GREEN BAY PACKERS UPDATE 

lGETTING COORDINATED: PACKERS, TEXANS, CHIEFS & DOLPHINS...

This is the second of a four-part series we'll use to review all 17 teams (Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, New England, New Orleans, the New York Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington) making changes at the offensive coordinator position this offseason.

The goal here isn't to paint a definitive picture; it's an attempt to get up to speed on each team's play-calling plans before mandatory mini-camps begin in earnest the week after the NFL Draft (April 29-30). We'll continue adding to our knowledge base on all the newcomers as their respective teams take the field in the coming weeks and months -- and we start to see more specific trends and strategies begin to emerge.

Remember, being well informed is a process; this is just a starting point.

Those who missed it can review Part One -- the Bills, Cowboys, Broncos and Lions -- by clicking HERE.

This week: The Packers, Texans, Chiefs and Dolphins.

Starting in Green Bay. ... Incoming coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, a Wisconsin native who was the Packers' tight ends coach from 1999 to 2003, never wanted to leave his home state. But he didn't have much choice when Mike Sherman fired him after the 2003 season over "philosophical differences."

But as PackersNews.com staffer Dylan B. Tomlinson suggested in January, it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to Jagodzinski.

The Atlanta Falcons hired him to coach their tight ends, and a year later, he was promoted to offensive line coach. On Jan. 15 Jagodzinski returned to Wisconsin as the first member of new head coach Mike McCarthy's staff.

Tomlinson went on to remind readers that Jagodzinski's first season in Green Bay hardly was successful.

Under then-head coach Ray Rhodes, the Packers went 8-8, and the majority of the staff was fired. Jagodzinski was one of the lucky few to keep his job. McCarthy -- the team's quarterback coach -- was not as fortunate. But the connection made between them that year led to a mutual admiration.

"I liked the way he went about his business. I liked his disposition. I think he has an excellent work ethic," McCarthy said. "I think he's an outstanding family man, and I want him on my staff. I want (to be) connected at the hip as we go forward. He's an individual who will be an excellent complement to myself and the rest of the staff."

Jagodzinski's relationship with McCarthy may have started in Green Bay, but it was what Jagodzinski did in Atlanta that led to his hiring.

While with the Falcons, Jagodzinski was taken under the wing of Alex Gibbs, who is regarded as one of the most innovative offensive line gurus in the NFL. Gibbs was Atlanta's offensive line coach in 2004 and a consultant in 2005.

"I was fortunate to be able to work with who I feel is one of the best football coaches in the NFL, and that was Alex Gibbs," Jagodzinski said. "Alex had a track record at Denver, and he brought that rushing style to Atlanta, and I got a chance to work under him day in and day out for two years and learn from who I think is the master at developing that scheme. ...

"I think that scheme can be very successful here, along with some gap schemes that Mike feels very strongly about. Being able to bring those things together can be a very positive thing for us."

There's no doubt about that. Gibbs' scheme was tremendously successful in Atlanta. In 2004, the Falcons set a franchise record with 2,672 rushing yards. In 2005, Warrick Dunn rushed for 1,416 yards and made the Pro Bowl.

McCarthy said he hopes Jagodzinski's success with the running game, combined with his own expertise in the passing game, will revive the Packers' offense.

"I think it will be a great complement with us working together," McCarthy said. "I was looking for someone with more of an interior background who also has the diversity to complete the big picture of our offensive scheme."

Asked in a recent interview how the zone-blocking scheme meshes with his vision of the West Coast offense, McCarthy elaborated further.

"Jeff's really fired up about the zone-blocking scheme, but that's not the only one we're going to use," the coach told PackersNews.com staff writer Pete Dougherty. "In my first two years in the league, I was with [Gibbs], in 1993 and '94, so he's had a big impact on how I view the run game and how I view protection.

"The lead-zone blocking scheme keeps you out of long down and distances, No. 1. Running the football is critical, and it's an outstanding way to run the football because you're doing the same things over and over and over again. If you can't run the football, half of your passing game won't be very good, because when you throw the football, it's either an action pass or a drop-back pass.

"If the run game doesn't exist, the success of the action pass game won't be high. ..."

Indeed, Pro Football Weekly recently suggested that in addition to his understanding of zone blocking, Jagodzinski's experience with multiple running-game schemes also played a major role.

