NFL Nation: Winston Moss

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Clay Matthews wants his shot. So does Micah Hyde.

Both almost certainly will get the chance on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

But there's nothing on film to suggest that either of those Green Bay Packers' defensive players will be able to shut down – or even slow down – tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Whether it's a linebacker such as Matthews or a slot cover guy like Hyde – or even a safety or a cornerback – it does not seem to matter. Oh, the Packers will surely try some of all of those combinations, but ...

[+] EnlargeGronkowski
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPatriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for any team, and keeping him in check is much easier said than done.
"I don't know that a lot of people have had great success covering him," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Friday. "He can go vertical. He's a big guy. He's got a big wing span. You've seen him catch a ball thrown behind him and pull it in. He likes the physical part of the game. He's going to challenge you in terms of tackling. If you go up on his upper body, the guy's big and strong. Tacklers bounce off of him.

"You've got to have a plan to try to get the second and third guy there. He obviously gives them a matchup issue. And then Tom Brady's always aware of who's matched up on him."

After a slow start during which he was working his way back into form following ACL surgery, no tight end in the league has been more productive than Gronkowski. Since Week 5, he has 45 catches for 665 yards and six touchdowns. That's nine more catches and 200 more yards than any other tight end during that span, which encompasses the Patriots' current seven-game winning streak.

None of the Packers' three position coaches – Winston Moss (linebackers), Darren Perry (safeties) and Joe Whitt (cornerbacks) – whose players could conceivably be used in coverage against the Patriots' 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end -- could identify one type of player who has had the most success defending Gronkowski this season.

Said Moss: "It requires a mindset to where the entire defense has to be ready to handle their assignments."

Said Perry: "No, this guy just makes plays. It seems to not even matter who's covering him. He's going to find a way to make plays and we've just got to hopefully slow him down a little bit. He's a great player."

Said Whitt: "He's very hard on little guys because little guys can't bring him down. He's very hard on big guys because he can separate from them. So he's a dynamic player, and he plays with a great play speed and effort."

That sounds like what defenders used to say about former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

"I think you could say that," Whitt said. "He's a matchup issue; he really is."

So who will it be on Gronkowski?

Maybe Matthews.

"There could potentially be some opportunities in the game where I'm matched up against him," Matthews said this week. "Yeah, we'll see. Obviously, I enjoy those opportunities to kind of showcase my talents, especially at something that is not my normal pass rushing."

Perhaps Hyde.

"I didn't go to the coach and say, 'I want him,' but at the same time I think it will be fun," Hyde said. "Whoever is lined up against him, I have confidence in any one of our guys that lines up against him, and it's going to be a good opportunity."

And don't forget about outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who has dropped into coverage more this year than in perhaps his first 12 NFL seasons combined. He has a pair of interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, to show for it.

"I've had a little success with it this year," Peppers said. "It's something that I wanted to do, and I've been able to do it since I've been here."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To many around the Green Bay Packers locker room, rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott was known not by his name, which, by the way is pronounced JAY-rone.

"Usually you walk around, and they'd be like, "What's up 91?' or something like that," Elliott said, referring to his jersey number.

That was before Saturday in St. Louis.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Jayrone Elliott
AP Photo/Tom GannamJayrone Elliott had three sacks during the Packers' exhibition against the Rams.
In a span of four snaps in the fourth quarter, Elliott sacked Rams third-string quarterback Austin Davis three times, the third of which caused a fumble. It will go down as perhaps the most productive short stint in recent Packers' preseason history.

For the entire preseason so far, the undrafted free agent from the University of Toledo has played just 14 game snaps, yet is the only NFL player with three sacks. That's three more that Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers have combined.

"Then they started calling me by name and calling me 'Sackmaster,'" Elliott said. "So it's just fun to joke around with Clay and Pep, because you know Peppers never really talks to anybody, so it's fun to hear him talk."

Not only did Matthews talk to Elliott, he talked about him on Monday.

"I heard he's starting this weekend in front of me," Matthews joked.

That won't happen this week, when the Packers likely will play their defensive starters for at least the first half of Friday's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. But it could happen in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 28, when general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy will get their last chance to look at the rookies.

