Mark Duffner

COVID-19 Latest: Bubble, Bengals, Dalton

With the NFL passing an in-case-of-emergency amended playoff bracket and having a tentative Week 18 in place in case games need to be rescheduled, the league is planning ahead. Its months-long anti-bubble stance remains, but the prospect of one taking place in the postseason has not been ruled out. The NFL will consider holding conference championship games at neutral-site bubbles, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post. Like the 16-team bracket, this would be a contingency plan. Should the NFL proceed with bubbles for its penultimate postseason round, Maske notes warm-weather cities would be the likely sites.

Here is the latest on the NFL’s navigation of the coronavirus pandemic:

  • As cases spike nationally, the NFL has seen a significant uptick as well this month. Forty-seven percent of the league’s positive coronavirus tests this season came during November’s first two weeks, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones notes. As such, the NFL is bracing for more COVID-related trouble after Thanksgiving. The league expects cases to surge after the holiday, with high-ranking execs informing Jones the bulk of its cases thus far this season occurred because of in-home gatherings. No games have been rescheduled since Week 7, but given the protocol adjustments and postseason contingency plan, the league appears to be preparing for postponements to re-emerge.
  • Beginning Saturday, all NFL teams will be thrust into the intensive COVID-19 protocol. The recently implemented higher-security format will be the new norm, per NFL.com’s Judy Battista. Positive tests were previously necessary to move teams into the intensive protocol — which calls for all meetings to be held virtually, masks to be worn at all times at team facilities and no player congregation to occur outside of teams’ headquarters — but the league’s Thanksgiving-related concerns have prompted precautions.
  • The Bengals were without four coaches during their Week 10 game against the Steelers and will be without three staffers this weekend as well. Cincinnati cornerbacks coach Steve Jackson, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell and safeties coach Robert Livingston will not be with the team in Washington due to COVID-19 protocols, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Last week, the Bengals were without Jackson, Bicknell, linebackers coach Al Golden and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner. Bengals DC Lou Anarumo will assume more responsibility this weekend, per the team, in overseeing the team’s defensive backs.
  • Former Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will be back in the Cowboys‘ starting lineup this week, but he has not yet fully recovered from the coronavirus. The 10th-year veteran developed symptoms and has not fully regained his taste and smell senses, via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter). Dalton’s wife and one of his sons also contracted the virus. The Cowboys activated Dalton from their reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.

Bengals Hire Ex-Bucs DC Mark Duffner

The Bengals have hired former Buccaneers interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner as a senior defensive assistant, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. 

Duffner, 65, has worked in Cincinnati before, serving as the club’s linebackers coach from 1997-2000 before taking over as defensive coordinator from 2001-02. After coaching LBs in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Miami in the following years, Duffner joined Tampa Bay as linebackers coach in 2016. He was promoted to interim DC in October after the Bucs fired incumbent Mike Smith. For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s defense finished dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA but 29th in weighted DVOA, meaning the unit improved as the season progressed.

Duffner will fill two voids on the Bengals’ defensive staff. The first is familiarity, as Duffner worked with both new head coach Zac Taylor and new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo on the 2014-15 Dolphins staff. Second, Duffner is now the most experienced coach on Cincinnati’s staff, on either side of the ball. Aside from quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, Duffner is the only coach on the team that has been a full-time (non-interim) coordinator.

In addition to hiring Duffner, the Bengals also finalized their roster by hiring four other coaches: Nick Eason (defensive line), Tem Lukabu (linebackers), Brad Kragthorpe (offensive assistant), Jordan Kovacs (defensive quality control).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Fire DC Mike Smith

The Buccaneers have fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Linebackers coach Mark Duffner will serve as Tampa Bay’s interim DC, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Smith’s firing shouldn’t come as a total surprise, as the Buccaneers have fielded one of the NFL’s worst defenses this season. Tampa Bay ranks dead last in points allowed per game (34.6) and 31st in yards per game, and has allowed a whopping 82 points over its past two contests, both of which were losses. The Buccaneers are now on pace to give up the most points in NFL history, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Advanced metrics aren’t a fan of Smith’s Buccaneers defense, either, as the club ranks last in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, which measures overall efficiency. Tampa Bay also ranks poorly in pace stats, as the team is 31st in both yards allowed per drive and points allowed per drive. All of Football Outsiders’ metrics were calculated before the Buccaneers gave up 34 points to the Falcons on Sunday.