Still, Jagodzinski and the Packers are all but certain to rely most heavily on zone blocking -- a significant change from the gap-oriented concepts run by the Packers in recent years under Sherman.

So, it's worth noting the Falcons -- exclusively a zone-blocking offense, averaged a league-high average of 159.1 rushing yards per game last season. The Packers, in sharp contrast, ranked 30th with an average of 84.5 yards.

Running behind the Packers' new zone-blocking scheme, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Samkon Gado will have to adjust to the dictum that running backs get only one cut. Green said he played under a similar scheme in college at Nebraska.

"You're going to make one cut and go north and south and go gain a blade of grass at the very minimum," Jagodzinski said, "so you're always going downhill. There will be no stutter-stepping in the backfield here and dancing around. It'll be hit it and go. ..."

Former Packer and current Panthers guard Mike Wahle recently told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat man Tom Silverstein that his former teammates in Green Bay will have no problem adjusting to the zone-blocking scheme.

Wahle said he didn't see the Packers' veteran offensive linemen having any trouble adjusting to the zone scheme. He said the people who will have to adjust the most are the running backs because there really isn't a prescribed hole to run through.

He said many of the runs are so-called "stretch" plays in which the back picks a hole based on how the defense reacts.

"That scheme is awesome," Wahle said. "With the athletic players they have, that scheme will be great.

"It's really just that the backs have to learn how to make those reads. I think you need faster guys (at guard) because you have to be able to get on linebackers and you have to turn. You not only have to cut guys off but turn on them. ..."

Meanwhile, I've yet to see an official statement regarding who will handle the play-calling duties this fall, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see McCarthy -- rather than Jagodzinski -- assume that responsibility.

That's based on the fact he's called all the plays in each of his last two positions -- under Saints head coach Jim Haslett and San Francisco's Mike Nolan -- and he clearly has a talent in that area.

"I think he's an outstanding play-caller," said Jack Henry, who as offensive line coach for the Saints worked alongside McCarthy from 2000-'04. "He's a guy that knows when to pull the trigger. When Mike calls the trick play or the deep ball, he's got a great feel for that. He was an on-the-field play-caller.

"That is also indicative of a guy who has a feel for calling a game by the flow of the game."

McCarthy's version of the West Coast, according to Henry, contains a ground game similar to what the Packers employed under Sherman and a pure West Coast passing game.

"He does a lot of different things in terms of changing up the look of what he does," Henry said. "His running game is more power-oriented. It's more in line with what Kansas City was when he was there (as an offensive quality control coach in 1993). It's not "Martyball," but it's more along those lines."

Which sheds even greater light on Jagodzinski's presence. ...

One last note here. ... One of the bigger changes -- at least from the players' perspective -- we'll see this season? McCarthy's terminology for naming plays requires extensive memorization, which has been standard for the Packers since 1992.

That doesn't guarantee a slow start, but language is definitely something the team will have to get past before they can start master the scheme itself. ...

In Houston. ... A two-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Wake Forest first led Troy Calhoun, 39, to the NFL. While he spent just the 2001 and '02 seasons with the team, his reputation for having an innovative offensive mind quickly spread.

It's not hard to figure out why. ... His Demon Deacons led the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense in 2002 with 408.1 yards per game. Calhoun's offense led Wake Forest to a 38-17 win over the Oregon Ducks in the 2002 Seattle Bowl, amassing 497 total yards.

According to Houston Chronicle staffer Megan Manfull, Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist, a fellow Air Force graduate, flight commander and coach, had kept his eye on Calhoun since they were at the Academy together. Sundquist suggested to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan that he check out the young coach.

Shanahan was impressed, and he wasn't the only one.

"I hired him because they were doing some unique things at [Wake Forest]," Shanahan said. "(In 2004), I was at the (scouting) combine having a beer with [Tampa Bay coach Jon] Gruden and a couple of other coaches. Gruden asked me if I had been watching what a lot of these colleges had been doing on offense.

"He said he found one that was doing some really unique things in the South. I told him I was going to have to hire their coach. He said, 'How are you going to hire him when you don't even know who I'm talking about?' And I said, 'His name is Troy Calhoun. And I've hired him.' He said, 'I can't believe you already got him.'"

In 2003, Calhoun joined the Broncos as a defensive assistant and was just what Shanahan expected. In 2005, Shanahan made Calhoun the team's assistant to the head coach.

