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.

Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.

Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.

I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
The latest report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter points to the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos as favorites for landing Peyton Manning.

"The Seattle Seahawks continue to try to arrange a meeting with Manning," the report reads, citing sources, "but so far they have been unable to do so."

The report also indicates that the Miami Dolphins do not appear as high on Manning's list as the Cardinals and Broncos.

This would be fantastic news for Arizona and consistent with what the agent for Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt indicated last week.

"I think they have a tremendous shot," agent Eric Metz said, "and I'd be very surprised if they didn’t pull it off."

The Cardinals might have also positioned themselves favorably when they hired Manning's former position coach in Indianapolis, Frank Reich, to coach their receivers. They can also offer Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the NFL's top receiver and a player known for the all-out commitment to excellence that has set apart Manning over the years.

Seattle obviously feels as though it could make a compelling case for Manning if given the chance. But the team doesn't have the connections to Manning that Denver and Arizona can offer. The Broncos' executive vice president, John Elway, can connect with Manning on a quarterback-to-quarterback level. The Cardinals have Reich and Fitzgerald.

Seattle has ... what?

Losing out on Manning would hurt the Seahawks on its own. Watching him sign with a division rival would hurt quite a bit more.
NFC West suitors for the soon-to-be-released Peyton Manning can only hope the Miami Dolphins consider themselves favorites to sign him.

The Dolphins chased hard after Jim Harbaugh a year ago, media reports suggested, but Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers. More recently, the Dolphins went after Jeff Fisher with great vigor, only to watch Fisher go to the St. Louis Rams.

The last time the Dolphins outbid an NFC West team for a high-profile player, they acquired Brandon Marshall from Denver when Seattle was also interested.

Manning, set to be released no later than Thursday, will surely draw widespread interest. I expect Seattle and Arizona to check into Manning's health and strongly consider pursuing him. We've discussed several potential scenarios already this offseason while anticipating Manning's expected release from Indianapolis. Nothing much has changed since then.

A few considerations for each NFC West team:
  • Arizona Cardinals: The team has until March 17 to decide whether to pay a $7 million bonus to Kevin Kolb or allow him to reach free agency. John Skelton is under contract and will compete for the starting job if Kolb returns. Manning would be available to sign with any team once the Colts release him, even though free agency does not begin until March 13. The window between Manning's release and March 17 gives the Cardinals time to explore their options. They can offer Manning an indoor stadium, natural grass, arguably the NFL's best receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and an improving defense. Arizona won seven of its final eight games last season to finish 8-8. Manning would have to like his chances at improving upon that mark. Concerns about the Cardinals' offensive line have some merit, but Manning doesn't need much time. He gets rid of the ball quickly. The Colts never had great lines. As a bonus, Arizona hired Manning's former position coach, Frank Reich, to coach receivers. And if Manning needed assurances about the organization or coaching staff, he could always get a scouting report from Kurt Warner, who flourished in Arizona.
  • Seattle Seahawks: The team has a strong base of talent on defense. The running game finished strong last season, with Marshawn Lynch leading the league over the final nine weeks. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin would give Manning weapons in the passing game. Miller was underutilized in the passing game last season. The team needed him in pass protection at times. Also, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson played hurt and held the ball too long. Manning would make fuller use of Miller and the other weapons. Seattle can also offer a talented left tackle if Russell Okung has better luck on the injury front. Seattle also has easily the most appealing facilities in the division. Like Arizona, Seattle can offer a low-key media atmosphere where Manning can focus on football, same as he did in Indy. Manning's neck injuries remain a concern, but Seattle can offer something on that front as well. Team physician Stan Herring serves on the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee.
  • San Francisco 49ers: All signs have pointed to the 49ers re-signing Alex Smith and grooming Colin Kaepernick for the future. As long as Smith remains unsigned, however, there's at least a chance the team could go in another direction. That chance appears slim at this point, however.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams have said they're going to build around Sam Bradford. Manning is not an option for them.

OK, NFC West community. What say you?
Connecting the dots became much easier Wednesday when the Arizona Cardinals announced Frank Reich's hiring to coach their wide receivers.

Reich coached quarterbacks and later wide receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in recent seasons, giving the Cardinals a direct link to Peyton Manning should Manning hit the market this offseason, as expected. Multiple reports have listed the Cardinals among teams likely to pursue the Colts' longtime quarterback.

The Cardinals had an opening for a quarterbacks coach, but they moved receivers coach John McNulty into that role, replacing Chris Miller, who was fired. Reich replaces McNulty.

Reich, a former NFL quarterback best known for leading Buffalo's historic playoff comeback against the Houston Oilers, made his NFL coaching debut as a Colts offensive assistant in 2008. He became their quarterbacks coach in 2009, then moved to coach receivers this past season.

