2009 Post Mortem – Part 3 – Coaching Staff

I won’t pretend I know all the ins and outs of the coaching staff and how each of their roles impact each of the other coaches’ performance, or how much better Coach X is than Coach Y at riling up his players. In large part, I’ll be looking at schemes for the coordinators and perceived talent vs. actual play for position coaches. Apologies for the delay on this one, there was a lot more to it than I had originally expected. Note also that as Jim Mora is the “Head Coach” and thus an executive of sorts, I am including him on the Upper Management section that is still forthcoming… it’s also because this piece just got too dang long.

CHAPTER III – The Coaches

Offensive Coaches:

Mike Solari – Offensive Line: B
Solari hasn’t really had a chance to show his chops due to the injury situation, but I don’t know that any other O-Line coach could get a better performance out of the rag tag group of guys he’s been handed. To get Brandon Frye, Kyle Williams and Damion McIntosh up to an NFL level within a couple of weeks of couch surfing is impressive. He has not gotten the team to be successful run-blockers yet, but for the most part has kept the team MVP [Hasselbeck] clean and healthy. Solari isn’t going anywhere unless the Hawks totally clean house and abandon zone blocking, which I don’t see happening.

Bill Lazor – Quarterbacks: C
Lazor is hard to assess, because Hasselbeck is just Hasselbeck in our minds. How much does Peyton Manning’s QB coach matter? In reality, quite a bit, but we don’t see that and can’t really judge it. Hasselbeck is no Manning, but we don’t have any way of really metering Lazor. One thing I do know is that Seneca Wallace was not where he needed to be when he filled in. Part of that is on Seneca, Part of that is on Greg Knapp, and part of that is on Bill Lazor. Again, don’t know enough to say whether there’s an upgrade pending.

Kasey Dunn – Running Backs: C+
This has the potential to skyrocket in the next two weeks depending on how Forsett and Rankin manage to play. In the meantime, we have to base our assessment primarily on Julius Jones (C), Edgerrin James (C-) and T.J. Duckett (D+). That, uh, isn’t a great track record. There are other parts of the game that severely affect the run game, most obviously the O-Line blocking that just hasn’t been there. One piece of credit for Dunn: no severe injuries in two years, one of the only spots to stay clean.

Robert Prince – Wide Receivers: B++
Prince has taken a group of receivers that has been notorious for years for dropping passes and turned them into the team with the third best percentage in the league. Nice. Additionally, the routes being run are precise, and even Houshmandzadeh seems to have respect for Prince. Will he ever be more than a WR coach? Nah. Has he given Butler the tools he needs to succeed? Nah, it doesn’t look like it yet, but then, he hasn’t been given good shots either [more on that with Knapp].

Mike DeBord – Tight Ends: C+
DeBord has been fine, but not great. John Carlson has been great, but how much of that is coaching? I don’t think a whole lot. Carlson still struggles with blocking, but neither John Owens or Cameron Morrah have been able to really step up and take on the blocks in 2TE sets. Morrah probably shouldn’t have made the team based on merit, but he was a draft pick and Tereshinski didn’t quite close like he needed to. Carlson – Morrah are the future TE ticket here, but we need Morrah to improve in all facets of the game, and quickly.

Greg Knapp – Offensive Coordinator: D+
I’ve made no secret that I don’t like Greg Knapp. It’s not that he’s terrible, though he may be, it’s that he seems unable to adjust. When something is working — say, passing on first down against the Cardinals — Knapp will continue doing that until exactly that point where it has been figured out about 6 drives earlier. Brute force is great and all, but trying to out coach might work better at times. We get excited to see Senec@ out there, but Knapp and Mora basically refer to that as a gimmick. If it’s a gimmick, don’t waste our time, but an inspired offensive coach (who WANTS to use Seneca, if you don’t, then don’t) would see that Seneca offers us a tool almost no other team has. We could become the second best gimmick-package next to Miami if the coaches trusted it, but they don’t, so why waste time practicing it?

More than that, Knapp has failed to implement his system. Are people buying in? Sure, I think they probably are on the team, but what choice do they have? The cut blocks are STILL not there, the one-cut and go from Julius Jones is still not there, the deep hit down the field is still not there. Knapp appeared to be calling plays just to get Houshmandzadeh involved for the sake of getting him involved, but until last week hadn’t gotten him involved in ways that set him up to succeed. Deon Butler has been a non-factor because everytime he’s on the field you either throw a screen or a go route. As soon as he takes off from the line, the CB turns around and sprints — he’ll never get separation. Where are the underneath routes?

Knapp just seems incapable of shifting and making adjustments. The whole team is victim of this. What half-time adjustment has this offense made? If we’re down at half, we lose. If we’re up at half, we lose. Mora had to go up to Knapp and tell him to put the game in Hasselbeck’s hands against Detroit because Knapp’s game plan wasn’t working. Against. Detroit. I think he is the weak link, regardless of some of the very good play calls he has made. He’s not all bad, not at all, but he’s just exactly what he’s always been.

