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PFT’s 2012 postseason awards

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Associated Press now unveils its postseason awards the night before the Super Bowl, weeks after most people have stopped caring about the winner.

So we announce ours immediately after the regular season ends.

At a time when you still actually are interested in these matters and not, you know, you’ll win the Super Bowl, here are the men who, in our opinion, deserve special recognition for their accomplishments in the freshly-completed regular season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner: Russell Wilson, Seahawks.

Runner-up: Robert Griffin, III, Redskins; Andrew Luck, Colts.

Honorable mention: Alfred Morris, Redskins; Doug Martin, Buccaneers.

The AP award likely will go to either of the top two picks in the draft, but it shouldn’t.  Wilson entered the league short on height and long on smarts and talent and determination.  Russell Wilson commanded the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in Seattle, beating out big-money free-agent Matt Flynn and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, and Wilson then began to prove week-in and week-out that he is as good as his more famous counterparts who were selected much higher.

Despite the 11-5 record for the Colts, Luck had too many turnovers (contributing to a mediocre passer rating of 76.5), and Griffin missed a game and crunch time in another due to an inability to avoid contact.  While Luck broke Cam Newton’s rookie passing yardage record, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes by a rookie — and Wilson showed that he could run the ball effectively (489 yards, four touchdowns) without getting hit or, in turn, hurt.

The best news is that the three rookie quarterbacks all made it to the playoffs, and they’ll all make their postseason debuts on the same day.

Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner:  Luke Kuechly, Panthers.

Runner-up:  Janoris Jenkins, Rams.

Honorable mention:  Bobby Wagner, Seahawks; Lavonte David, Buccaneers; Casey Heyward, Packers; Harrison Smith, Vikings.

The ninth overall pick in the draft, Kuechly led the NFL with 164 tackles, finishing 10 short of the rookie record set in 2007 by Patrick Willis.  Kuechly also had 10 games with 10 or more tackles.  In Week Five, he slid from outside linebacker to the middle, where he participated in every snap on defense for the rest of the season.

Jenkins, a second-round steal, instantly became a dangerous cover man and return specialist.  He could soon be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  Some may say he already is.

Coach of the Year.

Winner:  Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano, Colts.

Runner-up:  Leslie Frazier, Vikings.

Honorable mention:  Mike Shanahan, Redskins; Pete Carroll, Seahawks; John Fox, Broncos; Mike Smith, Falcons.

The best coach routinely is determined based on a team’s actual performance relative to its expected performance.  This year, no team exceeded expectations more than the Colts, who won 11 games a season after winning only two.  Pagano and Arians combined to generate a wild-card berth despite Pagano’s three-month absence due to leukemia treatments, as part of a run that included seven come-from-behind wins.

Frazier and the Vikings improved their win total by seven, going from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff berth secured on the last day of the season against the Packers.  Shanahan and the Redskins reeled off seven straight to secure the NFC East after Shanahan seemingly threw in the towel on the 2012 season.  (And all future coaches whose teams are 3-6 after nine games will do the same.)

In all, three of the six worst teams from 2011 have vaulted to the playoffs only one year later, providing real hope to every other non-playoff team, in 2013 and beyond.

Comeback Player of the Year.

Winner:  Peyton Manning, Broncos; Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

The two greatest comebacks in NFL history came in the same year.  For Manning, the return from multiple neck surgeries was unprecedented.  For Peterson, his performance following a Christmas Eve 2011 ACL tear was equally stunning and unlikely.  Both deserve the recognition, and it’s only fair for them to share it.

It’s also only fair that there be no one else mentioned as the runner-up or otherwise.  Manning and Peterson are in their own class on this one, and no one else comes close.

Executive of the Year.

Winner: John Elway, Broncos.

Runner-up: John Schneider, Seahawks.

Honorable mention: Ryan Grigson, Colts; Rick Spielman, Vikings; Les Snead, Rams.

