FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Stephon Gilmore made arguably the biggest play of Super Bowl LIII. Give Duron Harmon credit, too, for getting to Jared Goff on the Patriots’ all-out, second-and-10 blitz. Don’t forget de facto coordinator Brian Flores, either, for the call, or Bill Belichick for assembling a heady defense ready for the moment.
And then there’s the other critical piece of that championship team: Brian Hoyer, the Patriots’ backup quarterback, the only one of 46 New England players in uniform who didn’t make it into the game two Sundays ago.
It may sound crazy to say that the Patriots might not have lifted their sixth Lombardi Trophy in 18 years without a guy who didn’t take a meaningful game rep all year. But after listening to the way Devin and Jason McCourty talk about their backup quarterback, it’s clear just how much of a difference Hoyer made on the team, and a play that will be forever remembered here, one for which he wasn’t actually on the field.
And maybe the coolest part about all that is how his impact has a way of explaining just who the 2018 Patriots became—a group that squeezed every inch out of every roster spot it had.
“Hoyer’s been crucial,” Jason McCourty says from Devin’s kitchen table, at his house about a mile and a half from Gillette Stadium. “Hoyer’s not a scout-team quarterback from the standpoint where, ‘O.K., here’s the card, here’s what’s circled, and I’m gonna throw the ball here.’ Hoyer lines up, and says, ‘here’s the card, but this is just a route concept.’”
“Bill would tell him, ‘Read what you think and go,’” Devin says.
“He’s reading our defense for what he thinks it is—‘if it’s Cover-3, I’m going here.’ So the whole time, he’s reading and reacting,” Jason says. “So I think for us as a defense, if something gets carved up in practice, it’s ‘Hey, Hoyer, what were you seeing there? O.K., that’s something we need to adjust from a look standpoint.’”
Details win titles in the NFL, and the Patriots have always owned the details. But even for them, following the bouncing ball on this one, all the way into the waiting hands of Gilmore eight nights ago, is dizzying.
We’re going to look a little ahead, and a little back in this week’s MMQB. And in there, you’re going to get plenty to chew on, including …
• How special teams coaches are getting vocal about the lack of head coaching chances they’re getting.
• Why Sean McVay is still who we all have made him out to be over the last two years (and why I’d expect the Rams to be back here again).
• What is going on with the Alliance of American Football, and how it or another one of these fledging leagues might eventually serve the NFL.
• Where the tension is at inside the Jets building, why it’s not a horrible thing.
• How the Bengals and Browns may have made out nicely with their offensive coordinator hires.
And we’ve got a whole lot more on top of that, but we’re starting with the couple of hours I spent with the McCourtys on Friday, looking through the coaches tape of Super Bowl LIII, and talking about their team, their season and how the biggest moment of their professional lives came to be.
Hoyer began his career in New England, but he got his first shot as a starter in Cleveland. In 2014, his second year there, he started 11 games for coordinator Kyle Shanahan, then played for Shanahan again in San Francisco in ’17. Rams coach Sean McVay coached tight ends for Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington from 2010-13, which led Hoyer to believe he’d have some institutional knowledge of McVay’s offense.
Before the Super Bowl, he watched an episode of Peyton Manning’s Detail series on ESPN-Plus on Goff, and it hit him right away—the offense is the same. Looking at the Rams tape confirmed it. Then, he saw an NFL Network interview where Goff and McVay discussed the coach being in the quarterback’s ear up until the 15-second play-clock cutoff, which was something Shanahan did with Hoyer. Then, Hoyer went back to Amazon’s All or Nothing series on the Rams; it was about the 2016 season but had footage of OTAs from McVay’s first spring there. Hoyer recognized the language.
“I guess that’s the risk in putting yourself out there like that,” Hoyer joked over the phone on Sunday.