The Cardinals previously prevented McNulty from interviewing to become offensive coordinator with Tampa Bay. Moving him to quarterbacks coach allowed them to address McNulty's contract, which likely resulted in a pay raise. Team president Michael Bidwill discussed that expected move during Super Bowl week. Bidwill also affirmed the team's intention to pay a $7 million bonus to incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb, but his wording left open the possibility things could change. Bidwill cited rules against tampering in discussing Manning specifically.

On Kolb and the bonus, he said this: "You sort of cross bridges as you get there, you know, but I wouldn't say we are going to deviate from the plan at this stage."

Hiring Reich only strengthens perceptions the Cardinals will pursue Manning if given the chance. Lots of other teams will likely have interest as well. Whatever edge Reich might offer will belong to the Cardinals.
Clyde Christensen talked with the Indianapolis media Friday and I sifted through the piece of it the team shared.

A few things of note.

He was asked about helping Kerry Collins learn the whole playbook in three weeks.

“It would be impossible,” he said. “We have been working at a doctorate level around here because things have stayed so intact, scheme wise and quarterback wise. He is a veteran guy. You can’t throw up a concept that he hasn’t done some place, some time, somewhere. He understands football, so he understands those concepts. It is more the communication of it. It is more the protections. It is more of those things with him then it is him having to learn new things. He has seen it all, but it is just an awful short time so we will just kind of work to his pace, what he feels comfortable with.

According to Christensen, working both quarterbacks last week in the days that Manning practiced amounted to diluting the work for both quarterbacks.

“This week was a little bit easier just in the sense that we knew we needed to get Kerry ready to go and just adjust the best we can,” he said. “We have always had a thorough system. We have always done less and tried to do it better. So it helps when you try and do less. We are not overly [voluminous]. We know what we do so we just tweak it and everyone is going to have to kick in and help a little bit.”

Less is best seems to be a major theme, and it fits. People often think that what the Colts do is complicated. It’s not. Defenses always talk about how the Colts are straightforward on offense, they do specific stuff very precisely and well, over and over.

“Let’s error on starting smaller and you can always build up,” Christensen said in response to a question about Collins learning hand signals. “You can’t afford to go in there and it be a mess and not know what we are doing.”

One more item on the Colts’ offense…

I didn’t get to this earlier this week in the piece about Frank Reich and Tennessee’s Dave Ragone as quarterbacks-turned receivers coaches.

Jim Caldwell said this in our conversation about flipping Reich to wideouts and Ron Turner from receivers to quarterbacks:

“[Turner] has been a coordinator. It allows me to utilize Turner a little more. I like to keep him looking at things from a little broader scope.”

I couldn't decide if that was loaded with meaning or not. What do you think?
Dave RagoneAP Photo/Mark HumphreyFormer NFL QB Dave Ragone brings a fresh perspective as the Titans' receivers coach.
Nate Washington admits it. When the Titans receiver first heard that a quarterback-turned-assistant-coach, Dave Ragone, would be overseeing Tennessee’s wideouts, he had doubts.

“He might kill me, but yeah, I was a little skeptical at first,” Washington said. “I didn’t think negatively, I just didn’t know what to expect. It was, ‘OK, what is this guy going to bring to us?’"

It didn’t take long for Washington to gain an appreciation for his new coach. Ragone has brought new energy to a job that’s been a sore spot for a franchise that’s struggled at the position since relocating to Tennessee in 1997.

The Indianapolis Colts also have installed a quarterback at wide receiver coach, flipping Frank Reich to the spot in a swap that sent his predecessor, Ron Turner, to oversee quarterbacks.

It might not qualify as a trend yet, but in the AFC South, a lot of receivers are learning a great deal about routes and coverages through a quarterback’s eyes, something both teams say is a big deal.

“(Reich) knows what it is he’s looking for in the route, in the breaks, in the coverage," Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian said. “So, it gives the receiver a totally different perspective. It isn’t about necessarily running this route to get open against this guy. It’s about running this route in a certain way that allows the quarterback to get him the ball. It’s a sophisticated nuance and it’s important.”

Even early in training camp, Reich’s top guy, Reggie Wayne, was singing his praises.

[+] EnlargeFrank Reich
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireColts assistant Frank Reich, in his first stint as a receivers coach, has made a good impression on his position group.
Heading into a contract year trimmed down, Wayne asked Reich in their first interaction to coach him like a rookie. Now, he should be a key factor for Kerry Collins as he fills in for the injured Peyton Manning.

“[Reich] understands what’s kind of tough to do as a receiver and what’s not tough to do,” Wayne said. “A lot of coaches, they’re not able to display or give you that… Frank’s helped with my stance and starts. He talks to all the receivers about getting in a great stance and being able to come off the ball. He gave us a quote already, he said, ‘Plant the seed for speed.’ That stuck with me. He’s big on details and that’s good.

