- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Here are the most important NFL coaching changes that occurred in the offseason and how the moves will affect fantasy outlooks during the 2007 campaign:
Arizona: New head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is expected to call the plays, was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. He and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the former Cowboys receivers coach, are focused heavily on improving the running game. Edgerrin James should be more reliable than he was last year, but don't expect him to be anything more than a good No. 2 fantasy back, simply because the offensive line likely won't always cooperate. There should be less pressure on Matt Leinart to make plays in key situations this season, and the second-year quarterback should be steadier overall.
Atlanta: New head coach Bobby Petrino comes from the college ranks and will take over the play-calling duties. He will attempt to change the look of the running game, with a more traditional, straight-ahead approach. That won't work well for aging Warrick Dunn and will test the toughness of second-year pro Jerious Norwood, who should continue to show a lot of upside. Petrino and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was Cincinnati's receivers coach, will focus on upgrading the passing game. That won't happen right away with a questionable crew of pass-catchers, though. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had the same job in Dallas, but won't tinker with the 4-3 look. No major improvements should be expected.
Baltimore: Rick Neuheisel was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Head coach Brian Billick, however, will continue to call the plays; and he has a promising power runner in Willis McGahee, who can be the crux of the offense and should have one of the best seasons of his career in 2007. Improving play from wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams should boost the passing game, and Neuheisel should operate as more of an assistant than an actual coordinator.
Carolina: New offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, who was an assistant head coach in Cleveland, and Dave Magazu, who was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive line coach, will place an emphasis on improving the ground game. Davidson is expected to implement a zone-blocking scheme that should work in the favor of running back DeAngelo Williams, who is ready to have a breakthrough fantasy season. If injuries don't drag the offensive line down again, the passing game can be more stable, but it ultimately could be under the leadership of David Carr instead of Jake Delhomme.
Chicago: Bob Babich was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator and will call the plays despite continued heavy input from head coach Lovie Smith. Babich has great familiarity with the Bears' schemes, and there should not be any major drop-off in the overall fantasy production of the unit.
Cleveland: Rob Chudzinski was hired as offensive coordinator after serving as San Diego's tight ends coach the past two seasons. Also new to Romeo Crennel's staff are wide receivers coach Wes Chandler, running backs coach Anthony Lynn, offensive line coach Steve Marshall, tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts and offensive assistant Frank Verducci. Fantasy leaguers shouldn't expect too much initially from this offense getting an overhaul, as Jamal Lewis is past his prime and the goal will be offensive respectability and stability, which could be hard to achieve with the current quarterback options. It will be interesting to see whether Braylon Edwards responds well to Chandler, who can be aggressive but was well-respected in Minnesota. Edwards should continue to improve even if there are some clashes.
Dallas: New head coach Wade Phillips and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who worked together in San Diego, can make the Dallas defense an elite fantasy unit in 2007. A more aggressive approach with the 3-4 defense should lead to more sacks and protect the secondary more. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is the question mark here. He didn't enjoy much success as Miami's quarterbacks coach, yet the Cowboys seem to be taking well to his freewheeling style. Both Julius Jones and Marion Barber III should fare well in a continued time-share. Garrett lacks play-calling experience, though, and the passing game could sputter at times.
Green Bay: Don't look for Joe Philbin, who was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, to make any major changes in philosophy. The Packers will continue to feature a zone-blocking rushing attack that likely will work best with rookie running back Brandon Jackson, a good fantasy sleeper candidate. Brett Favre will continue to be aggressive and attack defenses as the offensive line starts to play more respectably as a unit. Of course, the aggressive approach will mean a lot of turnovers for Favre.
Jacksonville: The Jaguars plucked three coaches from college jobs to assume prominent offensive positions: Dirk Koetter is the new offensive coordinator; Todd Monken coaches the wide receivers; and Mike Shula returns to the NFL to coach the quarterbacks. Koetter should put an emphasis on the running game, making Fred Taylor useful again and ensuring more good production from Maurice Jones-Drew. The pro inexperience of Koetter and Monken, however, doesn't bode well for any major improvements in the passing game, and Shula was most recently a quarterback coach for the Dolphins in the post-Marino era, which should not boost any remaining optimism about Byron Leftwich.
