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Coaching Changes

Few things cause bigger ripples in the fantasy pool than changes to a coaching staff or coordinator position. Let's take a look at what happened in the off-season and find out how it will help or hinder your players.

Out: Dick Jauroun, John Shoop
In: Love Smith, Terry Shea
After years of grooming on the Rams sideline, Lovie Smith made the inevitable leap to head coach when the Bears chose to let Dick Jauron go in the off-season. It is a good fit as Chicago is a town that loves its defense, and Smith is going to have his players flying around in an aggressive, attacking style of scheme.

The defense will be improved, but the big question is what kind of impact is coming on the offensive side of the ball? Under Jauron, the Bears used a conservative style that had all the color and wrinkle of a manilla envelope. Outgoing coordinator John Shoop drew the ire of the town as his whole offense was based on a series of short throws, seemingly convinced that the wide receiver screen had potential in the hands of a Dez White.

It doesn't look as if Lovie will be maintaining the defensive coach/conservative offense stereotype. Perhaps all that time with Mike Martz rubbed off a little bit. Smith hired Chiefs quarterback coach Terry Shea to upgrade the offense. Shea worked closely with Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil to help mold Trent Green into one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. He also brings a strong history with him; studying under Bill Walsh when the master of the West Coast offense was at Stanford. Shea was Walsh's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the Cardinal.

His plan is simple if you look at the Chiefs. He wants to have running backs that can run between the tackles and catch the ball coming out of the backfield. He is looking for a quarterback who can go through his progressions and he wants receivers with speed so they can take their shots down the field.

Running back Anthony Thomas doesn't look like a natural fit in the offense. He has questionable ability to catch the ball, coming off a season where he had only nine receptions. Thomas Jones was brought in as soon as the free agency period opened, so the team knew what it was looking for. He has the receiving skills Shea is looking for after catching 24 balls last season.

The receivers will have to be ready to make some plays. Marty Booker will be looked upon to continue his role as a possession receiver, but after that, questions arise. If David Terrell can stay healthy, his speed will help stretch the field. The play of second year player Justin Gage gives them hope. After working with Tony Gonzalez for all those years, Shea has shown he likes to work with tight ends. Desmond Clark should be the main beneficiary of his arrival.

Smith and Shea should reshape a Bears offense without a flashy history. It might not be this year, but Grossman looks like he has the tools to eventually break all the passing records set by Erik Kramer and Sid Luckman.

Out: Dan Reeves, Pete Mangurian
In: Jim Mora, Greg Knapp
Jim Mora takes over for the fired Dan Reeves and will look to revive a team that completely fell apart last year after the injury to Michael Vick. A healthy Vick will make everything better, but what will Mora be up to? You would have to expect that anyone affiliated with the 49ers must have been brainwashed to use the West Coast offense. The apple didn't fall far from the tree as Mora brought along Greg Knapp to run the offense. Knapp had been on the 49ers staff for nine years and brings that mind set to the Falcons. But the question is, how much of a structured offense do you want to run when you have Michael Vick under center? Knapp does have a great history with quarterbacks. He worked with Jeff Garcia, a quarterback known for his playmaking skills and his mobility. He will take Vick's tools and hopefully refine them even more.

The key will be in finding an offense balance, which shouldn't be that hard with the players on the roster. Warrick Dunn seems like a nice fit in the new offense. His ability to catch passes, 37 of them last year, will help him stay on the field more often this year. T.J. Duckett will continue to be a force around the goal line where he scored 11 times last year. Some would think that Duckett might loose some scores with Vick back, but anything the team can do to prevent Vick from taking unnecessary hits will be welcomed.

Perhaps the most important signing for the Falcons was OL guru Alex Gibbs. Gibbs was the genius behind the offense line play of the Broncos, which has produced 1,000-yard rushers like a vending machine in recent years. If Gibbs can shape this line like he has in the past, look for Dunn's numbers to rise.