"He's just a young man that's really taken advantage of pretty much every opportunity he’s been given," McCarthy said. "I was excited to see him have success."

If Elliott was unknown to most in the locker room, that wasn't the case in Thompson's office. His scouts identified Elliott as a prospect coming out of the Mid-American Conference and brought him in for a pre-draft visit.

Green Bay was the only NFL visit Elliott had before the draft. He said he connected with linebackers coach Winston Moss and two members of the Packers' personnel department, Danny Mock and Chad Brinker, during his visit and even though a few other teams called him after the draft, including the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints, he chose the Packers' offer, which included just a $5,000 signing bonus.

At Toledo, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Elliott played defensive end for three years in a 4-3 scheme. Before his final year, the Rockets switched to a 3-4. In that scheme, Elliott played outside linebacker in the base scheme but moved inside on third downs.

The next step for Elliott is to show he can beat someone other than Rams backup left tackle Sean Hooey, who gave up five sacks on Saturday.

Despite playing in the MAC, Elliott has rushed against NFL-caliber tackles. As a junior, he said he beat Central Michigan's Eric Fisher for a couple of pressures in one game. Fisher went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

On Monday, Elliott stood in the auxiliary locker room at Lambeau Field, where the undrafted rookies and practice-squad players change, and appeared to be taking his sudden success in stride. He said he received dozens of messages after Saturday's game, including some from family members who he said were "going crazy thinking I'm freakin' Clay Matthews."

Matthews, he isn't. But at least the Packers' All-Pro linebacker now knows Elliott's name.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julius Peppers' new coaches say they have seen more than enough on the practice field and in their meeting rooms to believe the 34-year-old former All-Pro pass-rusher will be the major contributor that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson banked on when he signed him as a $26 million free agent in March.

Even if his first foray didn't show it.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have been impressed with how Julius Peppers has picked up their defense.
Peppers admitted he "didn't get much done" in his Packers debut last Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. But for a player with 186 regular-season games with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears to his credit, 10 unproductive snaps in his first preseason game with the Packers have not left defensive coordinator Dom Capers and linebackers coach Winston Moss fretting.

"I think he's been outstanding," Moss said this week. "It doesn't show in the Tennessee game, but he's come in and he's adapted to the scheme. He's a very smart, experienced player. He picks up and understands concepts. He's played long enough, and he's played in enough different schemes to where he understands everything."

One thing no one can deny is that Peppers, at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, still strikes an impressive pose on the field. He has not missed a practice even if it sometimes looks like he's on cruise control. However, in his only rep this week during the one-on-one pass-rushing drill, he turned it on and schooled starting left tackle David Bakhtiari with a speed move to the inside.

"You can tell when he makes a play on tape, you watch in the meeting room and those guys are all well aware when he makes a play," Capers said.

For most of his first 13 NFL seasons, Peppers played with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 scheme with the Panthers and Bears, but the Packers believe he can transition to rushing out of a two-point stance as an outside linebacker in Capers' 3-4 scheme.

"He's picked things up mentally really better than I anticipated he would," Capers said. "And the good thing about him is he's been able to stay on the practice field and work. He's been very professional in his approach, which you always look for that because when a guy's played as long as he's played, had the success that he's had, but he's come in and fit in.

"He can do probably whatever we ask him to do."

Coming off a down year -- relative to the rest of his career -- with just 7.5 sacks, Peppers knows there are those who wonder whether he can be an impact player anymore. But he has no interested in offering a defense.

"We'll see about that," he said. "I'm not really going to get into too much discussing what I can and can't do. I'm going to let the film speak for it."

And the Packers think that film will start showing more than it did against the Titans.

"I think that you have to look at the Tennessee game more as getting his feet wet," Moss said. "Once he gets some more reps in the preseason, I think he's going to take off."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's one thing for a proven player like Clay Matthews to miss the entire offseason program while recovering from his twice broken thumb.

Matthews has turned in Pro Bowl seasons before while missing major parts of the offseason and training camp because of hamstring injuries.

Perry
But for a player like Nick Perry, the Green Bay Packers outside linebacker who has yet to perform like the first-round pick that he was in 2012, the fact that he has been unable to participate in any on-field activities this offseason could prove to be another detriment to his development.