The Buccaneers attempted to revamp their defense over the offseason, especially along the defensive line, where they acquired Jason Pierre-Paul via trade, signed Vinny Curry and Beau Allen, and drafted Vita Vea in the first round. However, Tampa Bay ranks just 27th in adjusted sack rate. That’s an untenable lack of pressure, especially given the Buccaneers’ problems in the secondary, where starters Chris Conte and Vernon Hargreaves are on injured reserve.

Smith, 59, was hired as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator prior to the 2016 campaign, and the Buccaneers made him the NFL’s highest-paid DC, per Rapoport (Twitter link). While the Bucs’ defense finished a respectable 13th in defensive DVOA in 2016, the unit fell to 32nd in 2017 before its struggles continued into this season. Smith, of course, was the Falcons’ head coach from 2008-14, compiling a 66-46 record during that time.

Duffner, meanwhile, offers a wealth of coaching experience, both at the collegiate and pro level. He’s been with the Buccaneers since 2016, and has previously held linebacker coach positions with the Bengals, Packers, Jaguars, and Dolphins. Duffner served as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator (in addition to his positional duties) in 2001-02.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coach Rumors: Jaguars, 49ers, Eagles, Bucs

After showing interest in Jim Schwartz before he was named the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, the Jaguars have turned their attention in another direction as they search for a defensive play-caller. Jacksonville is today interviewing Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson for their DC vacancy, reports Albert Breer of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is “involved in [the Jaguars’] process” of finding a defensive coordinator to replace the fired Bob Babich, but he is not in line for a formal coaching position with the club, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union (Twitter links).

Henderson, 46, has been in high demand this offseason, and even interviewed for a head coaching position (Browns) earlier this month. Dallas’ defensive backs coach since 2012, Henderson, who also has a background in player development, was also linked to jobs on Miami’s new staff.

Let’s look at some news from the coaching front:

  • New 49ers head coach Chip Kelly is likely to keep one offensive coach, as Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports (via Twitter) that running backs coach Tom Rathman is expected to remain on staff. Meanwhile, both incumbent special teams coach Thomas McGaughey and assistant Richard Hightower are in contention for San Francisco’s ST coordinator position, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee (Twitter link).
  • Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced during his introductory press conference that running backs coach Duce Staley — who interviewed for Philadelphia’s top job — will be retained, Neil Hartman of CSNPhilly.com tweets.
  • The Packers have shuffled their offensive staff, firing both running backs coach Sam Gash (per Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Twitter) and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot (per Tom Silverstein of MJS on Twitter).
  • Confirming four previously-reported hires, the Buccaneers announced that special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor, secondary coach Jon Hoke, defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and linebackers coach Mark Duffner have been added to the club’s staff.

Coach Rumors: Browns, Pep, Ravens, Bucs

New Browns head coach Hue Jackson confirmed earlier today that he’ll be retaining special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, but there have been announcements yet on Cleveland’s other coordinators. While Ray Horton and Leslie Frazier are among the names that have been linked to the Browns’ defensive coordinator job, one possible candidate worth keeping an eye on is former Dolphins DC Kevin Coyle, says Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reported on Wednesday that Coyle was expected to replace Vance Joseph as the Bengals‘ defensive backs coach, but there are hints he may join Jackson in Cleveland instead. Marvez tweets today that Cincinnati is interviewing 49ers defensive backs coach Tim Lewis for the same position, and Albert Breer of NFL Network tweets that the Bengals are looking at Michigan secondary coach Greg Jackson for that job, so it certainly doesn’t seem like there’s a deal in place between the Bengals and Coyle.

