When longtime coordinators move from one defense to another, it’s noteworthy.
There were several such transfers for this season, including former head coaches Romeo Crennel, back to Houston, and Mike Pettine, now in Green Bay. Dean Pees, as successful as nearly any assistant coach over the past two decades, landed in Tennessee.
Here are six intriguing new defensive coordinators:
Romeo Crennel, Houston — If there was a Hall of Fame for coordinators, Crennel would have the credentials for first-ballot entry.
He replaces new Titans coach Mike Vrabel in a job Crennel held from 2014-16, pretty much when J.J. Watt was becoming the best player in the league. Crennel inherits a unit that fell apart with Watt and Whitney Mercilus injured and little help from the offense when Deshaun Watson wasn’t available.
But the talent is there, particularly if Watt is healthy and back to form, teaming with Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney and newcomer Tyrann Mathieu. Crennel seems the right guy to turn those ingredients into a tasty dish.
“I don’t think you forget what it takes and what you need to do,” Crennel said. “It’s all about evaluating, motivating and trying to put a good plan together and get the guys to execute and play it.”
Dean Pees, Tennessee — Pees actually does replace a Hall of Famer, though Dick LeBeau made the Canton shrine for his playing career, not his incredible success as a coordinator.
Pees has been around, too, coaching since 1979 and about to turn 69. He’s won Super Bowls with the Patriots and Ravens, takes over a group that can stop the run, but needs to be much more stingy against the pass. If Watson and Andrew Luck are healthy, that adds to the challenge for Pees.
At least Tennessee added CB Malcolm Butler and DT Bennie Logan, plus a pair of linebackers early in the draft. This group will be aggressive and the Titans come off a playoff appearance, so expectations are raised.
“Just having two legends as coaches on the defense, man, I was blessed,” All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said.
Mike Pettine, Green Bay — The Packers need an aggressive scheme on D to match the Aaron Rodgers approach with the ball. Pettine surely will pick up the tempo and take more chances than Dom Capers did.
Whether he has the talent on that side of the ball is another matter. The Packers almost seemed in desperation mode when they re-signed Davon House and Tramon Williams for the secondary.
If Muhammad Wilkerson gets his mojo back after signing, then not living up to his big contract with the Jets, Pettine might upgrade a defense that finished 26th in points allowed.
“In the new defense we’re getting ready to hit this season strong,” star linebacker Clay Matthews said, “and hold up our end of the bargain.”
Ken Norton Jr., Seattle — Norton spent five seasons working under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, handling linebackers and overseeing the rapid development of Bobby Wagner into an All-Pro.
The Legion of Boom has been torn asunder, though, and there are serious questions where a pass rush will come from. Norton must find the answers as Seattle goes through roster upheaval, a difficult chore.
But he does have Wagner, Frank Clark and K.J. Wright.
“We went through a lot those first three years and obviously I paid close attention when he left and we stayed in touch,” Wagner said. “When I heard he was coming back I had a lot of joy and a lot of excitement because I felt like we had a little bit of unfinished business. It’s good to have him back …”
James Bettcher, New York Giants — Bettcher replaces a popular coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who was doomed by replacing the fired Ben McAdoo in December and not seeing any improvement from the Giants. Like Spags, Bettcher is a go-get-’em type who did a lot with under-the-radar defenders in Arizona.
Gone is inconsistent sack master Jason Pierre-Paul, but Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison remain up front, with the linebackers getting a boost thanks to adding Alex Ogletree. If Bettcher can help the secondary get stingier, he will have done a good job.
“What it is about is playing relentless,” Bettcher said. “The game is about playing hard. The game is about playing physical. The game is about playing smart.
Paul Guenther, Raiders — If Guenther can simply keep up with Jon Gruden’s nonstop enthusiasm, he will have performed well.
He must find a pass rush — it doesn’t hurt having Khalil Mack on hand — and better coverage in the secondary, which has struggled for years. He’s working with a few journeymen who can’t be expected to make a huge impact.
Gruden figures to get the offense rolling, so Oakland’s fortunes could rest on Guenther’s work.
“Paul Guenther’s defense, it’s very aggressive,” said new middle linebacker Derrick Johnson, the veteran who came over from the Chiefs. “So many different looks. The onus is really on the linebackers to learn a lot of stuff.”
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