"I don't think it helps any player to miss a whole offseason," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday following the first practice of minicamp. "I talked about it last week with the staff. I told the team about it today. Our coaching staff took a different approach. You're accustomed to being a 15-week program. Obviously we're in a nine-week program going on here in Year 4 [of the new CBA]. To get all that work done, nothing changes. You have a season to get ready for. You have this much work. And to do it all in a nine-week period, and for a player to miss all of it, obviously it's not a good situation to be in.

"I think any of the players who did not take advantage of this nine-week opportunity or due to injury is definitely something they're going to have to work harder to catch up once training camp starts."

McCarthy would not specify the reason for Perry’s absence, but Perry missed five games last season because of foot and ankle injuries.

"I mean, he's injured, so. ..." McCarthy said.

There is frustration throughout the organization about Perry's inability to get on the field. He missed nearly half (15) of the 32 regular-season games in his two NFL seasons.

When asked what Perry is missing by being unable to practice, linebackers coach Winston Moss said: "Everything. Everything."

"It's unfortunate," Moss said. "It's disappointing."

In addition to Matthews and Perry, three other former draft picks have been unable to participate this offseason: defensive end Jerel Worthy, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back Johnathan Franklin.

Perhaps the biggest concern is about Franklin, the fourth-round pick from UCLA who finished his rookie season last year on injured reserve following a neck injury. The Packers are worried that Franklin's neck injury might be career-threatening. According to two people with knowledge of his situation, the Packers are putting Franklin through more tests to determine whether it's safe for him to continue playing.

Worthy, who last season played in only two games after coming off a torn ACL in the 2012 regular-season finale, missed the first two weeks of OTAs following the accidental shooting death of his grandmother in Ohio, but he also is dealing with an unspecified injury that is not believed to be related to his knee.

Quarless, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract to return to the Packers, also has not practiced. He missed all of the 2012 season because of a knee injury in 2011 but returned to play in every game last season, including 10 starts.
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.
 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.

Monthly review: Green Bay Packers

February, 28, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We've come to the end of the first month without football in 2014 for the Green Bay Packers.

Free agency is still more than a week away. The NFL draft is more than two months away. Yet as usual in the NFL, plenty of business was conducted in February. On the final day of the month, it's a good time to review what we learned about the Packers over the last four weeks.

Finley not done yet?: Thoughts of tight end Jermichael Finley's demise in Green Bay may have been premature. For those who thought Finley would be cast aside just like safety Nick Collins was following his neck injury in 2011, coach Mike McCarthy said that although Finley had the same fusion surgery that Collins had, there were some differences that have left the Packers' medical staff feeling more optimistic about a return.

Cap space galore: With the salary cap likely to be at least $132 million this season, the Packers will have the sixth-most cap space to use, as of figures compiled this week.

Position changes: Every year, McCarthy and his staff seem to tweak a position or two, and this year appears to be no different. McCarthy said recently that in an effort to get cornerback Micah Hyde on the field more, he could play some safety this season. Also, outside linebacker Nick Perry may get the chance to play a new position that the Packers are developing in their defense, an elephant end spot.

No deals, no cuts: While talks with cornerback Sam Shields intensified last week at the combine and remain ongoing, the Packers did not sign any of their 17 unrestricted free agents to be. With free agency set to begin on March 11, the Packers still have plenty of work to do in order to retain some of their key players. The Packers also didn't make any salary-cap related cuts.

New coaches, new roles: McCarthy finalized his coaching staff changes, and perhaps the most noticeable change was how the linebackers will be coached. The resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene last month prompted McCarthy to bring both the outside and inside linebackers together under assistant head coach Winston Moss, who previously coached inside linebackers.

More involvement: McCarthy also hinted that he will be more involved in the defense, at least in the offseason, in an effort to improve it over last season, when it ranked 25th in the NFL in yards allowed. McCarthy said he would "set the vision for the defense, [and] Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Assistant special teams coaches in the NFL are usually neophyte coaches or former players trying to break into the business.

Rarely are they 59-year-olds who have held head coaching jobs at two prominent top-level colleges and also NFL coordinator jobs.

