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Monday, January 26, 2009

New Defensive Coordinator: Ron Meeks

Carolina kept their search quiet, and then quietly emerged with their choice, former Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks. Meeks, 56, spent seven years as defensive coordinator there under Tony Dungy, then resigned amidst speculation he was going to be fired under new head coach Jim Caldwell.

Meeks is the first African-American coordinator in any of the three phases for the Panthers (Jim Skipper, RBs coach, is as close as it's gotten, having been the assistant head coach for a few years now) and the team has never employed a black head coach.

It's telling that the one coach interviewed under the Rooney Rule (which requires the interview of minority candidates) was Tony Dungy, who essentially did the Panthers a favor by interviewing even though he intended to take the Colts job. Dungy, heavily admired by the Richardson family, may or may not have had an impact on the decision, but there's no doubt that Dungy felt as strongly toward Meeks as Caldwell had felt against him.

A Tampa-2 disciple, Meeks hadn't coached in the system until coming to Tampa, so the ties aren't necessarily as strong as you might expect. Before coming to Indianapolis, Meeks hadn't been a coordinator at the NFL level; he'd been a Dallas third-tier assistant (1991), then coached defensive backs with Cincinnati (1992-96), Atlanta (97-99), Washington (2000), and St. Louis (2001) before elevating his game. In 2002, he took a Colts team in disarray and molded it into a top ten defense.

Meeks, whose Colts defenses finished top seven in scoring five times over seven years, takes over a Carolina defense in shambles - its top defensive player, Julius Peppers, threatening to leave; its secondary in need of a shakeup; and its core rocked by giving up 30+ points in six of the last seven and then collapsing against Arizona.

A defensive backfield specialist, Meeks' style of play fits well with a secondary needing both a talent infusion and realignment. His style of defense fits well with stopping the passing game, and does well flowing to the ball. It has struggled to stop the run, however, and at times dipped near the bottom of the league. The Tampa 2 defense is much smaller than the Carolina style cover 3 zone, and it's unlikely the team uses the smaller linemen. It will take advantage of fast linebackers, which we have, and may use smaller linemen on pass downs, but probably isn't likely to get as small as the Colts on base downs. The Tampa version evolved into having a big nosetackle and a penetrating under-tackle, which the team already has players to use.

Nonetheless, each of the fundaments of defense need work - run defense, pass rush, and pass coverage. There won't be a fancy scheme, and deep down everyone knew there wouldn't be. There's no gimmick to hide behind. It's on the players, a man taking on a man and coming out ahead, a unit working together toward a common goal.
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