Preseason is off and running, with players trying to make rosters, starters trying to stay healthy and coaching staffs trying to evaluate depth and talent.
One aspect of football that is so important, yet often overlooked, is coaching changes. Some coaches can try new things from season to season, such as the Jets last year going from a running team to a more balanced offense asking QB Mark Sanchez to throw the football more.
Here are some teams that made coaching changes to try and upgrade weak areas.
The organization overhauled everything. Mike Mularkey is the new head coach replacing Jack Del Rio. He was the offensive coordinator last year for the Falcons, and has been with the Dolphins (2006-07), Bills (2004-06) and Steelers (2000-03). Mularkey has a reputation for being an offense-oriented head coach with a penchant for trick plays. His nickname is “Inspector Gadget”.
Bruce Bratkowski is the new OC after being QB coach in Atlanta alongside Mularkey. But the QB situation is poor with second-year Blaine Gabbert (12 TDs, 11 INTs, 50.8% in 2011), Chad Henne, Jordan Palmer and Nathan Enderle. Good luck trying to jumpstart the passing offense, one that averaged an anemic 136 passing yards per contest.
Jacksonville moved up to take Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon and overpaid for 27-year-old receiver Laurent Robinson (858 yards), after his breakout season with the Cowboys last season.
Pittsburgh has won 10 games or more five times in the last decade. They have tremendous balance on offense and tops in total defense allowing 271.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh was 10th in passing offense, No. 14 in rushing despite injuries. The big change is at OC where Bruce Arians gives way to Todd Haley.
The plan is to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket as much as possible and use a more vertical approach. You can do that with WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown (both over 1,000 yds).
The Steelers averaged 4.4 yards per rush in 2011, their best average since ‘01. But they stalled too many times in short yardage and at the goal line, one of the reasons they finished No. 21 in the league in scoring.
We may not see this new look in preseason, as Rashard Mendenhall is on the physically-unable-to-perform list while he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ACL and Wallace is holding out.
Oakland won eight games in 2011, but how? QB Carson Palmer and Jason Campbell combined for 20 TDs and 23 picks. Palmer tossed 10 of his 16 INTs last year when under pressure. They lost Campbell (now the backup in Chicago) and lack a pass catching tight end.
RB Darren McFadden is often injured and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (975 yds) faded after October. Other than that… The Raiders surrendered just 25 sacks in 2011 (third fewest in the NFL), but left guard and right tackle are a concern with 35-year-old Cooper Carlisle and rookie Tony Bergstrom.
New head coach, 39-year-old Dennis Allen, said he wants the Raiders to be a “tough, smart, disciplined football team.” The Raiders set NFL records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards. Allen had just one year of experience as a defensive coordinator in Denver and had never been a head coach at any level.
The new OC is Gregg Knapp and the new DC is Jason Tarver, inheriting a unit that ranked No. 29 in yards allowed, 27 against the rush (136 ypg) and had to deal with a lot of defensive losses (Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson, John Henderson, DE Kamerion Wimbley).
Miami might be a team to look at UNDER the total again (they were 2-4 last fall). New head coach Joe Philbin comes from Green Bay. Philbin and new OC Mike Sherman will miss Aaron Rodgers. Instead they are stuck with QBs Matt Moore, David Garrard, Pat Devlin and rookie Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M).
Miami went 6-10 last year with the No. 23 ranked passing offense. With a key piece gone (WR Brandon Marshall), they add WR Chad Ochocinco, who was a bust with Tom Brady, so good luck with this lineup of quarterbacks.