"He's a tremendous discipline person," said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who as Denver's longtime offensive coordinator worked closely with Calhoun. "He has great values, has a work ethic that's second to none, is brilliant and smart.

"He also has an air of confidence about him and about what he's doing. I know he made me a better coach when I had him with me the last two years."

And that's why Kubiak brought him along to Houston.

Calhoun's penchant for hard work and the leadership qualities he possesses are the direct result of having been an assistant in the college ranks for 12 years and also serving as an officer in the Air Force.

"On a daily basis, what you're doing is all grooming you for leadership experience," Calhoun said. "That background helps in active duty and coaching. (As an officer) you're 23 years old and right out of college, but you have 12 to 15 enlisted personnel that are between 19 and 40 years old working for you.

"It's kind of like coaching a little bit. You must have unity and a cohesive group in whatever the tasks are in a given mission. You were coaching. That's what you were doing. As you get a little older, you realize you're pretty fortunate to have some of that experience."

Soon after Kubiak agreed to join the Texans in January, he asked Calhoun to accompany him. Kubiak wanted Calhoun as his offensive coordinator even though Calhoun had not held the position in the NFL.

According to Manfull, their relationship in Houston will be much like Kubiak had with Shanahan in Denver. Kubiak will be heavily involved in the offense and will call the plays. He also will be the primary coach of the quarterbacks.

Shanahan and Kubiak agree Calhoun is ready for more responsibility, however. Shanahan said eventually Kubiak will turn more of the offense over to Calhoun, just as he did with Kubiak years ago.

"There is no question that Troy is ready to be an offensive coordinator," Shanahan said. "At some point, Gary is going to get bogged down with the responsibilities that go with being a head coach, and he will turn it over to Troy."

But it won't be this year. ... So, with Kubiak running the show it's rather easy envision the Texans running an offense very similar to the Broncos' scheme.

Asked about his offensive philosophy, Kubiak recently explained: "The one thing we preached in Denver is a team concept. If we've got to run it to win, we're going to run it; if we've got to throw it, we're going to throw it. We get everybody involved. We're a very unselfish football team. To be as successful as we've been and move the ball the way we've moved it just says a lot about our players. But you've got to be able to do it both ways.

"This game's not about credit, it's about competing and trying to win a championship. I'm very comfortable with that."

According to the Sports Xchange, Kubiak will tailor his scheme to maximize the talents of David Carr, Domanick Davis, Andre Johnson and perhaps Reggie Bush.

Also worth noting is the way management has reshaped the roster during the free-agent signing period. It appears Kubiak has been given considerable say in the additions.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Eric Moulds, acquired in a trade with Buffalo, and Kevin Walter replace Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford at wide receiver. Sage Rosenfels replaces Tony Banks as backup quarterback. Jameel Cook is the type of finesse fullback Kubiak and Calhoun prefer.

New tight end Jeb Putzier is familiar with Kubiak, Calhoun and the Texans' new tight ends coach Brian Pariani after working closely with them in Denver. He also happens to catch down the field better than most players at his position.

The 6-4, 256-pound Putzier will share time with returning starter and blocking specialist Mark Bruener.

"Obviously, I know Jeb very well, and he'll be a tremendous fit for us," Kubiak said. "I'm real comfortable with him. He's got the speed to stretch the field. ..."

In Kansas City. ... Asked about his offensive philosophy during the introductory press conference following his hiring in January, Herman Edwards demonstrated a solid grasp of the obvious.

"This offense has been prolific in the last three or four seasons," the coach said. "They can score points. I'm not dumb. You don't change things just to change things. Sometimes people expect when a new coach comes in that he's going to change this and change that. I'm going to evaluate everything.

"Keep scoring 30 points. I like that. That's a good thing."

That of course, was good news for Fantasy owners wondering about possible changes in philosophy.

The better news came shortly after former offensive coordinator Al Saunders accepted an offer from the Redskins and Edwards announced that long-time assistant Mike Solari would be retained and elevated to the coordinator spot.

Solari was the architect of the Chiefs running game, one that produced an average of 149 rushing yards a game under two different backs this past season.

Solari was the team's offensive line coach for the past nine years, a period in which the Chiefs' blocking unit has developed a reputation as one of the NFL's most elite. He was offensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh in 1986.

"It's his time," Edwards said of Solari, a college teammate of both Edwards and Carolina head coach John Fox while at San Diego State in the mid-1970s. Edwards once interviewed Solari as a candidate for the Jets' offensive coordinator position.