At wide receiver, an impact player hasn't arrived yet. Peerless Price was brought in last year, but with Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner throwing to him, he had all the impact of a Nerf ball against a brick wall. The team didn't have that in mind when they spent a first round pick to get him from Buffalo. Mike Jenkins was drafted to help the offense but expecting production from a rookie receiver is always questionable. Wide receivers have become the biggest stars in this system, so Price will get his opportunity to shine this season. Alge Crumpler was a breakout performer last year and will thrive in Knapp's system. He was already a safety valve for Vick, but the tight end position has always been a key to the success in the 49ers scheme.

Out: Dave McGinnis, Jerry Sullivan
In: Dennis Green, Alex Wood
With Dennis Green's arrival, you can count on certain things in the desert this season. The offense will be wide open, the talent level will rise and every time Green sees the word "desert" he'll also think, "dessert."

In Green's decade long run with the Vikings, they became know around the league as a team that could score a lot of points. In the same time frame Arizona was known throughout the league as the team that played in Arizona. Green's first task will be to give some personality to this team, and using his offensive approach will be a good place to start. To help install the offense, Green brought in Alex Wood to be his coordinator. Wood spent last year as the receiver's coach in Cincinnati, which saw the emergence of Chad Johnson. He had also spent time on Green's staff as the quarterback coach for Duante Culpepper.

The project on offense will be to try and get all the parts working together. Don't let the Culpepper to Moss highlights fool you; Green believes in the run to set up the pass. He must rectify the situation between Marcel Shipp and Emmitt Smith. Shipp is younger and faster, but according to Green's comments, Smith will be the starter heading in training camp. That isn't a problem. Green is a player's coach and paying respect to Emmitt is the right thing to do, but after camp is over, it wont be much of a surprise if talent wins out and Shipp becomes the #1 back.

The team must think a great deal of Josh McCown, because it passed on a few quarterbacks in the draft to allow him to keep his job. The offensive system is QB friendly, if Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George can also find success in it, it must have a good track record. The big play is always an option in the offense and they hope that McCown has the tools to make it happen. If Wood can bring McCown along slowly, like he did with Culpepper, Arizona fans will be rewarded. However, the learning curve might be a little faster for McCown as he doesn't have the luxury of learning from the sidelines. His speed in picking up the offense will go far towards his success.

What gives the Cardinals hope, and McCown potential, is the solid corps of wide receivers. Anquan Boldin was the offensive Rookie of the Year last season and hopes are high that he will continue to improve. Green needed another weapon and drafted WR Larry Fitzgerald to fill that need. With Boldin moving to split end allowing Fitzgerald to make plays at flanker, this should give Green and his offense a chance to shine like it did in Minnesota. It might take some time to sort out the questions surrounding the team, but Green will find a way to move the ball. That will be crucial to a team that also looks to be near the bottom of the league in defense. Hello mop-up stats!

Out: Steve Spurrier, Hue Jackson
In: Joe Gibbs, Don Breaux
For as much as Dan Snyder throws his money around, he eventually was going to make a smart move. It was the law of percentages. The smartest move he could ever make was coaxing Joe Gibbs back to the sidelines and his return will be one of the biggest stories in football this year.

His return means certain things to certain people. Gibbs' style is well documented. He likes to run the ball and executes a balanced style of play. He wants a consistent running game, which the team lacked last year and he wants good pass protection, which the team also lacked last season. So it is time for his assistants to earn their salary.

Gibbs went about setting up the team the way most people envisioned. He brought in Don Breaux to be his offensive coordinator and long time coach Joe Bugel to rebuild the line. Breaux was Gibbs' former running back coach with the Redskins and has also served as a tight ends coach for the Jets and Panthers in recent years. He will have talent to work with. Clinton Portis was brought in and has been given a chance to make the Pro Bowl after being installed in an offense that seems very suited to his style. He might not be John Riggins, but then again, who is?

For the offensive lineman, proper execution will be the law or the punishment under Bugel. In his previous stint with the Redskins, Bugel shaped the Hogs into a cohesive, productive, and popular unit. If this unit has the capacity to learn and if Bugel still has some magic, it could be an interesting year in the trenches.

The QB must play smart and not make any mistakes in this offense. For Patrick Ramsey, the arrival of Mark Brunnell was a red flag the size of Delaware indicating that he might need to get his act together. It wasn't all his fault last year as blocking schemes failed and as a consequence, Ramsey spent most of the season on his back. Mark Brunell is looking for a better outcome. He will post solid numbers but considering this is his first year in a new system expectations for high production should be tempered.