Defensive Coaches:

Tim Lewis – Defensive Backs: C   [Larry Marmie is Assistant DB coach]
Hard to judge Lewis. The safety play has been atrocious, but then, we don’t really have great talent there. Josh Wilson has taken huge strides this year, and clearly overtaken Lucas and Jennings for the #2 CB. Trufant has struggled with BS penalties since returning, but other than that has been pretty good. Kelly Jennings is back to his 2007 form, which is actually pretty good. Unfortunately for him, he’s no match for Wilson and will stick as the #3 CB and won’t likely be resigned. While all phases of the defense need to work on tackling, nowhere is that more clear than Jordan Babineaux who has botched a few that have had huge reprecussions. I would personally love to see Deon Grant moved over to FS and Lawyer Milloy starting at SS. Isn’t Project Babs over yet? Lewis has done a good job at fixing the big plays that have plagued us in recent years, and in coaching up the guys to play above their default levels in big matchups.

Dan Quinn – Defensive Line: C- [Mike Phair is Asssitant DL coach]
Ugh! I hate to do it, because I think Quinn is a very good coach, but this year it hasn’t shown. We do have a talented defensive line, but I think a big problem has been that it is less talented than we thought. There is no edge rush to speak of, and that is going to limit everything else the line can do. Mebane remains beastly, but it appears his fit at [4-3] nose tackle might have been better after all. Colin Cole has been okay in his first year as a starter, and I think he’ll continue to improve if Mebane doesn’t steal that job back. The ends have been atrocious at getting pressure on 3 and 4-man rushes. No other word for it. It’s one thing to get sacks in garbage time or against the Rams, but if you can’t count on a single player on the team to come up with a clutch, drive-killing sack when it matters, you aren’t going to win on defense.

[This is a good time to bring something else up: I am uncomfortable with the number of quasi-defensive coordinators on this team. Quinn, Larry Marmie, Gus Bradley and Jim Mora have all been DCs and I think all remain them in their minds. Something is not coming together there, and I don’t know how to explain it but I think that’s a conflict. Anyway, just a sidenote.

Zerrick Rollins – Linebackers: A
Holding onto Rollins was one of the best moves Mora made last year. Rollins speaks linebacker and he is very good at coaching his players up. He has turned Hawthorne from a hitter to a linebacker, kept Hill performing at a high level with a skill-set that is not his most natural [let him rush the passer, damnit!], and is bringing Aaron Curry along nicely while having him play as a down lineman much more than he did in college. All the linebackers trust him, and everytime a sub comes in (Will Herring, David Hawthorne) there is no noticable drop off. Very impressive. He’s a gem, and I’d love to see him get a more prominent role in this defense as the years progress.

Gus Bradley – Defensive Coordinator: C+
This defense has been at times terrible and at times very good. I don’t understand the true role that Bradley has on this defense, how much of the game plan he’s in charge of, how much of the gameplan he is putting together, et cetera… I wish I knew. Something needs to change, but I’m hoping it’s not Bradley who is clearly an up and coming young coach. The defense lacks intensity though, which might be the players, the position coaches, Mora, or Bradley himself. Whatever it is, it’s got to change. We need to be hitting people in the mouth. Hard. I want players to remember their last matchup with the Seahawks not for the 31-24 victory so much as the chiropractor visits the following week. We don’t need to hurt people, I don’t want to hurt people, but damn, I want all of our players to tackle like Lawyer Milloy.

The blitz schemes have been minimal but largely unsuccessful. The excitement that came from the idea of a 3-3-5 never materialized on the field. The gameplan against the Cardinals was good, but just like Knapp, it didn’t anticipate changes! What about this team goes into a game expecting Connect Four when we’re playing Chess? I am so tired of decent first halves followed by embarassing finishes.

Other Coaches:

Bruce DeHaven – Special Teams: D-
Sorry Bruce. All we ever hear about DeHaven is how he’s “one of the best special teams coaches in the league.” Really? Then why are our coverage teams terrible (again)? Why has our punt return game stunk so bad? What about our kick returns? Sure, we’ve got a good punter and a good placekicker, but if not for all of Mare’s touchbacks we’d be in an even worse position. DeHaven might be a great coach, but it just hasn’t worked out yet and I don’t think it’s about to start.

Mike Clark – Strength and Conditioning: B
Whaaat? But, but, what about all the injuries?! Sorry, but almost none of those go to strength and conditioning. Trufant’s back doesn’t. Wilson’s concussion and high ankle sprain doesn’t. The Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Walter Jones, and Sean Locklear injuries don’t. Hasselbeck’s injury didn’t. Julius Jones, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill? Nope, nope, nope. You can’t out-train a high ankle sprain, a torn pectoral, a bruised lung or broken rib. You can’t out-condition concussions or neck stingers. Have their been other injuries? Absolutely, minor ones mostly though and nothing exceptional relative to the NFL as a whole. Most of our injuries have been random, crappy injuries that just happen sometimes.