"He's got a great mind and a great feel for this team and its players," Edwards added. "And, we'll be surrounding him with a lot of great coaches. People will say he hasn't called a play. Well, I hadn't been a head coach, either, until the Jets gave me a chance. This league is about giving guys their opportunity, and when you do, you can be surprised at what happens.

"Mike is ready for this."

According to the Xchange, the offensive focus might shift slightly under Edwards and Solari with the run game and short passing game getting more emphasis than it did when Saunders made stretching the field a priority, but don't look for any significant changes.

In fact, asked in an April 7 interview if expected the offense to change noticeably, Trent Green told the team's official web site that won't be the case.

"No, the offense won't change," the veteran signal caller said. "I've met several times with Mike Solari, met several times with coach Edwards and they don't want to change the offense. The entire coaching staff offensively is back except for Al Saunders and we brought in a new tight end coach also.

"But, for the most part, that corps offense has been together and that corps group of players is still intact. So the offense isn't going to change."

All the above tends to jibe with recent comments by Solari, who told reporters in February that he doesn't expect the passing game to change much.

As the team's offensive line coach, Solari focused more on blocking schemes, protections and short-yardage game-planning in the past. But as PFW noted, he has some familiar faces with which to work, most notably quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, receivers coach Charlie Joiner and Green.

That support system and an entire offseason to work out the kinks should make for a smooth transition and maintaining the offensive balance, according to those close to the team.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that Solari is eager to strike a blow against the stereotypical view that line coaches aren't capable of running an entire offense.

"Offensive line coaches know the protections, they know the run game and those with a history in the league know the passing game," said Solari, who enters his 18th NFL season. "Do they know it as well as a quarterback coach or a receiver coach? No, that's not their expertise.

"But, why can't a guy prepare over four or five months and be ready after spring workouts and four preseason games? Preparation brings confidence, and I'm ready."

As the Xchange suggested, it will help even more that Solari inherits most, if not all, returning elements of an offense that led the league in total yards over the past two seasons.

"This is a great opportunity mainly because of the players here," Solari noted. "What a great situation to have a Trent Green, a Larry Johnson, a Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez. What a great situation to have an offensive line with three Pro Bowl players. It's just a great situation for any coordinator."

The return of two senior Pro Bowl members of his offensive line, Will Shields and Willie Roaf, also works in his favor. ...

In Miami. ... In what might turn out to be the change of least impact, Dolphins head coach Nick Saban decided the scheme that Scott Linehan brought to the Dolphins will remain -- even though the former offensive coordinator is now the Rams' head coach.

New offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will run that system, although it is new to him.

As the Xchange noted in January, Mularkey is regarded as having one of the NFL's most innovative offensive minds, but the system he will be running in Miami won't be exactly the same as the one he used in Buffalo.

"This offense we have is really the Miami Dolphins offense and I don't think anybody should lose sight of that," said Saban, whose unit finished ranked 14th in the NFL during the regular season. "Everybody that sits in the room on our staff has made a contribution to building that offense from the ground up in terms of the language we use. That's not something we want to change for the players.

"If we're not smart enough as coaches to learn the terminology we need to let the players have success, then we're not the kind of teachers we need to be. I'm totally confident that we will be able to do that."

But as Palm Beach Post beat writer Todd Darlington recently suggested, that's not to say it's unnatural to wonder whether the Dolphins' offense would look noticeably different with Mularkey instead of Linehan. Mularkey is known for his desire to have an explosive running game.

Linehan was known more for a more unconventional vertical passing game.

This might explain why Chris Chambers told reporters he was "definitely disappointed" that Linehan left after one season in Miami. But the star wideout claims he was put at ease when Saban announced the offense would not change.

"I was glad to hear that because once we learned the terminology and knew how the system worked, we knew how to make plays," Chambers said.

Chambers also indicated he's heard good things from close friend and fellow University of Wisconsin product Lee Evans, who played receiver the past two years for Mularkey in Buffalo.

"Lee said [Mularkey's] going to give you the opportunity to make plays and we're definitely going to run the ball -- I do know that much," Chambers said. "I have no problem with that, as long as we're putting up points."

I suspect Fantasy owners will take a similar approach. ...

That's it for Part Two; watch the Main Page and Headline News section of this site early next week, when I'll post Part Three, featuring Minnesota, New England, New Orleans, the New York Jets and Oakland.


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