It wasn't lost on Ron Zook that his new position as the Green Bay Packers assistant special teams coach was a bit unusual, when he met with reporters on Monday for the first time since he was hired last week.

[+] EnlargeRon Zook
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Packers will turn to Ron Zook to help with special teams.
“Coaching's coaching; I wanted the opportunity to get back in the profession, I really did,” said Zook, the former Florida and Illinois head coach who had been out of football since he was fired in 2011 after seven seasons with the Illini.

“The first year out, I probably needed it just to kind of collect your thoughts and so forth. This past year, I really began to miss it. I told some people, one of the most exciting things for me is getting back into coaching for the reasons I got into coaching: because I love the game, I love the camaraderie, I love being around the players and the coaches and trying to help get everybody on the same page trying to do the same thing.”

Even Zook isn't quite sure exactly what his role will be, but coach Mike McCarthy knows he wants more attention paid to special teams, which struggled at times last season. McCarthy didn't feel that the problems warranted a complete change, which is why he retained special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, but he appears set on dedicating more resources to it. He also has assigned Jason Simmons, a coaching administrator the last three seasons, to assist with special teams.

“I wanted to put more of an emphasis on that area,” McCarthy said. “One of our challenges ever year with youth, some of the injuries we've had with younger players playing early, there's a lot of one-on-one time that goes into special teams coaching. Everybody in the league goes through it. We just want to maximize that structure as far as to make sure our players are getting the one-on-one time, and I thought Ron brought a whole different dimension to the room.”

Zook was a natural fit for McCarthy. The two worked together with the New Orleans Saints for two seasons (2000 and 2001) when McCarthy was the offensive coordinator and Zook the defensive coordinator before Zook returned to the college ranks to coach the Gators.

In fact, Zook and McCarthy lived together during their early days with the Saints before Zook's family moved to New Orleans. Even after Zook's wife and kids joined him, they lived down the street from McCarthy.

Packers assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss also was with them in New Orleans, and Zook coached Packers safeties coach Darren Perry during their days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where Zook was the special teams coach from 1996-98.

“So you've got guys that you know and everybody's looking for the same thing, and that's to win,” Zook said. “That was what was important to me, being in a situation where you had a chance to win and being around good people.”

McCarthy mentioned Zook's energy and enthusiasm, something that was apparent throughout his 20-minute session with reporters on Monday. Zook spoke openly about both his successes, most notably the 2007 Rose Bowl team at Illinois; and his failures, being fired by both Florida and Illinois.

Zook also explained how he has spent the past two years out of football, working part-time as an analyst for CBS and also at a bank in Florida.

But perhaps it was what he did in his free time that was instrumental in his return to the NFL. He would make regular trips across the state to Tampa, Fla., where he would spend time watching film with ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden.

“I've spent I can't tell you how many hours, spent an awful lot of time with Jon Gruden,” Zook said. “I'd drive to Tampa, and we'd study football. We'd get ready for the draft, study programs that way, what's going on in both college and the NFL. So I was able to stay involved with the game in terms of the X's and O's part of it. But you miss the relationship side of it."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There are alterations coming to the Green Bay Packers’ defense but nothing dramatic like a switch from the 3-4 as their base scheme.

Despite changes to the structure of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ coaching staff that seemingly could have made it easy to transition to a 4-3 scheme, the Packers are not headed in that direction.

“Our defense is going to change some,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “You don’t ever stay the same. I’ll set the vision for the defense. Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out.”

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDom Capers' defense struggled at times last season amid a rash of injuries to key players.
The biggest change -- so far -- is how the linebackers will be coached. Last week, McCarthy announced that assistant head coach Winston Moss, who previously coached inside linebackers, will add outside linebackers to his duties following the resignation of Kevin Greene.

Under that coaching structure, it would have made it possible for McCarthy to integrate more 4-3 principles into the defense.

While not all of the defensive changes have been hammered out, that will not be one of them.

“The only thing that I’ve been instructed is basically the structure’s going to stay the same as far as the 3-4,” Moss said. “If anything changes there, then that has not been made available to me so I’m moving forward that we’ll be structurally the same. Obviously my approach will just naturally bring some different philosophies and different approaches from the standpoint that I like to have a sense of those guys just doing a lot of things well.”