Elway wanted Peyton Manning in large part because it gave Elway cover to dump Tim Tebow.  The gamble (in light of Manning’s recent medical history) paid off in a major way, making other teams (like perhaps the Texans) wish they’d done more to land one of the greatest players in NFL history.  Though making the move for Manning is enough on its own, hiring coach John Fox in 2011 after a two-win season in Carolina, picking linebacker Von Miller in last year’s draft, and not giving up on Knowshon Moreno are icing on a cake that Elway has been masterfully baking for the past two season — even though Elway entered the job with fry-cook credentials.

Schneider found a quarterback who could become one of the best current signal-callers in the league in round three of the draft, five spots after the Jaguars picked a punter.  Schneider likewise rolled the dice in round one on Bruce Irvin, a controversial pick who panned out as a rookie.  Throw in linebacker Bobby Wagner in round two and the prudent decision to re-sign Marshawn Lynch, and Schneider had a lot to do with the team’s unexpected success in 2012.

Grigson quickly turned around a talent-challenged roster with a strong draft and the ability to make good decisions about who should stay and who should go, bringing back Reggie Wayne and keeping Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  His success will make more owners opt for young, grinding scouts.

Offensive player of the year.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-upCalvin Johnson, Lions.

Honorable mentionDrew Brees, Saints; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks.

Peterson is the easy and obvious choice, given that he rushed for 2,097 yards, the second most in NFL history.

Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yardage with 1,964, and Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the third time in his career.  Lynch’s performance gets lost in Peterson, but the guy the Bills gave away has become one of the best running backs in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year.

WinnerJ.J. Watt, Texans.

Runner-up:  Von Miller, Broncos.

Honorable mention: Aldon Smith, 49ers; Charles Tillman, Bears.

Watt was a wire-to-wire disruptive force for the Texans.  Beyond his league-leading sack total (20.5), Watt has shattered the mold for 3-4 defensive ends.  Miller is becoming one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL, and Smith has emerged as the top 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker.

Amazingly, all three players are in only their second seasons in the NFL.

MVP.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-up: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

Honorable mention: J.J. Watt, Texans; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Tom Brady, Patriots; Matt Ryan, Falcons.

Many have wrestled with this one for weeks, determined to give it to Manning but keeping an open mind for Peterson.  It would have been easy to say Peterson gets it only if he sets the single-season rushing record.  It’s harder to accept that he missed it (by 27 feet) but still deserves it.

In the end, Peterson’s value to his team simply outweighs Manning’s — even though Peyton once again has had a season to remember, shrewdly picking a talented team with an easy schedule and pushing the franchise to the top seed in the AFC.  Last year, however, the Broncos made it to the final eight without Manning.  This year, the Vikings would have been nothing without Peterson, a man who overcame a serious knee injury to become better than he ever was.

Moreover, at a time when we are more sensitive than ever before to the damage inflicted on the bodies of NFL players, Peterson earned every yard, foot, and inch that he gained.  Even the long runs came after he ran through a potential tackler.  Or two.  Or five.

So that’s the full list.  Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

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Pereira, Blandino offer different reasons for Falcons touchback

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jalen Collins #32 of the Atlanta Falcons recovers a fumble in the second quarter by Aaron Ripkowski #22 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

If NFL fans have a hard time understanding the rules, that’s understandable: Even the head of officiating and the former head of officiating don’t always see a call the same way.

After the Falcons were given a touchback on a recovery of a Packers fumble that almost rolled into the end zone, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino and his predecessor, FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira, offered different explanations for the ruling.

Blandino wrote on Twitter that Falcons safety Jalen Collins “Gained possession with left leg touching the goal line so it is a touchback.” In other words, the ruling was about where Collins’ leg was, not where the ball was.

But Pereira wrote on Twitter that it was a touchback because “the recovering player did not have total control of the ball until the ball had broken the plane.” In other words, Pereira says the ruling was based on where the ball was, not where Collins was.

Blandino and Pereira both agree that the ruling of a Falcons recovery in the end zone for a touchback was correct. But they disagree on why it was the correct ruling. And when even the experts can’t agree, it’s hard for the fans to understand the league’s convoluted rules.