The team went and grabbed Laveranues Coles last season which proved to be a good fit. This off-season, the team nabbed James Thrash from the Eagles, who along with Rod Gardner, gives the team a solid group of receivers. The offense will be balanced, so don't expect any one receiver to post gaudy numbers, but the wealth will be spread around. There wont be many offensive surprises with Gibbs' arrival, but the expectations will be high and Portis wont surprise anyone if he leads the NFL in rushing yards this season.

Out: Bill Callahan, Marc Trestman
In: Norv Turner, Jimmy Raye
Norv Turner takes over an interesting situation in Oakland this year. He sees an aging team that had a mutiny against former coach Bill Callahan last year; collapsed upon itself, and stumbled into the second overall pick in the draft.

What is Turner's strategy this year? Turner knows the score. He loves to run the ball and Al Davis loves the vertical game, so it is up to him and new coordinator Jimmy Raye to find a way to make it work.

Raye has been an assistant on the Jets' staff the past two seasons and has coached for ten different teams during his stay in the league. He is a longtime friend of Turner's and was backed by Davis to come and make the offense click. So what do they do?

Turner has an amazing history with running backs. He coached Emmitt in Dallas, he had LaDainian in San Diego and Ricky Williams in Miami. I guess if you had to scheme an offense, you might want to know who your weapons are. Problem is, there isn't a horse there to attach a wagon to, unless you are heading to the glue factory. Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue, Troy Hambrick and Justin Fargas are the stable of runners, each offering different things. The power option is there or you can try a more finesse approach, but there isn't a game breaker on the roster. Finishing with the second pick means you are coming off a bad season, but drafting Robert Gallery will certainly help the team regardless of who they put in the backfield.

Want more questions? Former MVP Rich Gannon (39) is back after an injury filled season. The team brought in big armed Kerry Collins in hopes of stretching the field, but where will the team turn? Gannon will get the benefit of the doubt making it his job to loose, but if Turner's running game stalls, the team might look to Collins to get the ball downfield in a hurry.

Hurrying is something the wide receivers seem to do a little less and less as they get older. Then again, the Raiders receivers are just old. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown are back and once again everyone is wondering how much is left in the tank. Jerry Porter is hoping to bounce back after a season where injuries hampered his play. If Porter can take his place as the marquee receiver, it would help the offense show flashes of its former self. Chances are good that Turner is going to try and stretch the field, but will he have the speed to stretch it?

The Raiders seems like a team that maybe needs a complete overhaul before it can start to rebuild. Turner doesn't have an enviable job and he will earn his money this year. And with Al Davis standing right over his shoulder, it should make for a long year for everyone involved.

New York Giants
Out: Jim Fassel
In: Tom Coughlin, Joe Hufnagel
Gone is the offensive minded Jim Fassel, thanks to his players quitting on him down the stretch. It is Tom Coughlin, the conservative minded coach who will look for complete control of the team this year.

Coughlin brought in longtime NFL assistant Joe Hufnagel as his offensive coordinator. Hufnagel has served mostly as a QB coach filling that capacity for New England last year. One of his main jobs will be bringing Manning and Warner up to speed on the offense. But what kind of offense?

If you can remember Jacksonville from five years ago, I think you might be getting an idea of what's going on in Coughlin's mind. He is all about control at all levels and at the field level, its all about ball control. Think Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith, with a little bit of flashy Mark Brunell thrown in. That is his ideal situation.

This is where Tiki Barber comes into play. If Barber plays it right, i.e. if he doesn't fumble on a regular basis, he can have a year like he had two years ago... a high total of combined yards and double digit touchdowns. Most of all, Coughlin doesn't want to worry about a fumbler. He will have enough people to yell at without Tiki drawing more attention to himself. Dayne won't fall out of the picture entirely, unless Barber reverts to old form. He still will be used around the goal line from time to time even if Barber doesn't get in the habit of putting the ball on the turf.

The quarterback position is one of the most interesting. Will Coughlin roll the dice with a rookie or go with Kurt Warer, a QB with happy feet? The rookie will have the vote of the public, but we all know how little that actually means. If Warner can ratchet his style of play down and make the throws he is capable of making, he will see the majority of the snaps. But a team with a bad offensive line might keep Warner antsy and force Manning to learn by fire.