At Devin McCourty’s kitchen table on Friday, the the brothers brought up Hoyer’s value, Devin remembers a moment a moment during the team’s preparation for Kansas City in October when the first defense showed the scout team a blitz look that had all 11 defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
“We were all up there the way everyone’s been seeing us, moving around,” Devin says. “And Hoyer said, ‘If I’m the quarterback, I’m just going to catch the ball and throw it deep—all of you are close, so I’m throwing it deep.’ Sure enough, that week, we started seeing it more. Kansas City did it. Green Bay hit us with it.”
The adjustment, as Jason explained it, was for those in coverage, at the snap, to “play off and read the quarterback.”
And with Hoyer having done his research that Tuesday of Super Bowl week, gaining an understanding that he really knew the Rams offense, he was able to pass along reinforcement on that principle. That came, in fact, right after the defense ran the blitz look at him that they’d pull out at the most critical time a few days later.
“Having played in that offense, they don’t have an answer for all-out pressure,” Hoyer says. “Their answer is for the quarterback to make a play.”
The flip side? In this cat-and-mouse game, the Patriots knew McVay’s offense had different ways it could crush all-out pressure, so Flores had to be judicious about calling it. New England showed pressure a ton, but didn’t send everyone much at all.
“We didn’t blitz them a lot, just because of their offense, so many missile motions, so many crossing routes, misdirections,” Jason says. “We talked about it—‘there’s going to be a time when we get in a second-and-long situation, and we’re going to want to switch it up and throw a blitz at them just so they respect that look, and they know, ‘Hey, they could be coming.’ Flo [Flores] waited until that moment and called an all-out blitz.”
Because the defense had played so well, that call wasn’t necessary until there was 4:24 left in the game. It was second-and-10, the Rams were trailing 10–3, at the Patriots 27-yard line. All 11 defenders were within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. The one lined up furthest back? Gilmore, heeding Hoyer’s lesson. Covering Cooks, Gilmore never took his eyes off Goff. The rest was academic.
“I think we almost hit them with [the blitz] earlier in the game, and it was on the tip of Flo’s [Flores] tongue, and he kind of decided not to,” Devin says. “The call came in so late. And when I got to the sideline, he said, ‘That was my fault, I gave you that call late.’ And I’m just thinking in my head he probably wanted to blitz and was trying to decide in his mind, ‘Is this the time or not?’”
If he’d done it then, it would’ve been, again, about making sure the Rams respected every defensive player on the field as a pass rusher. As it was, Flores keeping it in his back pocket then, and pulling it out later worked to do a lot more than just that.
This sequence reflects how this team came together—a heady, veteran group able to perfectly unlock the genius of Belichick and his staff. Not everyone can morph its defense on Super Bowl Sunday, going from man-heavy to zone-heavy, or adjust its offense in-game in the fourth quarter to throw out of two-back, two-tight end sets. It takes a certain type of player, and certain type of team, and if you watch the Super Bowl again, you can find examples of it all over the place.
When I sat down with the McCourtys to have them walk me through some of the bigger moments from the Super Bowl, the vibe I got from them wasn’t that the Rams or Goff or McVay were easy to take apart. Moreso, it was pride in how difficult their defense was to play against. In the fall, many of us looked at that unit (my hand’s raised) and saw a talent deficit. Turns out that what they gave up in raw ability, they more than made up for in experience and intelligence.
The Gilmore pick was one example of how having all that experience—the 11 Super Bowl starters on defense came in with 69 NFL seasons, 46 under Belichick, between them—paid off, in conjuction with the knowhow Hoyer passed along. And there were others instances that the McCourtys showed me on Friday that worked to torpedo the NFL’s second-ranked offense. So let’s dive in.
The situation: Second-and-eight from the Rams’ 29-yard line, 11:37 left in the first quarter.
This was Los Angeles’s second play from scrimmage, following a two-yard Gurley run. The Patriots expect the Rams to throw off play-action, and Los Angeles went to their bread-and-butter, a bootleg off an outside-zone fake to Gurley. Instead of following the run, Kyle Van Noy stays home, knowing the box is loaded, and sees Josh Reynolds coming across the formation. Van Noy promptly buries Reynolds, serving two purposes.
