Mr. Smith Goes To Tampa
The NFL season is almost over, but it isn't slowing down. Before taking a spin through the coaching carousel, the playoffs and reader emails, we begin with what new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith will do with his $16 million man
Busy time of year, with so much happening. Eight teams are still playing. Four wish they still were. Five are seeking new head coaches. Two already have completed their changes.
Let’s start there, in Tampa Bay and Houston:
LOVIE SMITH WANTS DARRELLE REVIS ON HIS ROSTER. Talked to the new Buccaneers coach for my podcast this week (it will be up late Tuesday), and he tried to educate me about the real way football is played today. I said to him with so many three- and four-wide formations in the pro game now (most teams are playing three-plus wides more than half the snaps), it makes no sense to me to run off Revis, who is set to make a non-guaranteed $16 million in 2014 if the Bucs keep him. Smith agreed. I am glad to hear he doesn’t care if it means Revis will make 13 percent of the cap in 2014—you don’t discard great cover guys in modern football. “We’re trying to get as many good players as possible to win football games,’’ Smith said. “Any coach around would want a Darrelle Revis to be on his roster. We don’t play Cover 2 each snap. There’s a place for a good cover corner. I can’t wait to sit down with Darrelle and talk to him about his game and just kind of see as we go forward how we’re going to do this and win a lot of football games together. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. All those things work themselves out, but you’re right—the game is now more about three receivers on. And yeah, I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had too many good corners.” Sound like a guy who wants to cut or trade Revis? I think not.
BILL O’BRIEN’S NOT LOOKING FOR TOO MUCH—JUST ANOTHER TOM BRADY. Just kidding. He’s not. But what the new Texans coach wants in whoever is under center for him in 2014 (it won’t be Matt Schaub, if the rest of the organization has anything to do with it) is someone who, like Brady, has a passion for football that equals O’Brien’s. “I’d be getting texts, calls from Tom on Wednesday night about the third-down package,’’ O’Brien told me. “Thursday night I’d be hearing from him 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock about red-zone plays. Obviously, he’s talented, but Tom never stopped thinking about football. When you coach Tom Brady, you’re not coaching with him; you’re a partner in the offense with him. That’s the ideal for a quarterback—someone who cares about it as much as you do.” O’Brien found that in Matt McGloin at Penn State in his first year there, and it’s why he went to the mat with NFL teams, stridently insisting to them last spring they should give McGloin a shot in training camp. The Raiders did, and McGloin ended up playing seven games for Oakland, outperforming Terrelle Pryor. The big question for O’Brien: Is Teddy Bridgewater that guy with the No. 1 pick? Is Blake Bortles (288 passing yards, three touchdowns, 74 percent completions in a Sept. 14 Central Florida win at Penn State) the guy after a trade down? Or Johnny Manziel, or Tajh Boyd, or Derek Carr? O’Brien will find out soon enough. “I just got in the building,’’ he said. “There are so many scenarios. We draft a quarterback there, we trade the pick to someone who’ll give us a lot for it, or we take another position. Lots of time to figure that out.” The draft is four months from tomorrow. O’Brien will be sick of the over-analysis by then.
BRUCE ALLEN NEEDS TO PICK A COACH WITH REAL POWER. The Washington general manager might end up setting the NFL record for coaches interviewed; he has 11 candidates on his list. Monday was the first day teams could interview coaches whose teams played and won in the Wild Card round, so Allen can meet with Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, the two San Francisco coordinators on his wish list—but only if he travels to the West Coast to do so. It’ll be an interesting sign if Allen doesn’t go west to meet with Roman and Fangio. That would likely mean we’re in for a long search in Washington, because I’ve heard Allen is very interested in getting to know Roman, one of the most respected offensive coordinators in football and a guy Robert Griffin III might benefit from in a big way. Look what Roman, the play-caller in San Francisco the past two seasons, has done with Colin Kaepernick. Roman’s a guy Allen needs to see. But whoever gets that gig in Washington needs to lasso control of the team, and the quarterback, from owner Dan Snyder. More damaging revelations Monday from Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, writing that Griffin bragged he could influence the franchise’s direction because of his relationship with Snyder. And you thought Mike Shanahan was exaggerating his claims? The evidence continues to roll in that Griffin needs to be coached, coached hard, and kept away from all the distracting junk that can only hurt him long-term.
THE SAINTS NEED CAM JORDAN TO BE VERY BIG ON SUNDAY. New Orleans got terrific play from its defensive front Saturday night. I thought Philadelphia would control a good Saints front, but the Eagles were beaten more than they did the beating. It happened inside and outside. Twice I saw rookie tackle John Jenkins manhandle Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce and invade the backfield, and in general the Saints got good push in the middle. On the outside, right end Cameron Jordan had 1.5 of the two Saints’ sacks of Nick Foles and was a consistent disruptive force. That’s to Jordan’s credit, going against Pro Bowler Jason Peters, and he’ll be vital to the cause Saturday in Seattle. Jordan faces his second straight top tackle in Russell Okung, and it’s a major problem for New Orleans if Jordan gets neutralized the way he did a month ago in the Pacific Northwest. In that game, New Orleans’ failure to pressure Russell Wilson and cave in the line contributed in a big way to Seattle putting up a gaudy 429 yards, 6.2 yards per play and 34 points. Jordan’s ability to keep outside contain (making it tough for backs and Wilson to string plays around left end) will be important because of Wilson’s practice of using the entire field to make plays; New Orleans will need to funnel him inside between the tackles so the big bodies and active linebacker Curtis Lofton can prevent him from breaking free.
THE COLTS SIGN DEION BRANCH. This is not 2009. The Colts, with Darrius Heyward-Bey sidelined with a sore hamstring, signed Branch to be their fifth receiver five days before traveling to New England to face the team Branch, now 34, knows oh so well. His last catch: 50 weeks ago, in the AFC title game loss against Baltimore. When you’ve signed Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers already, the wideout pool’s getting pretty shallow. This is no attempt to tweak the Patriots or to steal information about them—it’s simply a way to try to get a healthy, smart body who could play 12 snaps Saturday night and won’t be cowed by the moment if the Colts decided to activate him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson never lets convention get in the way of building his roster.
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