Big Ben's big change
Returning for his second tour of Silver-and-Black duty, Knapp is a disciple of the zone-blocking offensive line scheme with a West Coast aerial focus. It'll revamp the Hue Jackson's Coryell philosophy of vertical inclination and return them to grind-it-out football.
Darren McFadden had issues when this scheme was in play during his first few years as a Raider, considering his penchant for hitting holes and seams with immediate authority. Zone blocking requires a bit more patience from its carriers, who must wait for an opening and make a singular, decisive move.
McFadden will probably have some trouble here and there off the bat, but not enough to downgrade him other than his ever-present health risks. He's not a system-fueled talent by any means, and since he already had experience with the setup under Tom Cable, it should be an easier transition this time.
Oakland's speedster wideouts should get the ball in their hands quickly to make plays. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford all have boosted fantasy intrigue as a result.
How will the O-line adjust to their new responsibilities? They'll probably be rusty in the first few weeks. At least Carson Palmer has a full offseason to digest a new playbook; turnovers will plague him but won't come at the high rate they did in his abbreviated Oakland tenure in 2011.
At 33, with a statuesque playing pattern, can he manage the rollouts and bootlegs this scheme demands? Will this prompt an unnatural change to the offense so Palmer feels more comfortable? Matt Schaub wasn't exactly fleet-footed while running this ship when Knapp was Houston Texans QB coach, so there's hope, at least.
Haley has adjusted to his offensive surroundings in his years of guidance: See his high-flying Arizona Cardinals stint and run-down-your-throat Kansas City Chiefs approach. Expect his time in the Steel City to show an alluring mix of the two. Pittsburgh must keep their aging D off the field more often. Rashard Mendenhall (knee) probably won't make a big fantasy dent, but physical and versatile toter Isaac Redman can easily become the new bell cow.
Ben Roethlisberger said he was frustrated working with Haley this offseason in transitioning to his first new system in nine years. The outspoken Haley micromanages, and Big Ben is leaving his comfort zone. Luckily, Mike Tomlin should sheriff this situation.
Plus, this new system might go a long way in preserving Roethlisberger's health, given his sometimes reckless style and willingness to take a hit. In fact, upper management wants their QB to tone down his on-the-fly play and release passes sooner.
This won't be a Woody Hayes operation. Big Ben will get to sling the rock often - just a bit more tempered in doing so. The vertical elements should benefit Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown - perhaps his new Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - with slot man Emmanuel Sanders potentially getting in on the action. Bet on Heath Miller seeing more work before Sanders, though both deserve deep-league fliers if you're scrambling in the late rounds.
Schottenheimer took some flak for his work with the New York Jets last year and now must resurrect Sam Bradford's potential. He'll have some work to do to get the third-year slinger to be comfortable in the pocket. Will he simplify his reportedly thick playbook from last year? More importantly, can St. Louis' shaky O-line pick up on it enough to keep their franchise player upright?
Regardless, expect Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead to see plenty of work, but in his age-29 season, Jackson is on the decline.
There's a mess of receivers headlined by Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander and rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens. It's a mess, though, and unless it sorts itself out quickly, this group could be a frustrating fantasy lot. Lance Kendricks could become the new Dustin Keller in this O.
Schotty's, well, shoddy track record and fluctuating offensive identity says that there may be too much tinkering involved to get anything consistent going this year. Head coach Jeff Fisher will probably keep a tight leash on his offensive captain, as well, so this could be a quite vanilla fantasy setting.
Sullivan was the QB coach for the New York Giants in 2010 and 2011, when Eli Manning experienced his two biggest growth years to date. This doesn't guarantee Josh Freeman will leap to the next level this year, but having Sullivan isn't a bad place to start.
While Sullivan most likely will call the plays, Greg Schiano's run-heavy and downfield-challenging philosophy will reign supreme. Vincent Jackson likes this. However the tailback split divvies up between Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount (likely the rook beating out Blount over the course of the season), they'll each at least deserve ownership throughout 2012. Newly signed guard Carl Nicks and Jackson, from his wideout spot, increase the run blocking of this unit.
Though Mike Williams has V-Jax to take attention away from him, this system doesn't initially look all that friendly to midrange inhabitants, especially since Freeman needs work in that area. Same goes for Dallas Clark, especially at age 33 and with a QB that's a 180 from Peyton Manning when it comes to accuracy.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
Don't miss these great reports....