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Julio Jones showing off speed, skill as Falcons rout Packers

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons catches a 5 yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter against LaDarius Gunter #36 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Julio Jones was limited in practice last week. He’s apparently OK — and he’s killing the Packers.

A 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jones early in the third quarter has made it 31-0. Jones also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass just before halftime and is over 140 receiving yards in this NFC Championship Game.

The Packers have had no answers. Matt Ryan is over 300 yards passing; he’s thrown three touchdown passes and he ran for another.

The Packers moved the ball early but Mason Crosby missed a field goal and Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a run that would have made it first and goal. Now the Packers need a miracle, but they’re struggling to even get first downs.

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Packers have few answers, no points at halftime

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates with Mohamed Sanu #12 after a 14 yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Ryan and the Falcons dominated the first half and hold a 24-0 halftime lead over the Packers.

Ryan has thrown touchdown passes to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and also ran 14 yards for a score. He threw for 271 yards in the first half.

Jones caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left in the first half to further deflate the Packers.

The Packers moved the ball early but Mason Crosby missed a field goal and Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a run that would have made it first and goal. Ryan has had wide open receivers and has been a step ahead of the Green Bay defense.

At halftime the Falcons have 325 total yards and the Packers have 127. The Falcons have run 46 plays to the Packers’ 21.

The Packers will get the ball to start the second half.

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Falcons finagle touchback after fumble near end zone

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Ripkowski fumbles the ball during the first half of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) AP

As Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski bulldozed toward a touchdown, he lost the ball. Falcons safety Jalen Collins pounced at the one and then rolled into the end zone.

The officials ruled it was a touchback.

Arguably, Collins gave himself up at the one. Arguably, he deliberately took the ball into the end zone, possibly making it a safety.

Regardless, the issue was glossed over by the officials and by the FOX broadcast. Since it was a turnover, any challenge would have come from the replay booth.

It would be nice to know why the play was ruled the way that it was, and why the ruling wasn’t Atlanta ball at its one or two points for Green Bay.

UPDATE 4:17 p.m. ET: NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino says via Twitter that, because Collins gained possession at the one with his leg touching the goal line, it’s a touchback. If his leg hadn’t been touching the goal line, the Falcons would have had the ball at the one. The FOX broadcast still hasn’t explained the ruling.

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Ryan runs for score as Falcons extend lead

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to pass in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Ryan and the Falcons keep converting third downs, keep moving the chains and keep scoring.

They lead the Packers, 17-0, midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Ryan ran 14 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0. He threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on the game’s first drive, and he’s had a bunch of wide open receivers on the first three possessions.

Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line early in the second quarter, and Falcons safety Jalen Collins recovered in the end zone for a touchback as the Falcons preserved a 10-0 lead. The Packers have moved the ball on both of their possessions but have missed a field goal and fumbled.

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Falcons dominate first quarter, lead 10-0

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes the ball in the first half against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons hold a 10-0 lead over the Packers after one quarter in the NFC Championship Game.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is off to a hot start. Ryan is 11-of-16 for 125 yards and had two passes that would have been big gains dropped.

Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught the game’s first touchdown and has been busy. He has four catches for 46 yards and a rush for seven yards.

The Packers moved inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line on their first possession but stalled and Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal. Crosby had made 23 consecutive field goals; it was also the first missed field goal of the entire playoffs.

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NFL teams may have to jam cell signals in locker rooms

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As the Antonio Brown Face Book Live fiasco prepares to yield to an actual football game (during which it will be “fair or not” to point out the potential social-media infraction distraction if Brown struggles), there’s a lingering question about the situation that gave rise to the violation.

How will the NFL prevent similar incidents in the future?

One league source suggests that, eventually, the league will need to implement scrambling devices in the locker room when social-media activity is prohibited — from 90 minutes before kickoff through the conclusion of the post-game media obligations.

That’s the easiest way to keep players from violating the rules, and it’s something the league needs to consider if other players will be tempted to broadcast live from the locker room.

