Seven years ago as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Dave Wannstedt would’ve been able to recite from memory what each of his AFC East opponents like to do offensively, play tendencies and the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel. After six seasons as the head coach at Pitt, Buffalo’s Assistant Head/Inside linebackers coach had a lot of work in front of him.
Fortunately for him the NFL has been in the midst of one of its most unusual offseasons due to an ongoing labor situation. While it hasn’t benefited NFL clubs in terms of preparation for the 2011 season, it has given Wannstedt an unexpected opportunity.
“Being out of the NFL for six years I’ve taken advantage of this time because we’ve done all our playbooks and we’re all set to go for camp,” he said. “That part is done. But it’s been good for me in a non-rushed environment to re-familiarize myself with what teams are doing in the league.”
A lot changes in six or seven seasons in the NFL. Personnel, coaching staffs, team philosophies on offense and defense. The Miami Dolphins are already on their second head coach after Wannstedt’s tenure there.
In a normal offseason Wannstedt would’ve already been neck deep in player evaluations off tape from OTA and minicamp practices as he and his fellow defensive assistants would be preparing for training camp. With players not reporting for offseason work he’s had the time he’s needed to re-acquire a firm working knowledge on the opponents Buffalo will face this fall.
“All this extra time has given me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the opponents, the ability level of their personnel and the schemes they’re using offensively and defensively,” Wannstedt said. “I’ve used it to my advantage to get caught up and refreshed.”
The only area where Wannstedt believes he’ll have the most work moving forward is getting a handle on what makes each of the linebackers under his direction tick when they return.
“I talked to them all of the linebackers under contract on the phone before the lockout when I first got the job,” he said. “I had a chance to meet a couple of them in person that one day the lockout was lifted. It is very unusual that you’re going to be limited on your exposure to the players and there are two sides of it.
“One, the football part of it and getting the opportunity to meet, but the other side is just getting to know these young men and their personalities and knowing a bit about their personal life. In coaching everybody is motivated by different things. Everybody has different buttons that need to be pushed and I think with the linebackers, the defense, all the players on the team… I know of them. I think with my experience I can bring a lot of positive things to the team, but it’s tougher to do it when you’re not around them.”
Wannstedt isn’t complaining. He’s going to put his best foot forward given the situation the entire coaching staff is in. He’s been the new guy in town before in his coaching career, and he plans to draw on that experience to make up for the time he hasn’t had with the linebackers to ensure there is improved play in 2011.
“When somebody new comes in there’s always evaluation because you have to prove yourself every year especially when you have a new position coach coming in,” he said. “It creates a sense of urgency. I’m very confident that we’ll get their best effort and performance. We drafted a couple of young kids so hopefully we can create some good competition there and be better.”