Amani Toomer will assume the Jimmy Smith role with Ike Hilliard hopefully representing as Keenan McCardell. They will have the opportunity to catch plenty of passes, but it is hard to see either one of them stepping up to become the big star in this offense. They will continue to share the number of receptions as they always have with the number of scores certainly not increasing.

The Giants offense attack was never anything to get that excited about, but Collins threw for 4,000 yards and Barber was a force. So look for the passing yards to dry up a little but the running game should be the main beneficiary of the new coaching regime.

Out: Gregg Williams, Kevin Gilbride
In: Mike Mularkey, Tom Clements
I guess we will get to see if the stereotypes hold true in Buffalo this year. The defensive-minded/conservative coach (Gregg Williams) leaves town and the offensive minded guru (Mike Mularkey) will revamp the statistics. The former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator will hopefully bring some of the magic that somehow help establish Tommy Maddox and Hines Ward as fantasy forces. Mularkey has been mentioned for head coaching jobs the past few years, so he finds himself in a good situation and getting the offense quickly back on track could mean a trip back to the playoffs. His skills will certainly be needed. Tom Clements joins Mularkey as his offensive coordinator. He is familiar with the offense system Mularkey runs after serving as quarterback coach with the Steelers. The tools are certainly there, or at least they were a few years ago. Drew Bledsoe, Travis Henry and Eric Moulds look like a formidable force on paper. Mularkey will look like a genius if he can get them back to 2002 form.

The first point of emphasis for these two will be at the quarterback position. Nobody will ever say that Bledsoe and Maddox are that similar, unless they are having conversations about slow-footed quarterbacks. But the coaching duo made Maddox successful by forcing him to make quick reads and letting receivers create plays after the catch. Bledsoe's problems recently stem from his inability to get rid of the ball. He is entirely too slow to think about making plays with his feet. His arm strength isn't what it used to be, but he still can make the strong throws. The Bills also brought in former Bengals coach Sam Wyche to coach the QB's, so if Bledsoe can take some criticism and make a few alterations, he should be able to redirect a career that has been on the decline since the middle of the 2002 season.

The running backs should be an embarrassment of riches this year. Travis Henry still has the tools to be an elite fantasy back and with Willis McGahee slowly being brought into the fold, the Bills appear to be stacked in the backfield. Both look to see some action as Mularkey plans to balance out the offense to take pressure off Bledsoe.

Moulds didn't get much help last year. The departure of Peerless Price was supposed to open the door for Josh Reed. However, Reed did little to impress or scare anyone and as the year progressed, the double teams quickly went back to Moulds and his numbers declined to dreadful depths. The staff would like to replicate the two-receiver tandem they had in the Steel City. If Reed is unable to make an impact again look for rookie speedster Lee Evans to see some action. The team understands the importance of getting the ball down the field, so they drafted the Wisconsin receiver in the first round this year. Look for the staff to find a way to get more out of Moulds and his supporting cast, because they understand that his success will trickle down to the rest of the group.

Out: Mike Mularkey (OC)
In: Ken Whisenhunt (OC)
Mike Mularkey's departure allowed tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt to get the promotion to offensive coordinator for Coach Bill Cowher. Whisenhunt has been a tight ends coach in the NFL for eight years and has spent the last three on the Pittsburgh staff, which helps in the transition. Questions arise about any changes that might be implemented under Whisenhunt, but it is obvious where the team would like to start.

Pittsburgh finished 31st in rushing last year. I understand that everyone was shocked the passing numbers have been so good in the past few years, but no team in the NFL can succeed without the ability to run the ball, and the Steelers are no exception. The arrival of Duce Staley from Philadelphia is a good place to start. Jerome Bettis agreed to take a pay cut and a lesser role in the offense, which will certainly produce a decline in his stats.

If the team can regain the balance, Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Tommy Maddox should reap the benefits of keeping a defense guessing on second and short instead of making every down into passing down. Look for solid all-around numbers from Staley and hopefully a better TD-to-INT ratio from Maddox.