Commentary

Bears embracing Marinelli's methods

Originally Published: August 6, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- You want to make Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher smile? Just mention a certain name, and the grin is unmistakably gleeful: "Rod Marinelli."

Yes, the same Rod Marinelli who coached the Detroit Lions to an 0-16 record that led to his dismissal as head coach. One team's loss is another team's gain. He doesn't coach linebackers, but if the Bears resurrect their identity as a nasty defense, Marinelli's work as a defensive line coach will be cited.

"Getting Rod Marinelli is one of the best things we've done since I've been here," Urlacher said. "If we get our defensive line back to where I know they can be, we get our defense to a championship level. And based on what I've seen from [Marinelli], I understand now what the fuss is all about. He's special as a D-line coach."

For all the buzz about Jay Cutler -- and the Bears are sincerely excited about their new franchise quarterback -- Marinelli may have just as much impact. There are just a handful of defensive line coaches who make a difference in a team's performance, and regardless of his record with the Lions, nobody in the NFL will dispute his excellence at his specialty.

During his 10-year run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Marinelli's defensive line was responsible for the majority of the team's 328.5 sacks. The top 6 single-season sack totals in the Bucs' history occurred when Marinelli was coaching the defensive front. His unyielding passion and teaching skills won over supposedly big-ego linemen like Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice.

In fact, former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson eventually quit coaching in part because, he said, modern-day players would no longer "run through the wall" for coaches. Sapp and Rice have said they would run through a wall for Marinelli.

General manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith both called Marinelli the Bears' biggest free-agent acquisition in the offseason. (Cutler was a trade.) They beat out a number of teams, most notably the Texans, who were offering Texas-sized money. It was Marinelli's relationship with Smith that broke any tie -- Smith had been a linebackers coach with the Bucs.

"I know the type of man Rod is and the impact he can have not just on the defensive line, but on every player on this team," Smith said.

But for Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the team's star linebackers, getting former first-round DT Tommie Harris back to a Pro Bowl level will help their performance. They expect Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye to be impact pass-rushers and hope Marinelli can resurrect the promise Mark Anderson once showed at defensive end. There's also last year's second-rounder, DT Marcus Harrison, and the promise of DT Israel Idonije for Marinelli to push to the next level.

"All I know," Urlacher said, "is I'm already a believer."

Here is some of what I saw and learned while visiting the Bears, the sixth stop on my training camp bus tour:

  • Who else is going help Urlacher and Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs? Smith really likes the offseason free-agent signing of Pisa Tinoisamoa, who brings some speed to the linebacker unit.

  • Maybe the Bears could use one or two taller receivers, but tight end Greg Olsen is 6-6 and while he ran a 4.47 seconds in the 40, a Bears officials said he still runs around 4.52 in full pads. That's fast, and he clearly is going to be a unique downfield threat for Cutler.

  • Olsen isn't the only tight end threat. There's also veteran Desmond Clark but one name to remember is 6-7 Kellen Davis, a second-year player from Michigan State. The receiver who has some size with skill is 6-3 Brandon Rideau, who made a nice one-handed catch while keeping his feet in bounds during Thursday night's practice. Rideau has a chance to be the Bears' No. 3 wideout.

  • In attendance Thursday was former Rams president/GM Jay Zygmunt. He was accompanied by no-frills agent Frank Bauer, who represents four Bears coaches: Smith, Marinelli, offensive coordinator Ron Turner and linebackers coach Bob Babich.

    Bauer also represents one of the draft YouTube sensations: San Jose State defensive Jarron Gilbert, the 6-5 defensive tackle who was videotaped jumping out of a swimming pool and sticking a landing on a pool deck. Marinelli is trying to teach Gilbert how to play with leverage.

  • The Bears lost leadership with the departure of safety Mike Brown, but one of this year's sleepers at the position is rookie Al Afalava. An injury at Oregon State knocked him down to a sixth-round draft pick this spring, but he could be a steal.

  • Cutler has blown away his coaches and teammates with his skills, poise and competitiveness, according to Turner, the play-caller. Behind Cutler, Caleb Hanie has his hands full for the No. 2 job with former Carolina Panther and Northwestern QB Brett Basanez stringing together four consecutive impressive practices.

    Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.