Newly announced Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey certainly appears to have his hands full in his journey's latest stop. Mularkey faces the tall task of reinventing a Falcons offense in desperate need of an image makeover. The 2007 Falcons limped through a carousel of quarterbacks in the shadow of the quarterback Michael Vick saga, providing a cumulative effort that was essentially over before it began.
Mularkey, a tight end, was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1983, but he was released prior to the regular season. He went on to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, where he'd play until 1988, before capping off his playing days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His coaching career began in 1994, as he served as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight ends coach for two seasons. In 1996, he rejoined the Steelers organization, where he would remain until 2003. While in Pittsburgh, he spent five seasons as the tight ends coach and another three as the offensive coordinator. During his three seasons as the Steelers offensive coordinator, the unit became known for its run-first to setup the pass mentality. Mularkey also developed a proclivity for trickery, as he had at least two players on offense that were versatile enough to allow such. Wideout Hines Ward had lined up at receiver, running back and quarterback in college, while fellow Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El (Washington Redskins) was a collegiate quarterback. Mularkey liked to use this to his advantage when the opposition became overly aggressive in their run pursuit. His offensive schemes proved worthy, as the Steelers finished all three seasons with 10-plus victories.
His success in Pittsburgh, along with a call from an old friend in then president and general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Tom Donahoe, would ultimately land Mularkey his first head coaching position, as he took over for Gregg Williams in Buffalo in 2004. His first season was a modest success, as the team got hot down the stretch - putting together a six-game win streak, but would ultimately lose a make-or-break Week 17 contest to his old colleagues - the Steelers. The Bills, especially the offense, would never recover. Mularkey's second season became clouded by an ongoing quarterback controversy between quarterbacks J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb (Minnesota Vikings), while the play-calling became erratic and often predictable. As the Bills front office shifted gears following his campaign's second season, Mularkey opted to resign.
In 2006, Mularkey's career took on somewhat of a gloomy forecast with the Miami Dolphins, as his duties as offensive coordinator were limited to only one season following a dismal output from a unit marred by injuries. Consequently, he was demoted to tight ends coach for 2007, where following a 1-15 season, he and the rest of the coaching staff were terminated.
If anything, Mularkey's frequent struggles since leaving Pittsburgh should have by now left him with a distinct comprehension that the art of trickery doesn't always win, especially when it's not fooling anyone. Taking over the Falcons offense should be a matter of getting back to the basics for Mularkey, as the road ahead is not exactly clear-sailing as it is. Expect Mularkey to employ a system that brings him back to his roots - pounding the ball up the gut in a run-first offensive system.
What He'll Need to Succeed
First and foremost - the air of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position needs to be cleared. If the Falcons want to establish any sort of offensive cohesion, an undisputed starter at quarterback is an important piece. Keep in mind; instability at the position at least in part led to Mularkey's demise in Buffalo.
Although the Falcons have some dynamic talent at the wide receiver position with Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, the aforementioned lack of stability at quarterback is a major concern. Veteran running back Warrick Dunn's uncertainty on whether or not he'll return for a 13th season doesn't help Mularkey's cause much either. The good news, however, is running back Jerious Norwood has shown flashes of being an explosive performer. However, the team wasn't willing to make him the featured back even after the season became a lost cause, so clearly the previous regime felt something is missing. But if Norwood responds well to the change, Mularkey's creativity could potentially open things up a bit for the talented receiving corps.
Mularkey, who looks to be at a bit of a crossroads in his career, is a man trying to salvage his once respected offensive swagger. On the surface, Atlanta doesn't exactly appear to be the easiest place to achieve such a task, but keep in mind that sometimes the unknown can prove to be a difference maker. Quarterback Chris Redman was decent in his late-season efforts. Can he deliver if given the opportunity as a full-time starter? The same can be said for Norwood. He ran well in his 103 carries for 613 yards in 2007, but how would he respond to, say, triple the carries? There are a lot of variables surrounding this offensive unit coming into the 2008 season - making the team by large a risky fantasy pool. Norwood has shown potential, and will likely be given his chance at building on his success in a limited role, but if the Falcons end up near the bottom in overall offense as they did last season, he may not find the end zone much.
About Charles Roberts
Charles Roberts has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.
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