American Football

Five defensive coordinator options if Raheem Morris is hired by Colts


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Who could replace Raheem Morris if he’s hired by the Colts

The Los Angeles Rams continue to be held hostage by the Indianapolis Colts and their excruciatingly long interview process. The Colts first interviewed Raheem Morris on January 17. They haven’t wrapped up the second round of interviews and are rumored to have a third round. It’s possible that the process drags on past the Super Bowl.

This hasn’t stopped other teams that have needed a defensive coordinator to make those hires. The Miami Dolphins officially hired Vic Fangio. The Carolina Panthers went ahead and hired Ejiro Evero on Sunday. Evero would have been a top candidate for the Rams if Morris were hired by the Colts. That is no longer an option.

The top coordinators are leaving the market which leaves options limited for the Rams. At this point it would be an even larger blow for the Rams if Morris does becomes the head coach of the Colts. Here are five defensive coordinator options that are still available.

Dennard Wilson, Eagles DBs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator

Not a lot of people will likely recognize the name Dennard Wilson, but he’s a name to keep an eye on. Over the last two years, Wilson has been with the Philadelphia Eagles as the defensive backs coach and before 2022 was given the responsibilities of defensive passing game coordinator.

Jonathan Gannon has called Wilson his “right-hand man”. This season, the Eagles have the number one ranked secondary in the NFL as they rank number one in DVOA by a four-percent margin. They also ranked first in defense EPA per dropback and held teams to a success rate of 43.5 percent which finished sixth.

Wilson has coached under Gannon the last two years in Philadelphia who has been considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL. It’s worth noting that Vic Fangio has been serving as a defensive consultant for the Eagles.

Last year Wilson said,

“Look, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been around some great defensive coordinators in my opinion. I’ve been groomed by Gregg Williams, I’ve been groomed by Todd Bowles, who are very good in this league and are very thorough. So I’ve been tutored by them…I know how to run a ship, I know the responsibilities. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be more than ready for it.

Wilson has a very well-rounded background. He coached under Gregg Williams with the St. Louis Rams in 2015 and 2016. He then went to the New York Jets and coached under Todd Bowles before being hired by the Eagles.

Philadelphia runs a similar defense as the Rams do currently. The system falls under the same systematic tree. If Wilson were hired, it would be a logical transition.

Jim Leonhard, Former Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator

Sean McVay has had interest in Jim Leonhard from Wisconsin in the past. McVay had interest in Leonhard back in 2020, but ended up hiring Brandon Staley instead. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Rams went back to Leonhard a second time if Raheem Morris is hired as he’s one of the top defensive minds in the college ranks.

Leonhard is currently a free agent as he was let go after Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell. He was not retained by the new staff. With that being said, Leonhard’s exit agreement requires Wisconsin to pay him $1M until January of 2024. There’s no requirement for Leonhard to seek future employment and therefore he can get paid a lot of money not to coach.

In Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, Wisconsin was ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top-10 in scoring four times. The question is, after hiring Liam Coen from Kentucky, would McVay go back to the college ranks? In fairness, Leonhard did play in the NFL.

According to The Athletic, Wisconsin has run a 3-4 with a 2-4-5 system when operating out of the nickel package. This is similar to what the Rams ran in 2021 during their Super Bowl run. In Leonhard’s scheme, there’s a lot of Cover 3 with pattern matching concepts which is also similar to what the Rams currently run under Morris.

Eric Henderson, Rams DL Coach and Run Game Coordinator

McVay historically has not hired his coordinators from within. That would likely be the case again if Morris is hired by the Colts. McVay decided not to promote Aubrey Pleasant in 2021 nor Joe Barry. However, one that the Rams would have to consider is Eric Henderson, the defensive line coach.

He’s been with the Rams since 2019, working under Wade Phillips, Brandon Staley, and Raheem Morris. Henderson understands the defense and the Rams would be able to keep some continuity in that aspect. He also had experience under Gus Bradley with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 and 2018.