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Ryan sharp as Falcons take early lead

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons scores a two-point conversion against Chris Conte #23 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on September 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons got the ball first and scored first in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

They went 80 yards in 13 plays with Matt Ryan completing three third-down passes.

The Falcons scored on a third-down shovel pass to Mohamed Sanu after Ryan was flushed out of the pocket. The Falcons have now scored a touchdown on their first drive in eight straight games.

Ryan was 6-of-8 for 64 yards on the first drive. The Packers moved inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line on their first possession but stalled and Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal. Crosby had made 23 consecutive field goals.

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Antonio Brown reportedly fined $10,000 by Steelers for locker room video

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, right, arrives to talk with reporters after their NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers face the New England Patriots in the AFC conference championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) AP

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week that the team would discipline wide receiver Antonio Brown for sharing a video from the locker room on Facebook Live and that discipline reportedly includes a five-figure fine.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Tomlin told players at a team meeting that Brown was fined $10,000 for violating the team’s social media policy. The league’s policy prohibits the use of social media from 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of postgame media obligations, so Brown may face other penalties.

Per Glazer, Tomlin asked if anyone had a problem with that decision and then said it was time to move on to get ready for the Patriots. Brown apologized for posting the video and creating what he called a “total distraction” to his teammates leading up the game against New England.

NFL Media reported Sunday that Brown has a six-figure marketing deal with Facebook, which got a lot of publicity as a result of the video. Brown would only say “top secret” when asked about a deal with the company, but the net effect on his bank account will still be a positive one if he’s in business with the social network.

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Report: Chip Kelly could replace Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during their NFL game against the New England Patriots at Levi's Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is slated for a second interview with the 49ers about their head coaching job this week and the expectation around the league is that he will wind up taking the job.

That would leave the Falcons in need of a new offensive coordinator and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported on Sunday that the team has lined up three candidates to take the job, including the man Shanahan would be replacing with the 49ers. Glazer reports that Chip Kelly is one of the potential additions to Dan Quinn’s staff.

Glazer reported that Kelly would consider a coordinator position shortly after he was fired by the 49ers and he interviewed with the Jaguars earlier this month before Jacksonville decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as the offensive coordinator on a permanent basis. He also reportedly met with Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently, although there’s been no word about whether there was a discussion about joining the staff.

Shanahan is eligible to speak to the 49ers this week whether the Falcons win or lose, but would only be moving on to the 49ers immediately if the Packers are moving on to the Super Bowl.

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Report: Matt Cavanaugh “in negotiations” for Redskins offensive coordinator

Washington Redskins conduct OTAs Getty Images

There’s a report about Kevin O’Connell coming aboard as the new quarterbacks coach in Washington, but it doesn’t look like Matt Cavanaugh, who was in that job during the 2016 season, will be leaving the team.

Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Redskins are “in negotiations” with Cavanaugh about a promotion to offensive coordinator. The job has been vacant since Sean McVay left to become the head coach of the Rams.

A bump up the ladder for Cavanaugh would make two internal promotions to coordinator for the Redskins as they’re moving Greg Manusky from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.

Cavanaugh has spent the last two years as the quarterbacks coach in D.C. and has experience as an offensive coordinator with the Bears, Ravens and the University of Pittsburgh. He also had stints as the quarterbacks coach for the Bears and Jets before joining the Redskins.

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Packers wide receivers active, available

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Jordy Nelson #87 and Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after a touchdown by Adams in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have their injured wide receivers active and available for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Atlanta.

Both team submitted their inactive lists 90 minutes before kickoff. Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams will all play after being listed as questionable. Nelson missed last week’s game after breaking ribs in the wild-card round.

The Packers have six wide receivers active, giving them additional depth if Nelson, Allison or Adams are limited by their injuries or have to leave the game.

Packers safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Quinten Rollins and running back Christine Michael had been listed as questionable but both will play. The Packers had previously ruled running back James Starks out due to a concussion.