“We talked about being physical, so boom, he sees him, knocks him out, gets right to Goff,” Jason says. “We talked about going right at them, attacking them, getting a little bit more upfield than we usually do and taking the game to them, We talked about it all week, we wanted to be the most physical team on the field.”
“Because we felt skill-wise they were really good,” Devin says. “So if we tried to finesse with them, and match them, they’d have the advantage over us.”
“Eighty-three is the first read on this play,” Jason says. “Reynolds is the first read for Goff on the bootleg, he’s coming back, you dump it off to him. So as soon as KV takes him off his feet, the play is dead.”
Van Noy was able to do it so easily that he kept his feet, then ran Goff to the sideline, where Goff dumped the ball into the bench area. The Rams’ first of eight consecutive punts came two snaps later.
SI COVER STORY: How the Patriots Built Football’s Greatest Dynasty
The situation: Third-and-10 from the Patriots 49-yard line, 8:06 left in the second quarter.
This play came after a pretty catch by Robert Woods that pushed the Rams over the 50. When we call up the play, Jason points at the screen—right at Trey Flowers, who’s lined up over center John Sullivan, and notices that he’s the only player in a three-point stance.
Then he points at Harmon. “So for Goff, is he gonna blitz through the b-gap, which, he blitzes through the b-gap on the interception to Steph?” Then both brothers point to the right edge of the offensive line. There are Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower, the two hybrids the Patriots used all night to show one look and give the Rams another post-snap, to negate any help McVay might give Goff through his headset.
“That’s the hard thing, with High and Van Noy on the same side, unless it’s blitz, you’d think it’s probably zone because one of them is usually the dropper, the cover guy,” Devin McCourty said. “But then it’s, ‘Well, I don’t really know, they both could come. And then John Simon also could drop. [Patrick] Chung’s a DB, I’m a DB, JC Jackson’s a DB, so they all could be in coverage. … It’s just a hard concept to know.”
“Once we got to third down, this was our bread-and-butter, man-to-man coverage, corners up there, this is what we did all season,” Jason added. “First and second down was our chance to mix it up and do some different things. Once we got to third down, this was just us running our stuff.”
The ball is snapped, both Van Noy and Hightower flash their versatility in moonlighting as pass rushers. The line adjusts to block them, leaving Flowers on Sullivan, where he shows his own malleability as an outside rusher working on the inside. He beats Sullivan, forcing a short throw that Jason McCourty breaks up.
The situation: First-and-10 from the Patriots 29-yard line, 3:42 left in the third quarter.
The Jason McCourty tip. You may seen on Inside the NFL that the Rams saw they had the post to Cooks on this play in the first half, and said they’d come back to it. What you may not know is that the Patriots adjusted too. When Los Angeles ran the play in the first half, Jason recognized he had no one to cover.
“When we got to the sideline, I said, ‘Me, over here, I have no work,’” he says. “So it was like, ‘Hey, you need to be getting depth.’”
At the snap, Goff ran play-action to Gurley and, as he turned, Devin was still moving to the middle of the field. That caused Goff to look to Robert Woods, running an over route. Devin then planted and ran towards Woods. Meanwhile, Jason had, as he said, no work, and dropped further back. Goff saw Cooks. By then, Jason McCourty had just enough time, and was just close enough to get to the ball.
“People were bashing Goff for throwing this ball late,” Devin said. “But the truth is, in play action, when you turn your back, you can’t dissect the coverage right away. You can’t just get up and throw this post. If I’m running to the middle, it’s post coverage. So you should throw the over. He originally thinks it’s the over, this play happened in the first quarter, so he thinks, ‘I’ll throw the over.’
“But now we’re in quarters, so I have this guy, and Jonathan Jones cuts him and Steph [Gilmore] is just running with the post and J [Jason] should help with the post.”
And Jason could, because of that small adjustment.
The situation: Third-and-seven from the Patriots 26, 2:56 left in the third quarter.
