Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cecil named Rams secondary coach

The latest addition to the Jeff Fisher Friends and Family Plan at Rams Park is controversial former Packers and Big Dead safety Chuck Cecil as secondary coach. Cecil was the secondary coach and defensive coordinator under Fisher during a ten-year period with the Titans. He is one of Fisher's closest friends and the order from above to fire him was considered part of the reason Fisher left the Titans in 2011.

Controversial? Cecil was one of the biggest cheap-shot artists in the history of the game as a player. His proclivity for vicious hits, and for spearing opponents, landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1993. (And, in the NFL's grand tradition of sending mixed messages, got him into the Pro Bowl in 1992.)

You're never going to ask Chuck Cecil to demonstrate tackling technique, not based on his style as a player, which frequently was to leave his feet and lead with his helmet. Repeated concussions induced by this "method" shortened his career to just seven seasons.

Cecil started with the Titans in 2001 as a defensive quality control assistant, became coach of safeties and nickel backs in 2004, then secondary coach in 2007.  The Titans finished 3rd in the league in interceptions in '07 with 22, and 6th in '08 with 20. 2008 was a landmark season for the Tennessee secondary: DBs Chris Hope (5 INT), Cortland Finnegan (5 INT) and Michael Griffin (7 INT) all went to the Pro Bowl.

When Jim Schwartz went to the Lions as head coach in 2009, though, and Cecil replaced him as defensive coordinator, he couldn't translate those terrific results across the Titans D.

In 2009, the Titans ranked:
28th in scoring defense (25 ppg)
28th in total yards
12th in rushing defense (106.9 ypg)
31st in passing defense (258.7 ypg)

In 2010:
15th in scoring defense (21 ppg)
26th in total yards
20th in rushing defense (115.7 ypg)
29th in passing defense (252 ypg)

The Titans lost 8 of their last 9 in 2010, forcing only 7 turnovers down that stretch. Cecil was considered by some to be in over his head as a coordinator, and the team was criticized for its lack of discipline. Cecil himself was fined $40,000 after getting caught flipping off the officials during a TV closeup. (Obviously, he couldn't have known he was on TV at that moment. He was mad over a penalty call.)

And now it's RamView's turn to send mixed messages. Dislike what he did as a player, be unimpressed by his turn at defensive coordinator, but Chuck Cecil is a hell of a secondary coach, and I would think Rams Nation is pretty excited to have him. We've been begging for decent hitters in the secondary ever since Billy Jenkins. We've been begging for decent safety play of any kind roughly since Aeneas Williams (also no slouch as a hitter). Furthermore, the last two Saint playoff losses show how badly Gregg Williams' defense is exposed by bad safety play. Chuck Cecil coaches up good safeties. I think I should have bought a Darian Stewart jersey the last time the Rams website had a sale. If he doesn't screw up this training camp, he's a Pro Bowl safety in the making. Another thing the Ram secondary has BADLY lacked in recent seasons, even with O.J. Atogwe doing solid work, is the ability to create turnovers, especially interceptions. They picked off only 12 passes last year, led by Josh Gordy with just 3.

Watching Cortland Finnegan, it's fair to wonder how much Cecil coaches his players to play dirty. And that will be criticized, here and elsewhere. But there is no mistaking Cecil's ability as a secondary coach. I'm expecting a dramatic increase in INTs from this defense, and young DBs like Stewart and Gordy and Bradley Fletcher, if he EVER stays healthy, are in perfect position to make strong leaps forward as players. Cecil should be a strong addition to the Rams' coaching staff. A-minus


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