INDIANAPOLIS — The first day of the NFL Scouting Combine is drudgery for veteran coaches but a debutant's ball for new coaches. The newbies arrive for their national debut fresh-faced, easygoing and actually willing to engage with the media.
Coaches only melt into mumbling, evasive, Bill Belichick-clone trolls after they have been ground down by repetitive questions and exhausting controversies—in other words, by their second combine.
New Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter took Podium A on Wednesday with a bright smile and a relaxed demeanor. Hardball questions are rare for coaches during that honeymoon period before they have even signed a player, let alone lost a game. Koetter's first question was about the Buccaneers kickers. It wasn't exactly an episode of Crossfire.
Koetter said the Buccaneers would be "multiple" on defense under new coordinator Mike Smith. Most coaches claim to strive to be "multiple" on defense—it's third on the cliche list after "aggressive" and "attacking"—but Lovie Smith's Buccaneers defenses were among the least multiple on earth the last two years, so the remark has significance. The Buccaneers won't line up 70 times per game with four down linemen, two deep safeties and two linebackers in the A-gap who are as likely to blitz as they are to break into a song-and-dance routine. Less predictability should improve the Buccaneers defense.
Koetter is lucky to represent a relatively stable organization and have a non-controversial (as of now, anyway) "quarterback of the future" on the roster. New Browns head coach Hue Jackson filibustered for five minutes and 53 seconds during the opening preamble of his 15-minute press conference, slinging cliches about "buying into our process" and "dialogue" and "using every resource" as if he hoped to talk until the next Supreme Court justice is approved.
Jackson eventually fielded the Johnny Manziel question we all knew was coming. Here is Jackson's response in its entirety:
We made a statement about Johnny Manziel two weeks ago, and I'm going to stand by that. I think his future on our team will be addressed here pretty soon. But let me say this: I think it's really important that obviously there were some people involved in this situation that happened. I feel very bad about those things as they do happen. But I want to make sure that we understand that behavior will not be tolerated as we move forward. That's all I'm gonna say about it. I want to leave it at that. Our organization's gonna take a stand. We're going to move on from those kinds of situations.
That's about as strong a condemnation of player misconduct (including domestic violence allegations against Manziel, which are still developing) as you are going to get at a combine press conference.
It sounds like Jackson will begin to solve the Browns' quarterback problem by releasing Manziel. It was less clear from his press conference how he plans to solve their many, many other problems. Even with the Manziel situation dangling over the Browns, Jackson avoided a real grilling.
Jackson has a mandate to put his own stamp on the Browns organization. The same cannot be said for new Giants head coach Ben McAdoo. McAdoo retained much of Tom Coughlin's staff (including defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) and still works within a power structure that includes general manager Jerry Reese and, well, Tom Coughlin. Coughlin still spends time at the Giants practice facility and even flew to the combine on the same flight as McAdoo. Much of the New York media was also on that flight and took note:
McAdoo was on same flight from Newark yesterday as Todd Bowles and Tom Coughlin. Bowles and Coughlin in first class, McAdoo in coach.— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) February 24, 2016
With his spit-curled reddish hair, mustache, Green Bay background and politely uninformative press conference style, McAdoo feels more like an Andy Reid clone than a Coughlin impersonator. McAdoo made it clear that he is not trying to be Coughlin.
"I'm not going to try to be Tom," he said. "I'm not Tom. He's taken."
Why be Tom when Tom is still available for advice, emotional support or whatever the Giants may need? "I'm gonna bounce ideas off of Tom as long as I can bounce ideas off of Tom," McAdoo said.
As you might expect, the Giants aren't planning any radical changes.
"But we're gonna evolve a little bit," McAdoo said. "It's evolution, not revolution. If something works, and we feel good about it and we like it, we're gonna stick with it. If not, we're gonna make some changes."
McAdoo did not provide much insight into the Giants plans, even by the standards of a combine press conference. He would not even reveal who will call offensive plays on Sundays, or even if he will ever share that information with the media.
"Maybe everybody will get a call sheet on Sunday," he said.
Heck, maybe even Tom Coughlin!
If Coughlin's shadow loomed large over McAdoo's press conference, the twin shadows of Andy Reid and Chip Kelly practically smothered new Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Reid is not at this year's combine due to knee surgery, meaning Pederson—Reid's offensive coordinator last year—was caught in a tug of war between the Chiefs media (with questions about Alex Smith, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and others) and the Eagles media (still sorting through the irradiated rubble of the Kelly regime).
Pederson offered brief nuggets of insight into the status of free-agent quarterback Sam Bradford ("I think Sam wants to be in Philadelphia"), formerly disgruntled running back DeMarco Murray (Pederson's only communication so far has been "a cordial phone call, and just saying hello and introducing myself") and aging left tackle Jason Peters ("He has a few good years left").
Pederson sounded more confident and composed than he did during his introductory Eagles press conference, when he sounded like a third-grader reciting the Gettysburg Address to the whole student body at times.
Pederson was at least spared most of the hard Kelly-related questions, which were directed elsewhere (more on that in a moment).
The most exciting thing about Adam Gase's first combine press conference as Dolphins head coach was his suntan. Going from Chicago (and previously Denver) to Florida does wonders for a person's winter complexion.
With no real controversies brewing in Miami, Gase spoke mostly of past quarterbacks, such as Jay Cutler (who he feels will mesh well with new Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains) and Peyton Manning ("That 2013 season was special").
As for his current quarterback, Gase said Ryan Tannehill "has the skill set we are looking for" and will now have the ability to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage…assuming that the entire offense can keep up with the adjustments.
"That's one good thing about this offense," Gase said. "It's really on the players, how much they can handle."
Aren't all offenses really on the players and how much they can handle?
