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Pro Bowl Games

2024 Pro Bowl Games: Keenan McCardell, Wes Welker to be offensive coordinators for flag game

Keenan McCardell's playbook will probably have 50 or 60 plays – a lot of red-zone – although he promises they will be based on concepts players around the league have run, because practice time is short and players will rely heavily on wristbands to understand the calls.

McCardell is the offensive coordinator for the NFC team in the 2024 Pro Bowl Games, and while he'll be calling plays for a flag football game in Orlando, Florida on Feb. 4 that features a collection of all-stars who are mostly on vacation, for McCardell, this is on-the-job training. He is the wide receivers coach for the Minnesota Vikings and works with Justin Jefferson every day. His dream, though, is to be an NFL head coach. The Pro Bowl Games will mark the first time he has ever called plays, and McCardell views this as a developmental opportunity for his career aspirations.

"It will be good to get out in front of the best of the best of the league," said McCardell, who had 11,373 yards receiving in his 16-year playing career. "Just show your skill set -- can you call plays and get guys the ball? It's fun and I understand it's an exhibition for those guys. I understand where their attention span is. I just know as it comes down to the end of the game, those competitive spirits get firing, you've got to be ready to call the right stuff for them. I just want to get a chance to show I can call plays."

This is the first time that members of the NFL legends community will be the offensive coordinators in the Pro Bowl Games. The AFC's offensive coordinator is Wes Welker, who, following a 12-year playing career, is the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. Hall of Famers DeMarcus Ware (NFC) and Ray Lewis (AFC) are the defensive coordinators. Each team will also have two heads of player engagement assigned to them.

Having offensive coordinators was the idea of Peyton and Eli Manning, the head coaches of the AFC and NFC teams, respectively. The league office thought it would be a good opportunity for former players who have moved into coaching to hone skills on and off the field.

"They'll engage with media more, be meeting and coaching guys across the league, which is why it's always a good opportunity for coaching staffs to come see looks from other players," said Tracy Perlman, the NFL's senior vice president of player operations.
Welker thought the job sounded like fun when Peyton Manning asked him about it -- his kids are excited about going to Disney World -- but he also thinks it's beneficial to have former players still involved with the game and making connections with young players. Welker already coaches the likes of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but Welker thinks the flag football game is still a chance to watch how other players do things.

"Being around different people and different ways of doing things, different techniques, especially at the Pro Bowl, you're around a lot of really good players, picking stuff up from them, maybe they ask a question," Welker said. "It's people that have spent their whole lives doing this and perfecting their techniques. Any time you're around people at the top of their game, it's helpful."

Welker said he has about 30 plays in his playbook, and Peyton Manning has, perhaps not surprisingly, weighed in on what should be in there. The league held a meeting to go over flag football rules, and there will be brief meetings and practices with players in Orlando. The Pro Bowl Games are scored cumulatively, so when the flag football game kicks off, one of the teams could have a lead carried over from results of the skills competitions held earlier in the week. That, too, will affect play calls. Welker admits that as a coach, he has to find a way to motivate players during their offseason. He plans to remind them about the greater prize money awarded to the winning team.

McCardell, who, like Welker, was a Pro Bowler himself, remembers the Pro Bowl as a bonding moment for players and coaches around the league. And while the strategy is going to be greatly simplified from the regular season, McCardell hopes the game will still provide an important platform for coaches like him.

"Just the fact I get to lead the best of the best and be able to help them in their career, you get people to see you as not just a wide receivers coach, they see you as a leader and how you get guys to want to play for you," McCardell said. "You don't always have to be an offensive coordinator to be a head coach. You've got to have guys who want to play for you, who believe in what you say."

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