Secondary: Steve Shafer, Baltimore. He has the luxury of recent high first-round picks at both corners but gets the most out of them and all his DBs, both on coverage and INT returns. The Ravens' quick-strike interception scores helped keep the team winning during its midseason offensive stall.
Special Teams: Joe DeCamillis, Atlanta. The Falcons were awful except on special teams where they covered well, scored three times on returns, blocked kicks, and ran some of the classiest onsides ever. One, against the Rams in a surprise onside situation, worked like this: Of the three Falcons in the area where the onside was directed, two made no attempt to field the ball. Rather they smash-blocked any Rams out of the way so that Falcon No. 3 could fall on the rock unmolested.
Offensive Line: Jim McNally, Giants, TMQ Position Coach of the Year. As last week's column detailed, McNally molded low-paid castoffs into an excellent unit. See that silk purse over his shoulder? Used to be a sow's ear.
Tight Ends: Keith Rowen, Kansas City. Rarely is a coach hired essentially to work with a single player. This gentleman arrived at the Chiefs two years ago to work with Tony Gonzalez, and Gonzalez has been Pro Bowl since.
Wide Receivers: Todd Haley, Jersey/B. Joining the Jets in 1996 at age 29 with no playing or coaching experience, Haley has somehow made himself a capable WR tutor. Jersey/B had the league's sixth-ranked passing attacks despite its WRs being a collection of castoffs and misfits, and all short to boot.
Running Backs: Bobby Turner, Denver. Since Turner joined the Broncos in 1995, no NFL team has had more rushing yards. At first that seemed the advent of unknown low draft pick Terrell Davis. But then Davis got hurt, and unknown low draft pick Olandis Gary ran just as well. Then Gary got hurt, and unknown low draft pick Mike Anderson ran just as well. Sense a pattern? Turner relentlessly teaches a one-cut running technique—Denver RBs are allowed just one cut and then must plow forward, forbidden to make a second change of direction until such time as they may be in the secondary. No stutter steps behind the line, no "Look ma, I'm dancing." One-cut running works like an amulet. Why do so many teams let their RBs dance?
QB: Alex Wood, Minnesota. Yes, Daunte Culpepper is gifted, but it's been shown that gifted QBs can be turned into towers of compressed sawdust by bad coaching. Wood, a former head coach at James Madison, will be a head coach again.
Offensive Coordinator: Marty Mornhinweg, San Francisco. Football pundits shrug that the Niners consistently have great offense "because of their system." If it were just a matter of plugging in a system, everybody would have great offense. Mornhinweg is the guy who runs the Niners' system, and if he had been born Marty Monday or anything pronounceable, he'd be famous. Head coaching vacancy, please.
Defensive Coordinator: Ted Cottrell, Buffalo. Last season the Bills were the No. 1-ranked defense, then they lost Bruce Smith and three other starters to free agency. This year five more starters went down with season-ending injuries, including star Sam Cowart. Yet the Bills defense still finished third overall, a spectacular achievement considering the personnel loses. Cottrell draws no notice from the networks because his defense plays a cerebral style based on position, analysis, and discipline, not the blitzing, taunting, and preening sort of defense exulted by the media. Cottrell is also unrecognized because the sports press doesn't know what to make of—or how to pigeonhole—a black guy whose primary approach to the game is intellectual. Head coaching vacancy, please.
Covert Coach Notes: Kansas City has a coach exclusively for "nickel packages," and the Packers have no fewer than three gentlemen who coach "quality control."
We're All Professionals Here: The Giants and Eagles were a combined four of 28 on third-down conversions. On a broken play, Minnesota guard Corbin Lacina was flagged for offensive pass interference.
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