The Packers slipped to 25th in the NFL in yards allowed last season, down from 11th in 2012, and reverted to the form of 2011, when it finished last in the league. In Capers’ first two seasons as the Packers’ defensive coordinator, his units ranked second and fifth.

Injuries to key defensive players -- most notably outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry and cornerback Casey Hayward -- prevented Capers from using some of the myriad packages and concepts in his playbook last season.

From the sound of it, McCarthy wants to get back to being more versatile on defense.

“We were not as multiple maybe this year as we’ve been in prior years really because of the stress of injuries on that unit so we want to get back to some of the things that we did very well in the past and make sure we’re carrying enough packages to utilize all of our players,” McCarthy said. “We obviously need to get better on defense, and I think these moves that we’ve made on defense will definitely put us on that path.”

McCarthy said Capers, who has run a 3-4 system his entire NFL coaching career, has previously utilized one coach to oversee both the inside and outside linebackers even though he has never done so in Green Bay. Plus, Moss will have an assistant, Scott McCurley, who was promoted from defensive quality control coach.

While the responsibilities of the inside and outside linebackers differ significantly in Capers’ scheme, the voice in front of the position meeting room will be the same.

“You know, Winston, he’s really going to be the leader of the group,” McCurley said. “I think the players have a huge amount of respect for Winston’s leadership, and what he brings to the table there, and from there, I’m there to assist him, whether it be inside guys or outside guys.”

NASHILLE, Tenn. -- During his final two years as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt’s wanted a Pittsburgh style, 2-gapping, 3-4 defense.

He could adjust given his second head-coaching job, with the Tennessee Titans. But if we're forecasting scheme, that might be the most likely defense we'll see.

What's that mean regarding potential coordinators on the other side of the ball for Whisenhunt, who played as an NFL tight end and is an offensive coach?

If defensive coordinator Ray Horton is fired by the Cleveland Browns, who are still searching for a head coach, he’d likely be a prime candidate to re-join Whisenhunt, for whom he worked with the Cardinals. It was Horton who went from Pittsburgh to Arizona to run that scheme for the Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanIf Ray Horton is not retained when the Browns hire a new coach, he could be a prime candidate to join Ken Whisenhunt's staff.
A couple others I think could be defensive coordinator possibilities: Green Bay’s inside linebackers coach Winston Moss and Baltimore’s secondary coach Teryl Austin, who coached Arizona’s secondary for Whisenhunt from 2007-09.

The Packers or Ravens would have to be willing to let them go in order for Whisenhunt to get them.

Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler is someone Whisenhunt coveted for the role in his first go-round as a head coach. But Pittsburgh wouldn't let Butler go then and it's unlikely it will let him go now.

Gregg Williams was a 4-3 guy coming up with the Oilers/Titans, as head coach in Buffalo, as coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville. He did run some 3-4 in New Orleans, where he coaches a Super Bowl-wining defense.

Williams did well as a senior assistant/defense for Mike Munchak in 2013. His contract recently expired. He seems like an unlikely guy for Whisenhunt to want, but who knows what options the new coach will wind up with?

His two earlier defensive coordinators in Arizona -- Clancy Pendergast in 2007-08 and Billy Davis in 2009-10 -- ran hybrid fronts. But ultimately Whisenhunt landed on Horton and that 3-4.

If Whisenhunt puts the Titans on a course for a 3-4 defense, he’ll likely need some time to get them there. In the traditional version of the scheme, linemen generally take on the man across from them and are expected to clog the gap on either side of the blocker depending on how a play develops. The linebackers fill in and make the bulk of the plays.

The Titans’ best defensive player, Jurrell Casey, is a 4-3 tackle who would surely become a 3-4 end. Big nose tackles who demand a double team are hard to find, though perhaps 328-pound Sammie Hill could make the conversion.

The Titans linebackers were very unproductive in 2013 after a good start. None scream out to me that they’d be better standing up and adding some coverage duties, though Akeem Ayers was projected by many in that role when he came out of UCLA. I didn’t think the Titans had one sufficient middle linebacker, better yet two who could be tackling machines sharing the inside.