Also inactive for the Packers are Joe Callahan, Max McCaffrey, Herb Waters, Joe Kerridge, Kyle Murphy and Christian Ringo.

The Falcons have no injury-related inactives. Their inactives are Nick Williams, Terron Ward, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Dashon Goldson, Josh Keyes, Wes Schweitzer and D.J. Tialavea.

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Colts used psychologist to improve Grigson, Pagano relationship

635875518856579454-09-pagano-colts Getty Images

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay insisted that there were no issues between coach Chuck Pagano and now-former G.M. Ryan Grigson. On Sunday, some evidence contradicting that assertion emerged.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Colts hired a psychologist to help improve the relationship between Pagano and Grigson. The effort focused on ways to improve communications between the two men.

That’s a nice way of saying they didn’t get along in the way that two men who have every reason to find a way to get along should. Whether a result of personality differences or philosophical impasse (Grigson wanted to build for the future and Pagano wanted to win now), two grown men with every reason to treat their jobs like a three-legged race ended up being less effective than a three-legged dog.

“There have been a lot of relationships throughout the years where the General Manager and head coach aren’t the best of friends, but professionally they move forward and excel,” Irsay said Saturday. “Both of these guys have great affection for each other, that may shock you guys, but I will let Chuck speak for himself or Ryan. There is a lot more affection than you guys even know.”

Affection or lack thereof isn’t the issue. The issue is shared accountability. Their failure to be on the same page shows that they each believed it would be possible to survive the firing of the other. Pagano ultimately won; the better approach for any football organization is that both will win or both will lose.

The cockeyed accountability apparently will continue once the new G.M. arrives with a mandate to make changes that could include getting rid of Pagano.

“The new General Manager will come in, evaluate our whole football program and we will see where we are at,” Irsay said. “Again, I hope Chuck can be our coach for many years to come. He is our coach this year. Going through this process and interviewing General Managers and having whoever the new General Manager is come in to work with me to evaluate where we are at will play a big role on that in the long-term.”

The new G.M. will want to hire his own coach. Which means that Pagano already is on notice that 2017 is an up-or-out season for him.

After that, the G.M. and the next coach need to realize that they’re in it together. It’s on Irsay to make sure they realize that failure for one means failure for both, and that the next time a major change is made both the coach and G.M. will be sent packing.

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Wade Phillips on Rams defense: We can fit whatever we need to fit in

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 09:  Wade Phillips defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos celebrates on the stage as the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos are honored at a rally on the steps of the Denver City and County Building on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams made the hire of Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator official last Thursday, finalizing a move that extends Phillips’ NFL resume to 10 franchises.

As in those other stops, Phillips is being asked to put together a top-flight defense. As in many of those stops, that will call for tweaking of the Rams’ defensive scheme as Phillips puts his own stamp on the unit. That stamp is expected to include a shift from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 and Phillips doesn’t expect it to be a major stumbling block.

“Four out of the last six teams I’ve gone to were running a 4-3, and we went to a 3-4 and went to the playoffs every year, and they hadn’t been to the playoffs the year before,” Phillips said, via ESPN.com. “I think we can fit whatever we need to fit in. And if we couldn’t, we would change. But that’s the way we’ve done it. We’ve got our defense where we can utilize any kind of personnel in any way. It’s just what the players can do best. Same with coverages, and same with the linebackers, and same with the D-line. You try to get the best players on the field and don’t make many mistakes. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we plan on doing.”

Phillips’ arrival may force some players, like defensive end Robert Quinn, to change positions but Phillips says players “who can rush are going to rush” by way of explaining that things aren’t going to be radically different under his command.

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Washington promotes Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Greg Manusky of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

Washington head coach Jay Gruden didn’t go far to find his new defensive coordinator.

Greg Manusky has been promoted to the top assistant job, NFL Network reports.

Manusky spent last season as the outside linebackers coach in Washington. Prior to that he was a defensive coordinator for nine years, with the Colts for four seasons, the Chargers for one season and the 49ers for four seasons.

The 50-year-old Manusky had a 12-year playing career in Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City.

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