NFC West Assistant Coaches Who Will Have a Big Impact in 2012
Head coaches are always in the spotlight—whether it’s for good or bad reasons.
If the team is doing well, the head coach gets all the praise. If the team does poorly, the coach is then raked over the coals and eventually gets placed on the hot seat.
Often overlooked are the assistant coaches who are actually working with the players every day. The head coach can be seen during practices bouncing from position group to position group. The same can be said for offensive and defensive coordinators.
But the position coaches are the ones who truly have the biggest impact on a player’s development.
The following are four assistants—one per NFC West team—who could have the biggest impact on their respective teams.
Arizona Cardinals: OL Coach Russ Grimm
Grimm also has the title of assistant head coach, but his biggest challenge this year is to get consistent play out of veteran tackle Levi Brown and the rest of the offensive line.
The fifth-overall pick in 2007 has said he wants to prove he is still worthy of a first-round draft selection. It’s up to Grimm, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2010 and member of the Washington Redskins’ famed “Hogs” line, to help make that happen.
Grimm will also be tasked with developing fourth-round pick Bobby Massie, who many expect to beat out Jeremy Bridges for the other starting tackle spot.
The Cardinals will also have a new starting right guard, likely free-agent signee Adam Snyder.
There are six rookie offensive linemen in camp. If the Cardinals are going to create holes for the running game and protect whichever quarterback wins the starting job, it’s Grimm’s responsibility to ensure that happens.
St. Louis Rams: Quarterbacks Coach Frank Cignetti
Quarterback Sam Bradford blossomed as a rookie with now-retired Dick Curl as his quarterbacks coach. When Josh McDaniels was brought in last year as Curls' replacement and offensive coordinator, Bradford’s play suffered.
Bradford said his individual attention to detail suffered last season with McDaniels wearing both hats. That hasn’t been the case with Cignetti working with Bradford and the other quarterbacks—Kellen Clemens, Tom Brandstater and rookie Austin Davis—everyday.
“Cig’s great, especially for the fundamentals of playing the position,” Bradford said in June. “Every day he comes to me with an emphasis of the day, whether it’s pass game-footwork, run game-footwork, play action fakes, boots, off the run game. And just to have someone who’s constantly reminding to do the little things is very helpful as a quarterback.”
With those daily reminders, Bradford could again play like the quarterback who led the Rams to a 7-9 record in 2010 and was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Cignetti is back in the NFL after four years in the college ranks—most recently as the offensive coordinator at Rutgers under current Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has full confidence in Cignetti, and so does Bradford.
San Francisco 49ers: Wide Receivers Coach John Morton
Morton does not have an easy task. His responsibilities include trying to help 35-year-old Randy Moss revive his career after a full season off, getting the underachieving and oft-injured Michael Crabtree to live up to his potential and helping to develop four rookies, including first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. The receiving corps has been banged up early in camp, making Morton’s job more difficult.
If quarterback Alex Smith is going to continue to develop as a quarterback, his receivers need to help him out. Smith is coming off a career year. Morton will try to get a career year or two out of the 12 players in his group. That also includes veteran Mario Manningham, a free-agent who came over from the New York Giants.
Morton joined the Niners last year, and Crabtree ended up having the best season in his three-year career with 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns.
The 49ers already have a superstar in tight end Vernon Davis. Now it’s up to Morton to see if he can develop one of San Francisco’s receivers into the same mold.
Seattle Seahawks: OL Coach Tom Cable
Like Russ Grimm in Arizona, Cable also has the dual title of assistant head coach. The former Raiders coach is dealing with a unit in Seattle that was banged up in his first year.
The Seahawks lost both their starting tackles, James Carpenter and Russell Okung, along with starting right guard John Moffitt, to injuries.
The Seahawks have some new faces to work with as they continue to rehab their three starters. The lone starter without any injury concerns is center Max Unger, who just signed a new contract. A challenge for Cable could be keeping the now richer Unger motivated throughout the season.
Cable is a feisty coach and his duties as assistant head coach also have him dealing with other players—just ask rookie running back Robert Turbin.
Everything begins in the trenches and the Seahawks have three guys coming back from injury and will have a new starter at left tackle—presumably Deuce Lutui.
There’s also the case of two rookie guards to coach up, one of whom played defensive tackle in college.
If the Seahawks are going to challenge San Francisco for the division title, Cable’s influence on the offensive line (and the rest of the team) will be a big reason why.
Ron Clements is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.