Olson leads rising NFC South assistants

The ESPN.com Power Rankings for up-and-coming assistant coaches are out and two NFC South representatives made the top 10.

Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Greg Olson came in at No. 7 and Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is No. 8. It’s important to note that Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were not eligible. We set the guidelines on this to not include guys who previously have been head coaches.

Olson led the division based largely on his work with the Tampa Bay offense and quarterback Josh Freeman last season. Originally brought in as the quarterbacks coach, Olson was thrust into the offensive coordinator job when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired in the middle of training camp in 2009. The Bucs struggled to a 3-13 record that season and didn’t play the rookie Freeman until the second half of the season.

But 2010 was a different story. In Freeman’s first full season as a starter, the Bucs went 10-6 and Olson got the most out of rookie receiver Mike Williams, rookie running back LeGarrette Blount and a bunch of other young players. If the Tampa Bay offense can build on that this season, we might be hearing Olson’s name connected to some openings for head coaches next year.

Chudzinski made the list because several of us looked at the crystal ball and projected good things for a guy who is making the move from being San Diego’s tight ends coach to Carolina’s offensive coordinator. I had Chudzinski No. 8 on my ballot and AFC West colleague Bill Williamson, who covered him in his San Diego days, had him at No. 4. I think I speak for Williamson when I say it remains to be seen how Chudzinski will fare in Carolina.

But the man has a great reputation around the league and a lot of people expect him to succeed. As daunting as the task of revamping the offense of a 2-14 team may sound, I think Chudzinski could be in good shape. Carolina has some talent on the offensive line and at running back. With or without Steve Smith, they also have some talent at running back. The key will be the development of quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. If Chudzinski can bring one or both of those guys along, his résumé will get a lot stronger.