Two plays later, the Rams come out in a bunch left look, with Cooks singled on Gilmore to the right, and Harmon cheats over to Gilmore’s side. Meanwhile, four DBs form a box-zone look to Goff’s left. The other five defenders, Hightower and Van Noy included, are on the line. The Rams, smartly, are running a box-beating concept.
The issue? The Patriots are actually in man. Goff’s favorite target, Woods, is doubled.
“See, this is tough on a quarterback,” Jason says. “We have a double on Woods, and Harmon is just a middle-of-the-field player. But that’s where I feel like the cerebral part comes in. So for him, presnap, Dev is doubled on Woods, but the quarterback doesn’t know that, he just sees Dev on this side of the field.”
Goff hesitates. The one open man, Gerald Everett, is short of the sticks. And Goff can’t find him fast enough, because there’s a new issue – Flores sent both Hightower and Van Noy. Goff has to take the sack, which turns a 44-yard field goal attempt into a 53-yarder (which Greg Zuerlein makes for the Rams’ only points of the game.)
The situation: First-and-10 from the Patriots 27-yard line, 4:29 left in the fourth quarter.
This instance is where having smart players who can adjust really matters. Through their film study, with now three-plus quarters of game action confirming it, the Patriots defensive players had noticed something about the Rams offense—a pretty valuable tell.
“[Gilmore] got to the sideline and said it—They threw a shot earlier on the other sideline to Cooks, and Duron was coming over the top, and he just overthrew the ball,” Jason says. “And Steph said, ‘Duron can just lean to me. When they throw the ball deep, that’s the only spot they’re going.’ And he was right there.”
“Me and Duron had talked about this earlier in the week, the more you watched, we knew there were spots where Reynolds would be the guy they’d throw shots to, and it was usually fringe area, and he was usually split out wide,” Devin says. “So if you didn’t get that, and it was a tight formation, most likely it was going to be Cooks.”
At the snap, Reynolds was in a bunch to Goff’s left, and Cooks was split wide right. Harmon lined up outside the hash to the offense’s right, and kept creeping towards Cooks before the snap. A five-man rush, with both Hightower and Van Noy coming, prompted the shot. And Harmon got over just in time to help knock the ball away.
Earlier in the season, Hoyer was passing on advice and insights to the defense about the opposing quarterback whom he was currently scouting.
“When we played Minnesota and we’d first installed some newer things, Hoyer would come to us and be like, ‘Kirk [Cousins] is gonna struggle to figure that out,’” Devin says. “And Hoyer’s a backup, but Hoyer’s a 10-year vet who’d been on multiple teams. It was like, ‘alright, we know Hoyer’s a really smart quarterback.’
But when it came to the Super Bowl? Hoyer was out of answers.
“So then we did it against Brady. We’d be in walkthrough, doing all our different stuff, and Tom would check to a run play. Brady would be like, ‘I’m not dealing with all the sh-- y’all are doing,’ Devin says. “I’d laugh with him after practice but he’d say, ‘It’s hard.’”
He saw the work they were putting in, too, and the sense of purpose behind it, which is what brought it all together. On Tuesday of Super Bowl week, after watching tape for six straight days, Devin called for a players-only walkthrough, because he figured they needed to physically learn some of the changes they were making on first and second down. In the days to follow, it was clear to everyone what was happening.
“Once we got into Atlanta, into the preparation, it was frustrating for me,” Hoyer says. “They had everything covered. I was like, ‘Either these guys know what all our plays are, or they’re gonna ball out in the game.’ You could see it. They were playing so fast, they were so on top of it. And you get to the game, and they go and have the best defensive performance I’ve ever witnessed.”
No one would’ve predicted that was coming back when the Patriots got gashed by the Jaguars, Lions and Titans. That’s where we saw all the imperfections in a team that somehow wound up being absolutely perfect for the program Belichick’s built over the last 19 years.