Kelly did not speak Wednesday and will not speak at this year's combine, because the new 49ers head coach is too much of an outside-the-box thinker for press conferences. That left 49ers general manager Trent Baalke to address his relationship with the enigmatic Kelly.
"It's been awesome," Baalke said of working with Kelly, who clashed with Eagles brass. And many players. And don't even ask about the media. "He's been very easy to work with."
Of course, Kelly and Baalke have not had to make a decision yet, or do much of anything else.
"We haven't spent a ton of time together," Baalke admitted, "because he's been putting the coaching staff together and I have been involved in draft meetings the last 17 days. So there hasn't been a lot of overlap. But there have been a lot of good discussions, and I look for that to continue."
Baalke said he's had a strong relationship with Kelly that dates back to Kelly's University of Oregon days and that the 49ers did not consult with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie or executive Howie Roseman before hiring the man who briefly ousted Roseman from the position Baalke currently holds.
"I'm a huge believer in sitting down with somebody and just talking and figuring out if that relationship is going to work or not work," Baalke said. "I knew what was out there, what was being said, and I think as we all did. But that didn't really play into our decision at all."
Roseman, an executive vice president for the Eagles again after a year in a forgotten corner of the organizational flowchart, later tap-danced around numerous questions about Kelly.
"I think the best thing we can do is move forward from last year and talk about what's going on this offseason," he said.
In summary, the Baalke-Kelly marriage appears to be going well after one sit-down conversation and crossing paths a few times in the corridors at 49ers headquarters.
Baalke did say Colin Kaepernick "absolutely" will be on the roster this season.
As for Kaepernick's role, well, we'll have to wait to ask Kelly.
Notes and Quotes
Saying Much While Saying Little: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett's entire statement on Greg Hardy: "Greg Hardy's a free agent."
Can't argue with that.
Coaches and general managers typically make statements about in-house free agents along the lines of: We have a policy of not discussing ongoing negotiations, but we are exploring every option, and the player you asked about made a valuable contribution to our club, blah blah blah.
Garrett didn't say that.
Silence is almost always a bad thing when it comes to domestic violence. But in this particular case, silence sent a really loud message.
Peyton Watch: Here's Gary Kubiak's entire statement on Peyton Manning's future with the Broncos:
The bottom line is: We made a decision about how we are going to go about it. Once again, it's about him taking his time to work through things, think through things. No hurry here. We want him to enjoy what just took place. And then we'll go from there. So nothing has changed from that standpoint. That plan continues to be in place.
I think he and John [Elway] have had some conversations. I had a brief one with him yesterday. We'll be talking probably today. But I know this week. But we want him to take his time, and we'll work from there. Nothing's changed.
Elway speaks to the press Thursday. And Manning's cap-bloating 2016 salary becomes fully guaranteed at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on March 9. So while Manning can take a little more time, those conversations among Kubiak, Elway and Manning will soon get a little more urgent.
Los Angelinos All Come from Somewhere: Jeff Fisher announced that he stepped down from the NFL competition committee recently so he could devote more time and attention to the Rams' move from St. Louis to Los Angeles. He said he thinks of it more as a "leave of absence" than a resignation.
Fisher talked at length about the challenges of moving a franchise, a subject about which he is the NFL's reigning expert.
"I learned that the most important thing is to put yourself in the players' shoes," he said of the lessons he took away from coaching the Titans when they moved from Houston (as the Oilers) to Tennessee. "You also learn that eventually things are going to settle down."
Fisher confirmed the Rams would be using the Cowboys' offseason facility in California for OTAs. A training camp location has not been determined, and the team is still working on a temporary facility. He plans to meet with Rams players next week to share all the information the team has so they can have a "stability from a player perspective," in terms of injury rehabilitation, conditioning and finding the right place to live in Southern California.
"If we're going to put a temporary facility up north," Fisher explained, "you don't want to put yourself in Newport Beach, where you have a two-and-a-half-hour commute."
Fisher, a Los Angeles native, has some relocation decisions of his own to make. "Mom's like, 'Can you move in next door?' " he said after his press conference. " 'Nah, I'm not moving next door.' "
Jeff Fisher and Momma Fisher living side by side in Los Angeles? The heck with Hard Knocks: Make this reality show happen!
Quarterback Scuttlebutt: Washington president Bruce Allen made it clear before the combine the team was moving on from Robert Griffin III, taking some of the sizzle out of Jay Gruden's press conference. Gruden said he feels "pretty good" about Kirk Cousins coming back but had little to say about Griffin's departure.
So let the Griffin speculation begin! Here's a statement from Fisher on the quarterback situation in Los Angeles:
When the season was over, I made the statement that Case [Keenum] is our starter. Nick [Foles] and Sean [Mannion] are going to have a chance to compete, and that's where we are. With respect to the quarterback position, there's probably a good chance that there's another one at camp, if not two. And I can't say whether that's going to come through draft, through free agency or through trade.
If Griffin is looking for a starting job he can win, a four-way competition with Foles, Keenum and Mannion has to be near the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan sounded less than sanguine about re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"We like Ryan," he said. "I think we have a good situation for Ryan. We just have to come to an agreement on cost, in a perfect world, that both sides think is fair. But that's still yet to be determined here in the near future."
Maccagnan then suggested the Jets and Fitzpatrick might get a deal done on the eve of free agency, but that players often decide to test the market.
With teams like the Rams looking for a quick upgrade at quarterback, that market could be pretty enticing to a veteran quarterback coming off a career year.
And Finally: Leave it to Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to cut through the double talk and nonsense and get down to press conference brass tacks:
"Normally, I have a lot of s--t to say. But I don't. So y'all can ask questions."
Thanks, Coach. Look for a lot more questions, and a heck of a lot more you-know-what, as the combine marches on (and prospects start doing stuff) Thursday.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.