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano got good results running a hybrid in his first season converting a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2012, and in his second season the team was better stocked for his preferred front. But he had Robert Mathis, a pass-rushing demon at end who’s taken well to playing as an outside linebacker.

When he’s formally introduced Tuesday, we’ll hear from Whisenhunt about his plans for Tennessee’s defense.
The Detroit Lions had been hoping to play this weekend in their second playoff appearance in three seasons.

Instead, the team is hunting for another head coach.

While the Lions interviewed Jim Caldwell on Friday, there are many other potential candidates that are where the Lions would like to be -- involved in the playoffs.

Here’s a quick primer of some of those candidates to watch for as you’re taking in the wild-card games this weekend. After this weekend, more candidates will open up for Detroit to talk with as some of these teams will lose. And if teams keep winning, that could alter the Lions' plans a little bit -- or force them to have patience.

Kansas City vs. Indianapolis (Saturday, 4:35 p.m.): No real candidates have surfaced in this game that the Lions would be interested in.

New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Saturday, 8:10 p.m.): As of now, none of the Lions' top candidates are coaching in this game, either.

San Diego vs. Cincinnati (Sunday, 1:05 p.m.): This is the big one for the Lions. Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is a top candidate for the job and believed to be one of the front-runners as soon as the Lions can talk with him. Both of Cincinnati’s coordinators -- offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer -- are also thought to be on the Lions' list of candidates. Cincinnati assistant Hue Jackson, the former Oakland coach, could be another possibility here.

San Francisco vs. Green Bay (Sunday, 4:40 p.m.): San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman could eventually emerge as a candidate either in Detroit or for another job in the football sphere. Green Bay assistant head coach Winston Moss is a name that hasn’t really been mentioned, but Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said he is a candidate that has been “overlooked a little bit there” as a potential candidate for a head-coaching job.
Dennis AllenRon Chenoy/US PresswireThe Oakland Raiders are looking to Dennis Allen to revitalize their struggling franchise.
Reggie McKenzie just took a big risk.

Al Davis would be proud.

In his first move as the late Davis’ replacement at the helm of the Oakland Raiders, McKenzie, a longtime lieutenant in Green Bay, made a hire few could have guessed two weeks ago when he fired coach Hue Jackson after an 8-8 season. That man is Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

Allen was hired despite having just one year experience as a coordinator and has no previous ties with McKenzie. At 39, Allen is the youngest active head coach in the NFL.

A former Raiders’ linebacker, McKenzie -- who was recommended to Oakland owner Mark Davis (Al Davis’ son) by former Oakland and Green Bay executives Ron Wolf and Ken Herock -- was expected to stick to his Green Bay roots. Packers' assistant Winston Moss and Dom Capers were reportedly candidates, but it was Allen who emerged after an active 14-day search. McKenzie centered his search on Allen in the past day or so. An agreement was made after Allen was interviewed a second time Tuesday.

Allen is the first Raiders’ head coach who is a defensive specialist since Al Davis hired a 32-year-old John Madden in 1969. While Al Davis was partial to offensive minds, he certainly wasn’t afraid to hire a young coach and he no doubt would have saluted McKenzie for sticking to his gut and hiring the coach who he thought was the most impressive. This isn't the first time a hot-shot Denver assistant has become the Raiders’ head coach, either. Al Davish hired Denver assistant Mike Shanahan in 1988.

There is no doubt Allen has a chance to be a strong coach. He is regarded as one of the better young defensive minds in the NFL and he had instant success in Denver while earning the respect of the Broncos’ defensive players.

Denver was ranked last in the NFL in almost every defensive category following the 2010 season. After Allen took over, the unit improved immensely in 2011 and the defensive resurgence was a big reason why Denver advanced to the playoffs after a 4-12 record in the previous season.

Prior to the start of the season, Allen talked about what he liked from his new players in Denver and I'm sure he will have the same approach in Oakland.

“I think they’re trying to play fast,” Allen said. “I think they’re trying to play physical, and at the end of the day I’ve tried to preach to them, we’ve preached as a coaching staff that it’s not really about the X’s and O’s but it’s about the way we go out there and play the game. That’s what we’re trying to do and I think the guys are buying in and believing in it and trying to do that.”

