Big changes amongst the offenses and defenses of the NFL are about to take place. With every available head-coaching job locked down and most staffs beginning to take shape, several teams will now begin the process of making a drastic shift in their schemes.
Changing to a new scheme involves more than just teaching the roster a new playbook. Even some good players, whose skills may have been a great fit for the old concepts, may not have the abilities required to play in the new one. At the player personnel level, both the general manager and the scouting department must abandon their previous prototypes and identify a new group of players to target.
But it's not always true that the change will mean growing pains.
Consider the Green Bay defense, which switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 when Dom Capers arrived after the 2008 season. The shift immediately improved players like defensive end Cullen Jenkins and middle linebacker Nick Barnett, and general manager Ted Thompson did his part by adding nose tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round of the 2009 draft. Even though the move marginalized star defensive end Aaron Kampman and eventually forced him to leave for Jacksonville in free agency, the defense went from 12th in DVOA in 2008 to second in both 2009 and 2010.
We've identified four new coaching arrangements that could produce very interesting changes in scheme. Some create questions about whether the personnel already in place will be able to adapt effectively; others have clear holes that need to be filled between now and next season. So here they are, with a verdict on what will happen.
New: Head coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott
The hiring of former Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Rivera and ex-Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator McDermott gives the Panthers a little bit of everything. Rivera's been the defensive coordinator of a conservative Tampa 2 defense and an aggressive 3-4 alignment, while McDermott handled the Eagles' blitz-heavy 4-3 attack. Considering Rivera grew up in the NFL playing linebacker for Buddy Ryan's Bears defense, expect the combination of coaches to lean heavily on an aggressive, attacking 4-3 alignment.
That fits what the Panthers have to work with on defense. They are strong at cornerback with Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall, which should allow the team to blitz without being totally exposed in coverage. Linebacker Jon Beason is a playmaker who can handle any spot in any defensive alignment, which creates flexibility for McDermott. The pass-rush threat is Charles Johnson, a former FBO top 25 prospect who had 11.5 sacks this season. He'll be McDermott's Trent Cole in Carolina, and if the team adds defensive tackle Nick Fairley with the first overall pick, this defense could be very good in a hurry.
Verdict: Approaching top-10 defense