Miami: Cam Cameron, the former offensive coordinator in San Diego, will attempt to revitalize the sputtering Dolphins offense. He decided not to hire a new offensive coordinator and will call the plays himself. Cameron should take a simple approach to the running game, and likely will have Ronnie Brown work behind a solid fullback; let's hope it's newcomer Cory Schlesinger. The offensive line, however, is still unimpressive, and Brown will struggle to deliver consistently outstanding performances. Look for the quarterback to spread the ball around in the passing game, with an increased emphasis on exploiting matchups. No Miami receiver will be a dependable fantasy starter, but there should be fewer turnovers from the quarterback and a higher emphasis on ball security overall.
Minnesota: Former Colts defensive backs coach Leslie Frazier replaces Mike Tomlin and likely won't mess too much with a fine run defense. However, he does hope to improve the play in the secondary. The unit likely won't play as well as it can because the shaky offense will force the defense to spend too much time on the field. The Vikings could field a top fantasy unit, but they won't always deliver the best fantasy performances, in terms of points allowed.
N.Y. Giants: New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should employ a more aggressive, attacking style, but too many questions in the back seven likely will keep the unit from being dependable for fantasy purposes. Kevin Gilbride will continue to call the plays on offense. You can watch for Brandon Jacobs to emerge as a solid inside runner under his guidance and for Eli Manning to start to make more consistent plays downfield.
Oakland: Lane Kiffin, who was the offensive coordinator at USC, will attempt to inject new life into the offense, along with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who held the same position in Atlanta. With Knapp helping Kiffin adjust to the pro game, a questionable quarterback situation and a shaky offensive line, you're not going to see much in the way of offensive improvements this season. Kiffin is expected to institute new zone-blocking schemes for the running game, but that likely won't work too well with the offensive line currently in place. The passing game will continue to sputter, likely under the leadership of erratic Josh McCown. However, Kiffin could work well with Jerry Porter and should get more production out of Ronald Curry.
Pittsburgh: Tomlin came over from Minnesota, where he was the defensive coordinator, and retained the services of Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' defensive boss since 2004. Bruce Arians was promoted from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator. Tomlin should have an impact on both sides of the ball. He likely will keep the team's 3-4 look on defense, but will add a more aggressive pass rush and improve coverage in the secondary. He should return the team to elite defensive status in fantasy leagues over the next two seasons, with some very impressive outings in 2007. On offense, the passing game should be more aggressive as well, with multiple-receiver sets and no-huddle looks. The Steelers will retain offensive balance with a strong running game, but a healthy Ben Roethlisberger should have a rebound year, and Hines Ward should bounce back, as well. Santonio Holmes also is likely to get a lot of important looks downfield.
San Diego: New head coach Norv Turner will call the plays, and the running game should continue to flourish with LaDainian Tomlinson, who has worked with Turner in the past. Philip Rivers should continue his rapid development under Turner, as he becomes even more proficient using play-action passes and more aggressive throwing downfield. Clarence Shelmon was promoted from running backs coach but is offensive coordinator in name only. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell returns to the NFL and should keep the defensive unit playing at a high level despite the loss of linebacker Donnie Edwards. Cottrell knows the 3-4 system well.
San Francisco: Jim Hostler was promoted to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach, and he has a solid relationship with Alex Smith, who should improve to the point that he is at least a solid fantasy backup in 2007. Hostler has pro experience coaching receivers, as well, so he can help the passing game improve overall, although the strides likely won't be major just yet. The loss of Norv Turner shouldn't cut into Frank Gore's numbers in a significant way, as his high level of all-around skills should prevail. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky inherits a quickly improving unit that should gain respectability this season and show promise for 2008 in fantasy leagues.
A recap of the most impactful coaching changes from Scott Engel.