It’s a Coaching Affair
The Chargers tiptoed their way into playoff contention last year. The pieces didn’t seem to click until the latter part of the year, and even then, there were a few close calls. One reason the Chargers were able to find themselves was personnel adjustments made at midseason. The biggest move occurred when former defense coordinator Ted Cottrell was replaced by then linebackers coach Ron Rivera. Rivera slowly brought improvement to the defensive side of things, something he wishes to build upon this year.
In the 2008 offseason, the Chargers brought in Hall-of-Fame Wide Receiver Charlie Joiner and former Chargers runningback Ollie Wilson to help at their respective positions. The Chargers have continued the trend and made a lot of personnel adjustments in the 2009 offseason.
Former Chargers tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski returns to the squad after spending the past few seasons as offensive coordinator in Cleveland. Chudzinski, who helped Gates reach career highs in the 2005 season, will also serve as the Chargers assistant head coach. Chudzinski looks to bring some of the offensive success he had in Cleveland back to San Diego. In Chudzinski’s first season with the Browns, the team managed to reach the third-highest totals in team history for both points scored (402) and total yards (5,621).
Steve Wilks will help the Bolts as secondary coach. Wilks’s recently served as the secondary coach in Chicago. Chris Dishman, a former NFL All-Pro cornerback will aide Wilks as assistant secondary coach. Dishman played 13 seasons in the NFL, including a stint under Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner. Dishman’s recent coaching resume includes a three-season tenure with Menlo College in the Bay Area. There, Dishman served as defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
Don Johnson will serve as defensive line coach. Johnson (who as you might suspect, is not a Miami native) spent the last two seasons with Oakland as the defensive tackles coach. Prior to that, he was the defensive line coach in Chicago where he worked alongside then Bears Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera and guided the Bears to the 2006 NFC Championship. There, Johnson helped preen Tommy Harris and the young Mark Anderson.
Mike Sullivan will help seasoned coach Hal Hunter with the offensive line. Sullivan spent the past two years as assistant offensive line coach in Cleveland. Sullivan’s five year playing career, along with his familiarity with both Chudzinski and Turner (Norv Turner was serving as Dallas’s offensive coordinator when Sullivan was drafted) will help the impressive Chargers offensive line find their prowess once again.
Greg Williams rounds things out this season, serving as assistant linebackers coach. Williams had an unorthodox playing career with stints in NFL Europe, the XFL and the Arena Football League. However, he worked under Dave Wanndstedt at the University of Pittsburgh and will be fine under the tutelage of Ron Rivera.
Nuts and Bolts
Chargers Special Teams Coach Steve Crosby will be making a slight adjustment with his kickoff return squad this season. In March, teams voted to suspend the use of wedge formations that contain three or more players. The situation was deemed dangerous and would have likely continued to cause injury. From now on, teams will limit return wedges to two players or face a fifteen-yard penalty.
Crosby is not too concerned with the adjustment as his return schemes consist mainly of two and three man wedges. However, he is curious to see how league officials will be able to enforce the rule in such high-speed situations.
Essentially, the new rule stipulates that on a return, no more than two blockers can be next to each other, shoulder-to-shoulder within a two-yard space. Determining this two-yard window (while players are on the move) will be tricky. The rule requires players to make more one-on-one blocks which is not always an easy feat.
Moreover, many teams will have to make roster adjustments to cater to the new rule. Teams that have used four or five player wedges often suit more offensive linemen to help create the wedge. Teams will now look to faster and harder-hitting players such as linebackers and defensive backs to help protect in the smaller wedge scheme. More active defensive players mean less linemen suiting up.
Another similar rule change stipulates that teams are no longer to use bunch formations on onside kicks. The rule requires that at least four players line up on either side of the kicker. Additionally, at least three players are to line up outside of the hash mark on their side of the field. One player must line up outside of the numbers. This was also deemed a dangerous situation that the league needed to eliminate.
Crosby and company will have a chance to work on some of these adjustments next week. Beginning Monday, May 18th, the Chargers will begin their voluntary offseason coaching sessions.
Over the course of the next month, there will be a total of 14 sessions, which players are not required to attend. However, it is likely for players to make their way out to a few of these sessions. I will provide coverage and interviews later next week.