As we keep an eye on that situation, let’s check in on some other coaching updates from around the NFL….

  • On the other side of the ball for the Browns, a former Colts offensive coordinator may be a candidate for the job in Cleveland. As first reported by Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com (Twitter link), Pep Hamilton met today with Hue Jackson.
  • Last week, a report suggested that the Buccaneers had turned down a Chargers interview request for defensive line coach Joe Cullen. However, after hiring Mike Smith as their new defensive coordinator, the Bucs are willing to let Cullen go. Cullen will join the Ravens as their defensive line coach, tweets Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports.
  • To replace Cullen, the Buccaneers are hiring Jay Hayes from the Bengals, per Marvez (all Twitter links). Tampa Bay is also hiring Titans special teams coach Nate Kaczor and former Dolphins linebackers coach Mark Duffner for those same positions.
  • Since the Titans are the last team without a head coach, they should take their time to make a decision, perhaps interviewing potential candidates from eliminated playoff teams after this weekend’s games, writes Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
  • Former Giants wide receivers coach Sean Ryan will head to Houston to become the Texans‘ WRs coach, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Latest On Dolphins, DC Kevin Coyle

Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell is expected to make a decision on defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle by tomorrow, according to Ed Werder of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Current Miami linebackers coach Mark Duffner is an in-house candidate for the job if Coyle is removed, he adds.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins touched base with former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz about the vacancy, but he declined the opportunity, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Schwartz, who served as the Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2008 and as the Bills’ DC in 2014, isn’t Miami-bound, but I would imagine that news does not bode well for Coyle’s chances of staying.

Coyle is “as disliked by his players as any coach we’ve encountered [in Miami],” according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald who has covered the team for many years. The Dolphins are 1-3 heading into their bye week with very weak production out of their defense, even with the offseason addition of Ndamukong Suh.

Dolphins Rumors: Coyle, Lazor, Tannehill

While former Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is now out of a job, it doesn’t appear a decision has been finalized on equally embattled defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network (via Twitter), new interim head coach Dan Campbell is expected to make a call today on Coyle, since Mike Tannenbaum empowered Campbell to make staff decisions.

As we wait to see what Campbell decides, let’s round up a few more Dolphins items….

  • According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Coyle is “as disliked by his players as any coach we’ve encountered here.” Jackson has heard from multiple sources that the benefits of Campbell replacing Philbin may only be marginal if Coyle or offensive coordinator Bill Lazor isn’t replaced as well.
  • If Campbell decides to make a change at defensive coordinator, linebackers coach Mark Duffner would be a candidate for the role, since he’s “well liked” within the organization, writes Jackson.
  • Jackson and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (all Twitter links) are among those corroborating and confirming most of Aaron Wilson’s report from yesterday on an altercation involving Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins practice squad players.
  • Although no reporters have confirmed Wilson’s account that Tannehill told a player to “enjoy [his] practice squad pay check,” Jackson and Marvez both provided additional details on the practice incident, and Marvez says Campbell intends to conduct practices differently in the wake of that incident.
  • Jackson also noted that – as Wilson reported – Tannehill “said something to the effect that he would prepare a scout team trophy case” for linebacker Chris McCain following a turnover in practice.
  • Dolphins owner Stephen Ross admitted to Jackson that there’s a possibility he overestimated the talent on the club’s roster. “We knew where our weaknesses were and we thought we could overcome those weaknesses and develop players that could play at that level,” Ross said. “No team has all stars, but they work together as a team and they make up for the deficiencies that other players have. I didn’t see that development happening.”
  • Ross on whether he should have fired Philbin after the 2014 season: “That’s an easy thing to say now. In retrospect, sure. I didn’t believe it then. … I may be accused of having maybe too much loyalty, but I felt that we had the right people in place…. I don’t think anybody out there wants to win more than I do…. I put my money where my mouth is, and we’re doing everything we can to win.”