3) Is rookie Head Coach Chuck Pagano more Mike Nolan or Rex Ryan?
Of the five defensive coordinators the Baltimore Ravens have had since they moved from Cleveland in 1996, Pagano is the fourth to earn a head coaching job.
The previous three have had various levels of success; Mike Nolan flamed out in San Francisco, Marvin Lewis has had some success mixed with plenty of failure in Cincinnati, and Rex Ryan has been relatively successful and very controversial in New York.
Of the three, Ryan is the only one with a career winning record and any playoff victories, while Lewis won AP Coach of the Year in 2009.
Pagano is a lot closer to the first two in terms of personality, but he does have slightly more coaching experience than any of the other three did when moving into their jobs.
Pagano has had great success in the NFL, both with the Ravens’ defense and as a secondary coach in Cleveland and Oakland, helping successes such as Anthony Henry (10 interceptions under Pagano in 2001) and Nnamdi Asomugha.
The team he is inheriting is very different from the ones taken on by the other Baltimore coordinators, and his 17 years of college coaching experience should help in developing young players such as Andrew Luck and Donald Brown.
While leaps and bounds aren’t expected immediately, Pagano should eventually help improve on the 105-121 combined record of former Baltimore defensive coordinators, and he should eventually join Ryan as a playoff game-winner.
2) How much do veterans Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne have left in the tank?
In case you’ve forgotten, Dwight Freeney is still in the NFL. The 11th
overall pick in the Draft a decade ago, Freeney is converting to an outside linebacker after piling up a franchise-record 102.5 sacks as a defensive end. He’s also closing in on the NFL career mark for forced fumbles, four off of Jason Taylor’s record of 46.
The conversion to a 3-4 defense under Pagano necessitated a switch, as Freeney lacks the size to play a 3-4 defensive end. Pass rushing has always been his strong suit, however, and freeing him up to make moves might rejuvenate him and allow him to return to form until his body gives out. He has missed significant time due to injury in the past, but has been relatively healthy over the last two seasons. The big question is how effective he’ll be when the team is ready to return to the playoffs.
Wayne, on the other hand, has been very visible as the team’s top receiver since Marvin Harrison left. His string of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons was broken last year, largely due to ineffective play by the carousel of quarterbacks. Even still, he barely missed the mark with 960 yards on 75 catches.
The former first-rounder stands tied for 15th
all-time in total receptions and 22nd
all-time in receiving yards, ranks he will improve on in 2012. The unfortunate thing, however, is that players who are high on the career lists have often been playing for a long time, and that is the case with Wayne.
He will be turning 34 during the season, which is the age where most wideouts start to drop off considerably. He also will be working with a new quarterback in Luck, which shouldn’t be much of a problem after seeing how he was able to connect with the trio of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky last season. Luck is better than any of them at this stage, so any drop-off is likely more on Wayne than on the rookie.
1) What does Andrew Luck have to give in 2012?
Aside from Phil Simms (in a move he was roundly criticized for), nobody has a bad word to say about Luck. He has been almost universally considered to be a worthy successor to Peyton Manning, which is quite possibly the greatest possible praise a rookie quarterback could ever hope to receive.
However, these observers do anticipate some growing pains in 2012, similar to those Manning suffered in 1998. In that year, Manning set then-rookie records with 3,739 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, but also threw a league-high 28 interceptions and only managed three wins for the year.
In the ensuing 12 seasons, he threw for under 4,000 yards only once and won fewer than ten games only once while skyrocketing up the career passing lists. Many feel that Luck will parallel Manning in many ways, including the rookie-year struggles. He does have a couple advantages, however, in Wayne and Coby Fleener.
The veteran Wayne will serve as something of a mentor to Luck, and Luck’s Stanford teammate Fleener will provide some needed continuity while serving as the primary “emergency valve” that Manning had for so many years in Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark (who is still with the team but saw a drop in production even while Manning was still around).
Luck should put up some solid numbers this season, but he should also make quite a few mistakes as he adjusts to NFL defenses.