“Where am I at?” new defensive coordinator Ray Horton said, sitting in his office this week. “Ninety-five percent of the team, I don’t know. I’ve never seen their face, let alone their personality, so we are behind the learning curve there.”
The offseason – or lack of one, given the lockout and subsequent loss of player-coach interaction – has created an interesting dynamic for the Cards’ coordinators once the labor situation is finally resolved.
A normal spring and summer would have included 19 on-field teaching sessions (between organized team activities and minicamp practices), a few months of strength and conditioning, and free reign when it came to getting random face time with players or opportunities for players to ask coaches questions.
Absent all that, Horton and newly minted offensive coordinator Mike Miller have a slightly different perspective whenever camp finally starts -- with games quickly arriving on the horizon.
“All we can rely on is what we have done in the past as a starting point,” Miller said. “I think everybody has got to be flexible. I think we have always been a staff where we evaluate what we have and look at it as camp goes through. There might be some plays we want to give out a little earlier, some we want to hold. I think some of that will be dictated by some of our personnel. But I think we have a good foundation.”
Miller shared coordinating duties with assistant head coach Russ Grimm last season. Miller was promoted soon after the 2010 season, but he already has a relationship with the holdover offensive players. Horton, in his first season as a Card after coaching in Pittsburgh, was able to meet some players in the couple of weeks between his hire and the labor stoppage, and again during the brief open window on the second day of the draft.
Horton knows he’s working uphill, however, and insisted he will be fluid.
“I like the phrase ‘Water finds the path of least resistance,’ ” Horton said. “I’ll learn on the fly that this guy doesn’t like to be yelled at, this other guy likes to be pushed. I’ve got to be real fluid, real understanding. I have to be on my toes, don’t oversaturate these guys with too much information and that’s a fine line.
“Mentally I think I am ready. I already know what I don’t want to do. If we miss however many days of training camp, I already know what I’m not going to do. That’s the best thing. Now, I don’t know what we can do, but … we’re going to be fine.”
Both coordinators don’t yet know their full roster. Free agents are still to be signed, players possibly acquired in trade. Miller, for instance, doesn’t even know who his key player – the yet-to-be-obtained quarterback – will even be (although Miller refused to close the door on a current QB, like
Miller said circumstances dictate veteran leadership will be at even more of a premium – on both sides of the ball – both in camp and as the season rolls out. Getting everyone on the same page within the system is the coaches’ job, but leaning on older players will be required to get that accomplished.
Yet optimism reigns. Perhaps it’s the knowledge the labor resolution is coming, or that football is near. Horton wants to know how his defense will look and who will be playing his positions, but he mulls the idea of being at a disadvantage and eventually dismisses the idea.
“For Carolina (in the season opener), with a new coach, does it put us at a disadvantage? No,” Horton said. “Does it put us at a disadvantage against Washington (in Week Two) if they have a new quarterback, or Seattle (in Week Three) when they may have a new quarterback? Does it put us at a disadvantage against the Giants when they have the same quarterback, same system, when we play them in Week Four? Probably not. Probably not.
“So, are we at a disadvantage where it counts? No.”
The coordinators are patient for now, waiting to construct their respective sides of the ball as soon as they are given the chance.
“I know we are about to be shot out of a cannon whenever this gets finished but it’s exciting,” Miller said. “This is what we do. It’s all about adjusting in a game and this is a microcosm of that. How fast can we adjust as a staff in camp, getting everything taught and making sure they understand the expectations with which we want to work?
“This is fun. I wish we had different circumstances but at least we are all in the same boat.”