The Patriots are made to outflank, outthink and outwork the opponent at every turn. In using every last resource, even a backup quarterback at the highest level to chase the ultimate prize, is exactly what the Patriots did.
1. The Super Bowl again highlighted how special teams can impact the game—field position was at a premium, and Julian Edelman, the game’s MVP, bought himself time to develop as a receiver early in his career by excelling in the kicking game. And therein lies some of the frustration among the NFL’s special teams coaches the last few years.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was hired 11 years ago by the Ravens after 10 years in Philly, nine spent there as special teams coach, and by any measure, he’s been a very successful hire. We’ve all heard Belichick say that his best training to become a head coach was as a special teams coach. So why then, if the NFL’s a copycat league, hasn’t a single special teams coach been hired as a head coach since?
“That’d be cool if you heard more names just getting the chance to interview,” Rams special teams coach John Fassel said. “Whether they get it or not, it’s up to them to interview and earn it. But I think there are so many special teams coaches that are great leaders. That’s where Belichick is right—it’s your job to touch basically every player on the team. They all have a role on special teams, except the quarterbacks.”
A few names have made noise recently—Kansas City’s Dave Toub’s interviewed a few places, and Darren Rizzi interviewed for the Miami job before leaving for New Orleans. But these are few and far between.
“It’s pretty plain to see,” Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge said. “Harbaugh does a tremendous job, he’s been successful over the years consistently. His teams play disciplined, they play tough, he’s effective. … When I watch his teams, the thing they reflect to me is his years of being a special teams coach as much as anything.
“He knows how to manage his roster, because he’s dealt with the back end of the roster his entire career. He knows situational football because, as a special teams coach, everything is situational. He knows how to get to all the players, because as a special teams coach you’re already working with the entire roster, the entire room, the entire practice squad.”
It’s hard to argue with any of this, but the thing special teams coach lack is sizzle. So maybe you lose the press conference—the Ravens didn’t win it the day they introduced Harbaugh. But they’ve done a lot of winning since.
2. I didn’t watch much of the Alliance of American Football this weekend. But what I did see didn’t look bad. The TV production was good, and it didn’t seem like the play was like falling off a cliff from what we see on Sundays in the fall. And the television ratings represent a good start.
I just know what the endgame is for some of these leagues that are being backed by companies selling technology, and I wonder what that’ll mean for the actual leagues a few years down the line. As we’ve seen before, it’s not easy to drum up loyal fan support for teams or a league out of thin air, particularly when it’s not at the highest level of a sport.
So we’ll see if the AAF (and Pacific Pro Football and the XFL) is more than just a curiosity that got a little buzz out of the box. For now, it is pretty cool that there’ll be more opportunity for young guys out there to develop and keep their football dreams alive.
3. The NFL should try and work out a deal with one of these leagues to take in players with practice squad eligibility. The game reps would benefit the players, like the work in NFL Europe once did for a lot of guys, and it’d be good for teams both in the NFL and whatever league it partnered with to do it.
4. Tension is an expectation inside the Jets staff. It’s not like the team didn’t know it was adding one alpha (Gregg Williams) to the staff of another alpha (Adam Gase). And the ESPN story this weekend detailing some pushing and shoving over the hire of Williams’s son Blake lines up with all of this.
Is there risk in pairing Gase and Williams? Sure. But I also know that for some, it’s a welcome change from a building that was flatlining in November and December. And it’s not like it hasn’t worked before – Williams and Sean Payton had a similarly intense relationship in New Orleans (yelling matches at practice were not unusual), and won a Super Bowl like that before the Bountygate case changed everything.
5. I believe Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken is one of, if not the best assistant coach hires of the 2019 cycle. And I believe him when he says, “I’ve always chosen places based on people and the opportunity to win.” It’s no secret that Monken wants to be a head coach, and my understanding is aligning himself with Baker Mayfield is a move to achieve that.
If Mayfield becomes a Pro Bowler in 2019, Monken will be associated with that. And if this year’s quarterback-centric hiring trends are any indication, that alone might be enough to land Monken his shot somewhere.
