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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Team MVP So Far? Wilks

I've been on Steve Wilks since he came on board at the start of 2012 -
and the former Charger assistant has worked nothing but magic so far
this year.

You don't always get to see the guts on the chopping board - sometimes
you just see the sausage has been made. So when Sean McDermott landed
on Carolina's doorstep as defensive coordinator, there had been no word
about anyone's candidacy to that point. It appears that there had
already been a deal in place to bring Rob Chudzinski on board as
offensive playcaller - since Chud didn't have a contract he could do
what he wanted.

But at the time, no one knew that Rivera had tried in vain to bring
aboard Wilks as DC. McDermott, who wasn't supposed to be available,
luckily did, but the press quietly leaked that Wilks would've been the
choice had the Chargers let him out of his contract. Unable to get him,
the Chargers had put an assistant head coach title on him for the year,
which didn't keep Wilks from leaving when able by '12.

Carolina cleared out Ron Meeks - remember when he was a commodity? -
and put him in place, then quietly slipped a Passing Defense Coordinator
role behind it.

The dividends were harder to tell last year, with its troubles getting
something out of Haruki Nakamura and rookie Josh Norman. This year, you
would've been hard to expect greater, with former Raider Mike Mitchell
looking like a meathead, Drayton Florence looking old, and Norman once
again dominating preseason ahead of a number of other non-descript DBs.

Fast forward a bit, and Captain Munnerlyn has returned a pick-6; the
Bills game being a massive anomaly with its injuries, the team now has
Munnerlyn backed with a surprisingly able Mitchell now playing free
safety, and a mix down the stretch of mid-season pickup Quintin Mikell
and rookie Robert Lester; Florence has come alive as another mid-season
replacement, and another rookie has been strong - new starter Melvin
White.

The 6'1 rook has allowed a 58.9 passer rating on the year, and has
started the last three games at CB. This out of a player no one wanted
to draft, on a defense that has, at best, one star (and one Star -
allright, sorry).

The turning point, getting past Buffalo's massive injuries (and
miscues) saw Lester, White, and the returning Florence making a bigtime
push for playing time. Suddenly, when Charles Godfrey had gone out,
you could've said Carolina had no safeties; in his absence they somehow
have three. Josh Thomas' benching, in some ways a shame because he was
a good run defender and football player, turned out for the better and
teams are having trouble pushing the deep pass now. The Thomas hiccup,
along with the massive falloff for Norman when he's asked to play zone,
have been hiccups, but ones that have passed.

What Wilks is pulling off with two UDFAs, two street pickups, and
Munnerlyn, is fantastic. I don't want to take away from McDermott,
Rivera, the front seven, or Dave Gettleman's pickups of these scrappy
players, but this isn't just a good front seven. This is a good
defense.

That's why, with a quarterback who can take over a game in two phases,
and so many defenders having career years, it's not lightly I call Wilks
the team's MVP through nine games. This is one of the best position
coaching jobs I've ever seen.
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