"“We’ve got to make him look good. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ragone throws a lot to his guys in Tennessee. He likes to show off he’s got a big arm.

“He throws more balls than the quarterbacks at practice,” said offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who hired Ragone in the UFL.

Ragone prepared for his new role during the lockout with hours of research. The new coach read everything and talked to everyone, sifting through drills that can bring things out of a group that’s often seemed to sleepwalk. One that takes place after practice once in a while has receivers reaching with both arms around a goal post stanchion.

That comes from New England Patriots receiver Deion Branch, a teammate of Ragone’s from Louisville who offered it up a few years ago when Ragone asked Branch for his favorite drill. Players can’t bring the ball to their bodies, so they must concentrate on catching the ball with their hands while working on the strength of their fingers.

But it's more than just catching the ball. Washington and Kenny Britt both talked about a new sense of what exactly qualifies as being open that they have learned from a guy who played three seasons as a backup with the Texans and won an Offensive MVP award in NFL Europe.

“You can’t run the route any way you want to and be thinking that you’re right just because you’re open,” Britt said. “Sometimes it’s the timing of the play and it can really hurt the quarterback with how many steps to take and how many hitches he has to take before he throws the ball.”

Ragone looks forward to crossing paths with Reich, a much more successful NFL quarterback, when the Titans meet the Colts.

Will the two start a revolutionary movement of former quarterbacks to wide receiver coaching positions?

Let’s not jump on that, despite Matt Hasselbeck telling me “it would be very easy to do.”

First we need to see how receivers in Indianapolis and Tennessee do with the new tutoring.

“[Ragone] is leading us in the right direction and we’re getting to the potential that we could have been [getting to before],” Washington said. “It’s exciting right now.”
Alan Lowry, Steve Walters, Ray Sherman and Fred Graves are all good coaches. But Titans receivers under them have been an issue since the team moved to Tennessee.

Did those guys underachieve as coaches, have insufficient talent, or both? And are expectations of receivers unreasonable in a run-based offense?

Dave Ragone
Don McPeak/US PRESSWIREDave Ragone is a former quarterback who has never coached receivers before.
All that is up for debate.

But new receivers coach Dave Ragone, a former quarterback who’s never coached receivers before, looks to be breathing a different sort of life into his guys so far. He’s far younger and more energetic than the four coaches who preceded him, and he’s showing a creative flair in coaching his guys. After one practice, receivers wrapped their arms around the goal post support, catching balls on the other side of it. Clever.

I think such change is very healthy. But I got excited when Graves arrived and had his guys catching bricks too, so my enthusiasm may be momentary.

Ragone also brings a cannon of a left arm.

“He’s got a Jugs machine tied to his arm,” second-year wideout Marc Mariani told The City Paper's David Boclair. “He takes pride in that. He thinks he can out-throw us and break our facemask or whatever.”

Balls are on receivers quick in practice periods when the coach is throwing, and they have to react quickly and show good hands. On the first day of practice he drilled a ball on the first throw of a period right off Nate Washington's facemask. Washington had to wipe it off before getting back in line.

Boclair accurately notes a major difference from receiver work during the Jeff Fisher regime:
"Seemingly every catch is accompanied by a whack from some sort of pad. Many throws are preceded by multiple cuts around a cone or a peak from behind a tackling dummy. Often, there’s little time to find the ball and react to it.

"'More than anything else, I hope what we do in those drills translates [to game situations] and helps them when they’re actually running their routes,' Ragone said. 'If they can’t see how it works and how it can help them, then it’s not going to be worth it to them.

'That’s more my goal … explaining why it makes sense.'"

I’ll revisit the idea of a quarterback coaching receivers after I visit with both Ragone and Frank Reich of the Colts.

For now, Ragone is definitely a guy to watch.
Kerry CollinsAndy Lyons /Allsport Kerry Collins -- the Panthers first "franchise" quarterback -- had off-the-field issues in Charlotte.
In the months before the 1995 draft, the throwing motion of Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins came under intense scrutiny. Supposedly, Collins had a hitch somewhere in the middle of his motion.

As it turned out, Collins never had any problems throwing. The problems were everywhere else.

When the expansion Carolina Panthers used the fifth overall pick on Collins, he started down a treacherous path in which the team’s first “franchise’’ quarterback would drink his way out of Charlotte. Collins, unavailable for comment, has talked openly many times about the Carolina days, typically emphasizing he was the root of his problems there.

It’s no wonder then that the Panthers have not used a first-round pick on a quarterback since Collins. Scarred by his demise, the franchise has for more than a decade tried to get by with veterans such as Steve Beuerlein and Jake Delhomme.

But the NFL has become more of a passing league, and coming off a 2-14 season, the Panthers realize it is time once again to target a franchise quarterback. They hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and all indications are they’re ready to take the plunge on Auburn’s Cam Newton, who may or may not come with a hitch or two of his own.