6. Keep an eye on the Bengals’ new offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, who was part of Peyton Manning’s thinktank in Denver, alongside Gase and Jim Bob Cooter. Callahan, the son ex-Raiders coach Bill Callahan, has been highly regarded for a while in NFL circles, and the Lions blocked him from coordinator opportunities a couple years back before moving on from him when Matt Patricia was hired in ’17.
Callahan’s creative, and had Manning’s respect, and so it should be interesting seeing how his philosophy meshes with Zac Taylor’s. Taylor, by the way, played for Callahan’s dad at Nebraska.
7. I wish I were surprised by the Bob Costas story.
8. The Patriots’ staff attrition does have to do with professional advancement, of course. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and defensive pass-game coordinator Josh Boyer were hired over the roles they held in Foxboro, and new Miami assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski and Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly had been passed over for promotions before bolting.
But it’s notable that so many guys had expiring deals. Usually when coaches are in that position, it’s because they let their contracts lapse as part of an exit strategy aimed at moving their careers forward. So the exodus here would indicate that a year ago, amidst everything that was happening then, a number of Patriot assistants decided to turn down extensions. Either that, or they weren’t offered them.
9. Chiefs GM Brett Veach made waves this week when he responded to a viral video that showed Patrick Mahomes playing basketball by telling WHB radio in Kansas City: “The Kingdom can be assured: No more basketball for Pat.” He said later that his talk with Mahomes was “lighthearted”, but this is absolutely one of those “kidding but kinda serious too” situations.
There are a lot of things (skiing, skydiving, etc.) that players are routinely prohibited from doing contractually. And that’s not crazy, if you think about it. If you’re paying someone millions for what they can do physically, it makes sense that you’d protect yourself against them getting injured doing something other than work. In fact, you’d be sort of crazy not to.
10. Just a friendly reminder on the Nick Foles situation in Philly—the team can shop Foles around now as if he’s on the franchise tag, which will land at about $25 million for quarterbacks. The window to tag players opens a week from tomorrow, and closes on March 5. By then, Philly should know whether moving Foles on the tag is feasible. And have a deal worked out if it is.
If they can’t get something worked out, or at least know that getting a deal is a certainty by March 5? Then, they let him walk and take the comp pick next year.
… OF THE WEEK
“We’re not developing quarterbacks as we should. We’re not developing offensive linemen as we should.”
AAF co-founder Bill Polian to my buddy Andrew Perloff of the Dan Patrick Show. I do agree with Bill here. And this is echoed with feedback that the football ops people at the league office have gotten from clubs for years, in seeking answers on how the practice rules changes have changed the league. It makes sense too, if you think about it. Those two position are the two where backups aren’t rotated in and rarely get into games, so it makes sense that they’d be the spots in the greatest need of a developmental league.
James Develin was the lead blocker for all nine of the Patriots' rushing touchdowns in the playoffs.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) February 6, 2019
I was told that 2018 killed things like the traditional fullback. Good thing it’s 2019 now.
Three very different reactions to the Patriots winning their sixth Super Bowl title.
There was a lot of good interneting on the #awkward situation in Los Angeles this week. It really was all over the place.
S/O to …
Eagles DE Chris Long, because I missed getting him in the column (like an idiot) last week, for winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He’s done more than anyone could realistically expect of someone in his position. Jeff McLane of the Philly Inquirer covers a lot of that here.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
Since National Signing Day was this week (to less fanfare than before they instituted the early signing period in college football), let’s take a look at a few interesting facts in tying recruiting ranks to this year’s draft class.
1. Presumptive top overall prospect Nick Bosa was the eighth-ranked recruit overall in the high school class of 2016, according to the 247 composite, so it looks like the recruiting services got that one right (Although, based on his dad, his brother and his high school program, this wasn’t exactly a needle in a haystack).
2. Three defensive linemen outranked him: Michigan’s Rashan Gary, Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence and Houston’s Ed Oliver. All three declared after three years, and all three are likely first-round picks. Again, not bad by the recruiting services.
