Marinelli getting Bears' attention
Marinelli getting Bears' attention
Unorthodox techniques have Bears' defense near top of league
by sean jenssen
Bears starting strong safety Danieal Manning looks forward to the Saturday defensive meeting.
Although he's a fifth-year veteran, Manning is always intrigued to see how defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will illustrate a point. Like the time Marinelli showed footage of a cheetah chasing down a gazelle.
''He was making a turn before the gazelle,'' Manning said. ''That was nice.''
That was an example of man coverage.
Another time, Marinelli showed footage of a lion jumping, corralling and landing on top of an animal.
''That's the way to tackle and wrap up,'' Manning said. ''Textbook.''
Marinelli might be infamous for coaching the Detroit Lions to an 0-16 season in 2008, but he climbed the NFL ladder by developing a reputation for teaching defensive linemen and understanding the Tampa-2 scheme. That's why Bears coach Lovie Smith had no qualms about asking Marinelli to handle play-calling duties this season for the first time in his career.
''First off, that's a technicality, not being in charge and not calling a defense,'' Smith said. ''He's been involved in [the Tampa-2] so much, he knows it as well as anyone. He was there in the infant stages. Just the timing hadn't worked where he had the title of defensive coordinator.''
So what made Smith so confident?
''I've never been around a better coach than him,'' Smith said. ''I knew that's how he would take over the defense. The guys bought in right away.''
And the payoff, thus far, has been huge.
The Bears' defense is dominating at a clip reminiscent of the 2006 unit. There have been some ugly stretches, but the 2010 Bears defense is among the best units in the NFL, ranking among the top five in a number of key categories, including yards per game (fifth), rushing yards per game (fifth), third-down efficiency (first) and takeaways (tied for second).
Manning said Marinelli has an attention to detail.
''He breaks it down, and pretty much we buy into it,'' Manning said. ''We're buying into it, and it's working.''
Marinelli is especially pleased that his unit is playing with consistency.
''Our system is all based on teamwork,'' he said. ''Sometimes you have to give up an opportunity to make a play to give a teammate an opportunity to make a play. That's the discipline we're looking for.''
In the meantime, the 61-year-old coach will keep trying to find ways to get the message across to his players, even if that means tapping into National Geographic archives.
''I'm a visual person; I think most people are,'' he said. ''When you see something, it's memorable. If you learn written material, it's memory, and you can lose it. But an image, you usually do not forget.
''I'm constantly finding ways to teach and assimilate.''
Smith firmly in control
There have been questions about how involved Bears coach Lovie Smith is with the day-to-day planning of the offense and even with the in-game decisions. So I went straight to Smith with my questions:
Q: Now that you don't handle calling defensive plays anymore, how do you involve yourself with the offense?
A: "First off, nothing is turned over completely. I try to stay involved with everything a little bit. But you have to trust [the staff]. ... I mean, we have guys with an expertise. My expertise isn't on the offensive side of the football, so our coaches take the lead. I keep up with what we're doing, but I have all the faith in the world in what we're doing, the game plan that we have going in each week. I'm totally behind it, like I've been behind everyone.''
Q: During the course of a game, do you get involved with offensive calls?
A: ''I'm involved with everything. I'm the head coach. Everything goes through me. But I'm not the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator. We have a game plan, and I hear everything that's called, that we're going to do.''
Q: Let's say there's a special teams play ...
A: ''All phases, for everything. So everything, they say, it stops here? It does.
"I know what we're doing in all other areas. I've been totally behind everything we've done. We haven't done some things as well as we need to. And after going through a few games, we see that we need to maybe go in a little different direction in some areas, which we'll do.''
During the bye week, I had a chance to read a book I found very interesting. It's a book by agent Bruce Tollner, who represents numerous NFL players, including Bears guard Lance Louis.
But Tollner didn't tackle an obvious topic. Instead, he focused on a game plan for raising children.
There were several inspirations for The C.H.I.L.D. Game Plan. First, his father, famed football coach Ted Tollner, remarkably survived a plane crash. Second, he was separated from his 7-year-old daughter at Disneyland for about an hour.
He and his wife didn't have a plan, but Disney security did.
''They were awesome,'' Tollner told me.
That made him wonder why he didn't have a plan.
''I had to lay them out in writing, so I know what I want to accomplish as a parent,'' he said.
But instead of just droning on, Tollner blended in insights from a range of clients and friends. One of the best was a letter Steve Mariucci's father wrote him after his high school graduation.
As a father myself, I found the book quite useful.
Welcome back, Major
It didn't get much attention, but Bears rookie safety Major Wright slowly was starting to do more and more as the team neared its bye. He was sidelined with a groin injury for a while, but Wright should be ready to start contributing on defense.
The defense is playing well, but the Bears still aren't getting too many big plays from the safeties. So I would expect Wright to rotate back into the lineup, as he was doing at the start of the season.
Will the Bears separate from the Pack, even though they have an open weekend? The Green Bay Packers, who are tied with the Bears atop the NFC North at 4-3, visit the New York Jets today at New Meadowlands Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings (2-4) visit the New England Patriots.