Allen ran a 4-3 defense in Denver and the Raiders could stay with the 4-3 as well. Oakland has a talented defense, but it sagged badly down the stretch as the Raiders lost four of their final five games. The Raiders gave up way too many big plays. Fixing that issue will be one of Allen’s top priorities, along with solving the Raiders’ penalty problems. Oakland set NFL record for penalties and penalty yardage in 2011.

He will also be expected to provide stability where the three past Oakland coaches -- Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable and Jackson -- could not. All three of those men created their own distractions at one point.

Allen has a reputation for being hard working and for stability, as does McKenzie. The dysfunction at the top of the organization must end in Oakland. The Raiders have not been to the postseason since 2002 -- tied for the second longest streak in the NFL.

In McKenzie and Allen, the Raiders have two young, hungry leaders. But there are risks. Allen, who was New Orleans’s secondary coach before getting the Denver job, is fairly inexperienced and if it doesn’t work, people will question why McKenzie didn’t go for a more experienced coach or hire somebody he is more familiar with.

But give McKenzie credit going out of his comfort zone and hiring the man he felt best about. Al Davis certainly wouldn’t have had a problem with that.

Oakland candidate scorecard

January, 18, 2012
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Reggie McKenzie is turning many stones.

It seems, at least once a day, a new name emerges in the new Raiders general manager's search to find a head coach in Oakland. Tuesday night, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Raiders have sought permission to interview Mike Tice — only recently promoted to the Bears' offensive coordinator position after a stint as the team’s offensive line coach.

Like Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg – whose name has surfaced as another candidate McKenzie will interview – Tice is a former NFL head coach. He led the Vikings from 2002-05.

Below is a list of the six candidates who have reportedly had or will have interviews. Keep in mind that several Green Bay assistants, including linebackers coach Winston Moss, may surface as well.

Could be start of East Bay Packers

January, 10, 2012
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Don’t expect the Oakland Raiders to hire a new coach any time soon.

As it sits now, I expect the top candidates to be on the Green Bay Packers staff. I think new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie – who came to Oakland from Green Bay – will consider Packers assistants Winston Moss, Joe Philbin and Darren Perry. However, none of these coaches can be hired until the Packers’ season is over — which could be as late as Feb. 6, the day after the Super Bowl. The Packers host the Giants in a divisional playoff game Sunday.

Expect other candidates to emerge, but I think the search starts with that trio. Former Green Bay (and Raiders) executive Ron Wolf — who, along with former Packers and Raiders personnel exec Ken Herock, has been advising new Raiders owner Mark Davis since his father's death — is comfortable with those coaches, and with the whole idea McKenzie being able to hire his own coach should be based on his feelings about the man he brings in. Wolf and Herock were very high on McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker.

Expect the Green Bay connection to continue. Yes, we may be seeing the birth of the East Bay Packers. What’s wrong with that? The Packers are a model organization. I couldn’t think of a better team to emulate.

Because McKenzie has both Raiders and Packers ties, he could be bring an interesting blend of knowledge and direction to the Raiders moving forward.

And that’s why I expect him to stick with his roots and end up hiring one of the Green Bay assistants. By the way, Moss would be another example of having both Oakland and Green Bay roots. He, too, is a former Raiders linebacker.

It may take a while, but expect McKenzie to go to Titletown for the Raiders’ next chapter.
The Oakland Raiders' decision to fire coach Hue Jackson seems likely to impact the NFC North in a substantive way. The move confirms that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has been granted substantial authority by owner Mark Davis, and makes it likely that several Green Bay Packers assistant coaches will be candidates for the job.

There is no guarantee that McKenzie will hire someone from the Packers organization, but he spent the past 17 years in Green Bay and established some deep relationships as a matter of course. The Packers have two assistants with ties to the Raiders -- assistant head coach/inside linebackers Winston Moss and safeties coach Darren Perry -- and my understanding is that McKenzie also has a strong friendship with offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

It's not clear how Philbin's family tragedy this week would impact his availability if McKenzie is interested. But Moss, who played for the Raiders from 1991-94, has long been considered a future head coach. Perry, a Raiders assistant from 2007-08, is also well regarded.

We'll keep you updated. McKenzie is scheduled to have his introductory news conference later Tuesday.

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