Gone was offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, and Zimmer quickly hired former head coach Tony Sparano as Davidson’s replacement. A few weeks later, at the Senior Bowl, Zimmer said he hoped Sparano would bring an air of accountability to the offensive line. Last week, Zimmer said he wasn’t sure his offensive line in 2015 was “tough-minded.”
It wasn’t long after hiring Sparano that Zimmer hired another former head coach, Pat Shurmur, to coach tight ends, moving former tight ends coach Kevin Stefanski to running backs, which was previously coached by Kirby Lee, who left to join the Cleveland Browns as their running game coordinator.
While Zimmer admits that defense is his baby, he wanted to bring in additional ideas for the offense. With the hiring of two offensive coaches with head coaching experience, the speculation was that Shurmur and Sparano might hold more sway in reshaping an offense that finished 29th in yards gained last year.
How would those new opinions and ideas fit with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has three decades of NFL experience as a head coach, offensive coach and coordinator?
According to Zimmer, it’s been a good process with little resistance to new ideas from Turner, whom Zimmer said has adapted his offense over the years.
“Norv has changed a lot. I used to play against him a long time ago and over the course of the years a lot of the no-huddle, the gun stuff, the zone reads, those were all his thing,” Zimmer said last week at the NFL owners meetings. “I’m probably more hard-headed defensively than he is offensively.”
Zimmer said his top priority was to get the offensive line fixed in the offseason, and adding Sparano, guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith could go a long way to accomplishing that.
After increasing Teddy Bridgewater’s protection and improving the run blocking, the next step was adding some new ideas. Shurmur, who has worked in the West Coast offense, and Sparano are both offering those.
“Their input will be just like it is everywhere else. They’ll have a lot of input and Norv has been really good about listening and talking,” Zimmer said. “Now’s a good time of year to sit down and talk about different things and philosophies – not necessarily philosophies, but the way you did it or the way we did it and how can the good things that you do help with what we did and kind of merge some of the stuff together. So that’s kind of what they’re doing now.”
It’s not about changing the offense drastically; rather Zimmer wants to incorporate new ideas into Turner’s existing offense. But that’s not new to this year.
Last year, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, Norv’s son, visited with college coach Bob Stitt to learn more about the spread offense.
This year, two offensive-minded coaches, Sparano and Shurmur, were added to incorporate their ideas with Turner’s scheme.
“I just felt like they are two knowledgeable guys that can help us,” Zimmer said. “I’m going to continue to bring in guys who I think can help us in however it is. I’ve been impressed with both Tony and Pat. They’ve come in and grinded. I’ve asked them to do some things, research. Actually, it’s been really a good flow with all those guys with guys that were here and those guys when they came in. But it’s still early and we’re working through things, but everybody has good ideas and now we just have to put it together.”
The offseason conditioning program can start in April. Organized team activities, the real start of practices, will begin in May and continue into June. That’s when players will start to see some of the changes.
Turner remains the offensive coordinator, but new ideas from Shurmur and Sparano will be incorporated.
“If they weren’t going to have input,” Zimmer said, “I could have gone and got a tight end and offensive line coach anyplace.”