3. That said, the one defensive lineman with a shot to pass him, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, was the nation’s 155th-ranked recruit in 2016. He was the 12th-ranked player in Bama’s top-ranked class that year, and two of the guys ranked above him (OT Jonah Williams, DL Raekwon Davis) should join him in the first round.
4. Dwayne Haskins, this draft class’ No. 1 quarterback, was the eighth-ranked quarterback in his class. Two quarterbacks currently at Michigan were ranked ahead of the Ohio State prospect, who is the only guy at his position from the high school class of 2016 to enter this year’s draft.
5. If you want your darkhorse: Kentucky LB Josh Allen was the 2121 ranked prospect in the class of 2015 out of Montclair, N.J. Among his offers: Rutgers, Kansas, Buffalo, Hawaii, Monmouth, and Alabama A&M. Four years later, he’s got a heck of a shot at being a Top 10 pick.
6. And there’s a prospect who was Top 500 in two sports. Missouri QB Drew Lock was the 98th ranked football prospect, and the 447th-ranked basketball recruit in the Class of 2015.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Despite the Super Bowl loss, McVay will be just fine. He’s still one of the best coaches in the sport, and I’m pretty confident he’ll grow from what happened against New England.
If you really need evidence, I did talk to some of his assistant coaches about what’s made him a force of nature over the last two years in Los Angeles. I asked those guys a simple question: When did you figure out McVay was a little different? Each answer, I think, will inform you on why the arrow is still very much pointing up on the 33-year old.
Fassel: “It was one of our first veteran OTAs which, because we were a new staff, had to be mid-April, before the draft. We just had a couple workouts, and the big thing before was the offense and defense didn’t quite connect together. They were two separate entities. And right at the end of practice, Aaron Donald and Michael Thomas, the receiver, got in a fight over something that was insignificant. And he basically halted practice right there, and talked about the importance of being connected, and that the offense can affect the defense and the defense can affect the offense. It’s not two separate contractors trying to win a game, we have to be a team. And that was impressive because it was two pretty strong personalities going at it. … That was literally one of our first practices. That was kind of the end. What happened in the fight, in that practice had bled over from before, and that was kind of the end of anything like that ever happening again.”
Run game coordinator Aaron Kromer: “He’s the first offensive coordinator/head coach who wanted to know what the blocking calls were—‘If you double team this guy what’s it called? If you double team on a gap play as compared to a zone play, how’s that work?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s great, he’s gonna know what’s involved.’ That’s when I first got here. And then there’s some minor calls that you add to that double team call that helps a guy know what word to use. And I didn’t tell him about that. … And he was like, ‘What was that call?’ And I said that just tells him he steps with this foot instead of that foot. And then there this is, he steps with that foot instead of this foot. They’re all double-teaming the same guy. And he’s like, I gotta know, I need full ownership in this. And that’s how he is with every position, offensive line, quarterback, defensive line, corner, punter, he wants to know exactly and he remembers for life whatever that is.”
Assistant head coach Joe Barry: “(We were at a) symposium in Philadelphia. I got sent to it by the Chargers, and it’s fun, you kind of grind and you meet during the day. But at night they have dinners for you and you get to socialize and meet people. I met Sean there. And at the time, shoot, man, he was a 26- or 27-year-old tight ends coach that the Redskins had sent. And that was the very first time I’d ever met him. The very first time I’d ever spent time any time with him. I knew within five minutes – this dude is unbelievable. And people always say, ‘What was it?’ It’s it. He has the it factor. Fast forward a couple years later, I left San Diego and got the coordinator job in Washington, and he was the offensive coordinator, then really, working with him, being around him every single day, and no disrespect to anyone who’s tried to find and hire the next Sean McVay, there is not another Sean McVay.”
So in three different answers, you get conflict resolution, football knowhow and charisma. And, I think, a head coach who’s pretty well equipped to handle the daunting challenge in front of him.
Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.