By Clark Judge | July 6, 2018
Of the seven new NFL head coaches, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel is one of two to inherit a team with a winning record and the only one to take over a club that reached the playoffs. In fact, the Titans last year made the postseason for the first time in nine years. So Vrabel drew the long straw.
But which of the newest head coaches has the toughest job this season? Glad you asked.
Would Frank Reich and Steve Wilks please step forward?
Both assume NFL head-coaching jobs for the first time in their careers, with Reich chosen by Indianapolis only after Josh McDaniels backed out. But that’s not what makes their jobs this year so difficult. This is:
There are three better teams in the AFC South than Indianapolis, and the Cards play in a division with the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle and San Francisco. The Rams and 49ers are trendy playoff picks, while Seattle has been to the postseason seven of the last eight years, including two Super Bowls. Follow the breadcrumbs: Both these teams look like bottom feeders waiting to happen. Granted, the Cards were 8-8 a year ago, but that’s more a testament to the coaching magic of Bruce Arians, who won three of his last four games – including a season-ending 26-24 defeat of Seattle (in Seattle, no less) that cost the Seahawks a playoff spot.
There are injuries everywhere. In Indianapolis, Andrew Luck is coming off shoulder surgery and hasn’t thrown a pass in a year-and-a-half. Worse, he’s missed 26 of 48 games the past three seasons. In Arizona, Sam Bradford hasn’t played an entire season since 2012 and is coming off a year where he missed all but two games with a knee injury. That, of course, is why the Cards spent their first-round draft pick on UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, but this just in: He missed parts of the past two seasons with a shoulder injury and concussions. Now you know why Mike Glennon is on the roster.
If your quarterbacks are fragile, your offensive line better not be … and that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, in Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson the Colts chose the best offensive lineman (and maybe the best player, period) in this year’s draft. And, yes, they spent their last two first-round draft picks on offensive linemen. But, no, there’s no certainty that a unit that last year allowed a league-high 56 sacks can keep Luck off the ground. In Arizona, the Cards overhaul a line that surrendered the third-most sacks (52) in 2017, and, while there’s experience, there are also durability questions. Plus, left tackle D.J. Humphries has a total … total … of 18 pro starts. Okay, you can protect a quarterback with a solid running game, but tell me where there is one. The Colts averaged 3.7 yards a carry last season, and only four teams were worse. Arizona (3.4) was one of them. Granted, the Cards get David Johnson back, and Wilks promises a run-first offense. But Johnson is coming off a wrist injury that sidelined him 15 games last season, so there are no guarantees. The same goes for Indianapolis, which turns to Marlon Mack for the bulk of the carries.
THE GOOD NEWS
In Indianapolis, Luck is back, and the Colts are 43-27 with him. In Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t retired, David Johnson appears healthy and star cornerback Patrick Peterson hasn’t gone anywhere.
THE BAD NEWS
In Indianapolis, Luck hasn’t taken a snap since January 2017, and will be on a pitch count in camp. In Arizona, Fitzgerald turns 35 in August, and Peterson just lost playmaker Tyrann Mathieu as a partner. And in both places, the quarterbacks look like injuries waiting to happen.
Wish Reich and Wilks luck. They’re going to need it.