Henderson is someone that is well-respected by the players and Aaron Donald absolutely loves him and he’s gotten the best out of Sebastian Joseph-Day, Michael Hoecht, and Greg Gaines. About Henderson, Donald was quoted saying,

“I love playing for him. He’s one of those coaches that understands how to communicate things to his players. As far as teaching certain techniques that I felt like is going to take my game to another level, just having two years with him and having two camps with him and being able to take his coaching and the things he’s trying to teach me and the way he breaks down film and things like that.”

If McVay were to stay in-house, Henderson would be the best option.

Joe Barry, Former Green Bay Packers Defensive Coordinator

Sean McVay has a history when it comes to his coordinators. Outside of Brandon Staley and Wade Phillips, he’s hired coaches that he’s had past connections with. Raheem Morris was with McVay with Washington during the 2014 season. Mike LaFleur has a connection with Matt LaFleur who McVay is very close to personally. Kevin O’Connell was connected to Jay Gruden in Washington.

While Barry’s two seasons as a defensive coordinator didn’t go well with the Packers, it wouldn’t be shocking to see McVay hire him, especially this late in the process. Barry is someone that McVay is at least familiar with and can trust to hold down the defense.

Would Barry be the best or most exciting hire? Definitely not. However, with the NFL Combine and free agency quickly approaching, the Rams need to get a defensive coordinator in place. Barry has past coordinator experience and is familiar with what the Rams want to run as he coached for a year under Staley.

Barry’s track record isn’t very good. He’s never had a defense rank inside the top-20 in DVOA and his Packers defenses underperformed. This is a hire that wouldn’t be shocking given the connection.

Christian Parker, Denver Broncos Defensive Backs Coach

File this under insane potential hires by Sean McVay. Christian Parker made The Athletic’s 40-under-40 list heading into the 2022 season. However, Parker barely even cracks 30 as he is just 31 years old. He likely has three more years as a position coach before he gets serious looks as a defensive coordinator. However, many thought the same of Brandon Staley. Still, even Staley had some coordinator experience at the college level.

Lindsay Jones formerly of The Athletic said,

“Parker has quickly developed a reputation as someone with coordinator potential. In Denver, he’s working closely with a diverse group of defensive backs that includes cornerback Patrick Surtain II, a 2021 first-round pick who had four interceptions as a rookie, plus veteran safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson.”

Parker spent a year with Fangio in Denver and was retained on Nathaniel Hackett’s staff last year. If not retained by Sean Payton, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go to Carolina with Evero. This would be a long shot, but it’s not past McVay to think outside the box on defense. He understands the defense needs to be better and Parker could bring some of his same concepts from Fangio and Evero to the Rams.

In an article by ESPN’s Jeff Legwold, Parker said,

“In the end, if you can help a player, have some confidence, help them on the field, help them mature, help them perform at their best level, it doesn’t matter if you’re 95 or 25. That information is valuable, and it’s how you handle the situations.”

A 31-year old defensive coordinator might be crazy, but it’s the type of swing that the Rams haven’t been afraid to make.

Honorable Mentions

  • Gus Bradley, Colts Defensive Coordinator
  • Brian Flores, Pittsburgh Steelers Linebackers Coach
  • Steve Wilks, Former Panthers Defensive Coordinator
  • Aubrey Pleasant, Packers Offensive Consultant
  • Chris Hewitt, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator
  • Chris Shula, Rams Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator

It will be interesting to see whoever takes the Colts job if they retain Gus Bradley. If not, he’s a veteran coach that should get some interest and be a top name on the market. The same can be said about Brian Flores and Steve Wilks. Both have head coach experience and will be highly sought after by teams.

Aubrey Pleasant’s stint in Detroit following his time with the Rams didn’t go as planned. However, he’s still a promising young coach and someone with familiarity with the Rams staff and personnel.

Chris Shula is another in-house option, but would be somewhat a surprising hire. You could throw Jonathan Cooley in this conversation as well.

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