Campen For Top Assistant?

Packers offensive line coach James Campen should be a top candidate when the inaugural award is handed out before the Super Bowl. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

Bruce Arians, Pete Carroll, Jason Garrett, familiar names likely to get support for the AP's Coach of the Year honor.

How about the guys who do the grunt work for them? Some call plays, others spend countless hours teaching, administrating, organizing. Few get the glory.

Until this season. On Jan. 31, the night before the Super Bowl, at the prime-time "NFL Honors" TV show, the league's top assistant coach will, indeed, bask in the spotlight. For the first time, the AP will present a separate award to the assistant coach voted to have done the best job in 2014.

And there are plenty of candidates.

Todd Bowles, Arizona defensive coordinator

Already being looked at for upcoming head coaching vacancies, Bowles has worked wonders with an injury-ravaged unit. The Cardinals (11-3) stay in - or win - games more because of their defense and coaching than anything.

Adam Gase, Denver offensive coordinator.

Gase's unit now has become as much run-oriented as Peyton Manning-oriented, and it's working. Remember, this is the guy who got some wins out of Tim Tebow back in 2011.

"I think he's used the knowledge of the coaches that he's worked with, you know, the offensive coaches especially, and the Nick Sabans that have been instrumental in some of his coaching philosophies," Manning says. "He's used those to apply to his coaching style and it's helped him a lot."

Like Bowles, Gase's name will come up in the January chase for head coaching positions, particularly for teams with a young QB in need of development.

Teryl Austin, Detroit defensive coordinator

The phrase "Lions' impressive defense" is something new around the Motor City. Austin has it ranked second overall and first against the run in his first year on the job.

Detroit's secondary was expected to be a weak link, but it has yielded only 238 points. Austin has cultivated balance and gotten it.

James Campen, Green Bay offensive line

When you have a prized quarterback such as Aaron Rodgers and a stud runner in Eddie Lacy, one thing that can neutralize them in Titletown is weak blocking. The Packers had been so-so on the offensive line for too long, but Campen has helped develop youngsters who could become anchors: tackle David Bakhtiari and rookie center Corey Linsley.

Rod Marinelli, Dallas defensive coordinator; Bill Callahan, Dallas offensive coordinator/offensive line; Scott Linehan, Dallas passing game

A three-pronged candidacy.

The Cowboys' dedication to DeMarco Murray, like Rodgers a leading contender for MVP, and the running game lifts both Callahan and Linehan into consideration. Callahan oversees perhaps the best line in the NFL, and Linehan has avoided the temptation to put a heavy burden on QB Tony Romo.

But the most eye-catching work in Big D has come from its, well, Big D. Expectations for the Cowboys' defense couldn't have been lower entering 2014. Yet Marinelli has molded an unheralded (some would say undertalented) group into a winner.

Dan Quinn, Seattle defensive coordinator

This one is simple: Seattle's sometimes overpowering defense makes the Seahawks tough to derail. It's doing exactly what it needs to do for Seattle to repeat, despite personnel losses to injury and free agency.

Dave Fipp, Philadelphia special teams coordinator

No discounting the additions of Darren Sproles, Josh Huff, Chris Maragos, Cody Parkey and Bryan Braman, Fipp has done a strong job making his groupings, well, special. The Eagles have a huge edge on opponents in punt/kickoff returns and coverage, and have four runbacks for TDs.

Todd Haley, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator

If anyone said Pittsburgh leads the league in something, the natural instinct for the home of the Steel Curtain would be to think defense. Nope. Haley has helped Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell into position to set franchise marks.

Gary Kubiak, Baltimore offensive coordinator

Ray Rice, suspended. Barnard Pierce, hurt and then ineffective.

So Kubiak turned to journeyman Justin Forsett, and Forsett is among the league leaders in rushing.

The O-line has been outstanding, allowing only 16 sacks.

"The biggest thing with Gary is the confidence he gives the unit," QB Joe Flacco says. "I think Gary does a great job of doing that and seeing what they're giving us out there and making adjustments and making calls on the fly."

Jim Schwartz, Buffalo defensive coordinator; Pepper Johnson, Buffalo defensive line

Schwartz might have flopped as a head man in Detroit, but he's rediscovered his tough defensive mastery here. No better evidence than the 21-13 win over the high-powered Packers last Sunday.

His biggest helper has been Johnson, who took over a topnotch unit and has made it even better.

Bill Kollar, Houston defensive line

Sure, J.J. Watt, another leading MVP contender, would make any coach look good. Listen to what Watt has to say about his mentor:

"Every single day is something new with him. I'm always learning and I'm always improving as a player. I owe a lot of my credit to him."

Such an endorsement might make Kollar award worthy. We'll find out on Super Bowl eve.

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