The draft is the final major hurdle before the NFL season really begins. How are things stacking up for the new head coaches?
Bill O’Brien – Houston Texans
The man who kept hope alive at Penn State now must do the same for the Houston Texans. Bill O’Brien doesn’t entire the dire situation he did before though. He inherits a team with a talented roster already in place. His job is to get the needed pieces to make in viable for the playoffs again, namely a quarterback. If he succeeds his roster is good enough to challenge the Colts in the AFC South
2014 finish: 10-6 (Wild Card)
Mike Pettine – Cleveland Browns
Ray Farmer has made some nice tweaks to the Cleveland Browns roster as Mike Pettine settles in as the third head coach in three years for the team. The problem is while the shift has gone on relatively well there is no feeling that the Browns have improved from where they were a year ago which was boasting some talent but no winning feeling. Much of that can change in the draft. The Browns have a wealth of early NFL draft picks and such a talent infusion might tip the scale their way provided Pettine knows how to use it.
2014 finish: 7-9
Ken Whisenhunt – Tennessee Titans
His success in Arizona followed by a strong year in San Diego got Ken Whisenhunt his second chance at head coaching with the Tennessee Titans. He inherits a team that seemed good enough to make the playoffs in 2013 but has lingering questions at quarterback with Jake Locker. Throw in a shift in defensive scheme and it very difficult seeing the Titans being able to unseat the Colts unless they get at least one of those two issues resolved.
2014 finish: 6-10
Jay Gruden – Washington Redskins
Living in the shadow of his brother has cast a lot of doubt on Jay Gruden, which isn’t really fair. The new Washington Redskins head coach is experienced, a capable play caller and has learned from some very accomplished coaches. On top of that his team has been busy upgrading the roster in free agency with names like DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Jason Hatcher and Ryan Clark among others. Together with a strong draft and healthy Robert Griffin III there is no reason to think the Redskins can’t compete in a division whose reigning champion was 10-6 last season.
2014 finish: 11-5 (NFC East champs)
Jim Caldwell – Detroit Lions
Aside from O’Brien, no coach took on a more talented roster than Jim Caldwell. The Detroit Lions seemed poised to take over the NFC North in 2013 but fell apart down the stretch due to some catastrophic breakdowns. They have an offense and defense in place. What they lack is direction and discipline. Caldwell can provide that. Whether he can do it swiftly is the big question. Detroit has what it takes in terms of talent. It’s the mental toughness they’ll need to push it over the top.
2014 finish: 10-6 (Wild Card)
Mike Zimmer – Minnesota Vikings
This hiring was long overdue. Mike Zimmer has been one of the best coordinators in the NFL for years and deserved a chance to head his own team. Now he has that chance with the Minnesota Vikings. One thing that can be rest assured is that he will straighten out a defense that struggled often in 2013. The real dilemma facing the defensive head coach is how he plans to solve the Vikings’ quarterback woes. Christian Ponder is a bust and Matt Cassel is a veteran with no long-term guarantees. Zimmer must find stability at the position if Minnesota is going to compete in that division with three other really good teams.
2014 finish: 8-8
Lovie Smith – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No NFC team was more aggressive in free agency than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They overhauled the entire roster from top to bottom, especially on defense as Lovie Smith prepares to install a system that made him famous during his nine-season run in Chicago. They added a Pro Bowl corner in Alterraun Verner, a disruptive pass rush in Michael Johnson, a tight end in Brandon Myers, a left tackle in Anthony Collins and even a quarterback in veteran Josh McCown. These moves have improved the talent level for sure, but it’s up to Smith to get them playing together quickly. Getting past the Saints, Panthers and Falcons will be a season-long chore.
2014 finish: 9-7
Tags: Bill O'brien Cleveland Browns Detroit Lions Houston Texans Jay Gruden Ken Whisenhunt Lovie Smith Mike Pettine Mike Zimmer Minnesota Vikings NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tennessee Titans Washington Redskins