Let’s be clear: Newton's issues are much, much different than Collins’, but they’re still issues when you're talking about a franchise quarterback. Newton comes with questions about background and character and whether he’ll be able to adjust to an NFL offense after running a different attack in college.

The Panthers' coaching staff has changed several times over and so has the front office since Collins was drafted in 1995. But Jerry Richardson has been the owner from the start and you can bet that the Panthers are looking back at Collins’ downfall, analyzing what went wrong and thinking about what they can do better to make life easier for Newton and enhance his chances for success if they draft him.

“We know anybody we take, franchise quarterback or another position, you have to have a support plan in place because it’s such a difficult task coming in as a rookie,’’ Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said.

Hurney admitted he has thought extensively about a support system to help Newton if the Panthers draft him at No. 1. He didn’t want to detail the plan. But the Panthers might be wise to use the Collins fiasco as a guide.

“We did our homework on Kerry as thoroughly as possible,’’ said one person who worked in Carolina’s personnel department in the early years. “...Yeah, there might have been rumblings Kerry was something like a frat boy who liked to have fun, but there were no screaming red flags.’’

In talking to numerous people who were with the Panthers at the time, there were not any major problems in Collins’ first two years. With team president Mike McCormack, general manager Bill Polian and coach Dom Capers running the show, the initial plan was to bring Collins along slowly.

The Panthers brought in veteran Frank Reich to serve as a mentor and a bridge. But the bridge collapsed. Reich bombed in three starts and a team that had the luxury of a built-in honeymoon period got impatient and threw Collins into the starting lineup.

He started 13 games, the Panthers went a somewhat-surprising 7-9 and the next season Collins and Charlotte partied. With a very good defense and Collins leading an efficient offense, the Panthers went all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Packers. They came back to Charlotte after losing in Green Bay and Collins stood on the steps of Bank of America Stadium and proclaimed the Panthers would win Super Bowls and become a "dynasty."

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREIf the Panthers take Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick, they'll have a plan in place to keep him from the pitfalls that befell Kerry Collins.
Those were heady times in a city that was new to the NFL, and doors around town were open to Collins. It was at that time he started falling through a trap door. The future was so bright, Collins had to wear shades -- for all the wrong reasons.

Every person interviewed for this story said the signs of Collins having a problem began showing in the run to the NFC title game and expanded rapidly in the months that followed.

On the final night of 1997 training camp, reports -- which Collins never has disputed -- said the quarterback was out at a Spartanburg, S.C., bar when he hurled racial slurs at two teammates. One, offensive lineman Norberto Garrido, reportedly got into a physical altercation with Collins.

“We got back to Charlotte to check into the team hotel the night before a preseason game and Kerry was walking around inside with sunglasses,’’ said one person who was with the team at the time. “He was coming out of a meeting room later and he took them off for just a second to wipe his eye and you could see a big shiner. I was like, 'Oh no, what did he do now?’'"

That sentiment echoed throughout the building for more than a year. In a 2003 interview, I asked Capers, then the coach of the Houston Texans, if the Panthers did all they could to get Collins under control. Capers sighed and then said the Panthers did everything you’d expect and much more. He also said Collins simply refused help.

People who were with the team at that time said that’s all true. Speaking days before leading the New York Giants against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Collins admitted he was in denial at the time and summed up his flawed philosophy.

“I’ll show you. I’ll hurt me,’’ Collins said.

Collins hurt more than himself. With McCormack retired, Polian gone and Capers running essentially a one-man show in 1998, things got worse. After four ugly games, Capers told the media that Collins said his heart no longer was in the game and had quit the team.

“I’m not sure the interventions you see and hear so much about today were legal or even done at that time,’’ a former team employee said. “But I can assure you that organization did at least everything else. I mean, we had Donnie Shell [the former NFL safety who was the team’s longtime director of player programs], the team chaplain, the coaches, his teammates and ownership all over Kerry to straighten up. If Mike and Bill weren’t gone, maybe things could have worked out better or been handled better, but I seriously doubt it.’’

The Panthers released Collins, who then signed with New Orleans and got arrested for drunk driving when the Saints came to Charlotte to play a game later that season. Collins went to the Giants in 1999 and stopped drinking. He revived his career and has had a productive run with the Giants, Raiders and Titans.

Collins is 38 now and started seven games for Tennessee last year. He has patched up relationships with just about everyone who was involved with the Panthers in those dreadful days.

It makes you wonder what could have been. If things had gone differently, maybe Collins still would be with the Panthers, maybe they would have won Super Bowls and become a dynasty.

Maybe they’d still be drafting Newton. But maybe it would be to replace one franchise quarterback with another. The reality is the saga caused enormous problems for the Panthers.

But, hey, maybe one old wound can help prevent a new one.

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