AFC South: Rod Marinelli
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJoe Cullen is back in the NFL, bringing energy and high-decibel levels as a member of the defensive coaching staff.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The volume’s been turned up to 11 over at the defensive line area of the Jaguars’ practice.
Joe Cullen prowls and hollers, prods and hoorays as he pushes a revamped group that’s expected to revitalize Jacksonville’s defense.
Last year’s 14 sacks were the fifth-worst total in the league since it started keeping sack stats in 1982. Enter Cullen, a once successful coach in Detroit who made national headlines for passing through a drive-through naked, a stunt that ultimately landed him out of the league.
Now he’s been given a second chance as well as the first four picks of the Jaguars’ draft and a veteran rusher in free-agent addition Aaron Kampman.
The Jaguars didn’t do much behind that line. Veteran linebacker Kirk Morrison, acquired in a trade with Oakland, is the only real notable addition. A better pass rush, they say repeatedly, will do much to cure other ills like those at safety.
As Cullen had each lineman weave through four tackling dummies at minicamp practices that wrap up Monday, clubbing and ripping each one before turning left and flattening a fake quarterback, he left little unsaid.
“It’s time to get double-digit sacks around here Harv,” he bellowed to end Derrick Harvey, the team’s top draft pick in 2008. “Not four sacks. That’s what you were brought here to do: Rush.”
He urged “tempo, tempo” and his assistant, Ben Albert reminded the troops: “We’ve got to reclaim the line of scrimmage.”
“I think this is a great group they’ve given me to work with,” Cullen said. “…It all starts up front. Basically the organization and the team is depending on us to lead the team, to lead the troops.”
Two veteran linemen, newcomer Kampman and Reggie Hayward who came here in 2005, both love Cullen so far.
“I love his passion,” said Kampman, the former Green Bay star. “The position is so much about relentlessness, tenacity and obviously those are some of his strong characteristics as a coach. He knows a lot about rushing the quarterback. He’s learned from a lot of great guys in his career and one thing I’ve learned is you always look at the pedigree.”
Those influences include Chicago defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Indianapolis defensive line coach John Teerlinck.
Said Hayward: “[Cullen’s] whole motto is to work hard, to go after it. He’s an intense little guy from upper New York or Jersey or somewhere. He says ‘tonic’ and not ‘soda’ and he’s a little fireball. That’s what you need, man. I think he’s perfect for what we’ve got going on.”
“The identity of the D-line is going to be hard work. We may not be as big as John Henderson or Marcus Stroud. But most of the time making plays is just effort. Do you give up? Or do you continue to work?”
The Jaguars hired Cullen in January with the blessing of commissioner Roger Goodell.
The quick recap of his fall: Cullen drove through a suburban Detroit Wendy’s naked in 2006 -- a scene later revisited through a Jon Kitna Halloween costume. Cullen was arrested for that and separately for a DUI, incidents that led to a suspension for one game by the team, another game by the league and a fine of $20,000 for conduct detrimental to the league.
The two cases resulted in fines and 10 days of community service as well as a judge's order to attend outpatient treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
“Motivated guys are great, right?” asked head coach Jack Del Rio. “Players or coaches, that’s what you want… I know Joe’s very hungry for an opportunity, when he’s been in the league and the line’s he’s worked with he’s done a nice job with and I think he’s very thankful for a second shot.”
“All I know is that there isn’t a single one of us that’s perfect, I know I’m not,” Kampman said. “This profession obviously puts you in a fishbowl and the great thing is that I know he’s addressed it with the group and is moving forward. Each and every one of us needs to be about redemption.”
Cullen started off our chat with an emphasis on how grateful he is to owner Wayne Weaver, GM Gene Smith and Del Rio for the second chance.
In three seasons in the same post in Detroit, he had pretty good line play on pretty bad teams. In 2007 the Lions jumped from 24th to ninth in the NFL in sacks, and the defensive line accounted for 28.5, seventh-most in the league.
But he was exiled in 2009 when the Lions started over with a new coaching staff. He spent the year as an assistant at Idaho State.
He and his 2010 draft class will get a lot of attention this year. His rookie pupils include tackle Tyson Alualu, the 10th overall pick from Cal, third-round tackle D’Anthony Smith and fifth-round ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane.
“They’re very talented, they’re very gifted,” Hayward said. “This is the time for someone to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot at stake here. Now do you want to mess it up by being a goof off or do something special?’”
Cullen isn’t so much worried about quantity as quality in the sack department. He said he craves “impact sacks,” the kind that come with strips or turn field position at a crucial spot in a game.
The defensive line won’t be judged on sacks and can affect games in many more ways, Smith said.
“I think it’s about making the quarterback move,” Smith said. “You’d like to get him down a lot. But you make him move, most quarterbacks who can’t set their feet to throw, cannot throw the ball accurately. So you get opportunities for more pass break-ups, for interceptions and you certainly get opportunities to get off the field with an incompletion.”
Cullen’s hardly set modest goals, especially considering it’s a team with one very big star in running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
“We’re going to be the face of the organization and really be the group that creates a relentless attitude about getting to where we want to be,” he said. “So we’ve got to not just be good, we’ve got to be great in everything we do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The theory says there are just six degrees of separation between each of us and anyone else on the planet, that in only six steps we can be connected through common acquaintances.
It's only natural in a league of 32 teams that had about 556 assistant coaches in 2008 that the degree of separation among them, if there is one at all, is usually one.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Gary Kubiak's defensive staff in Houston will have a new look heading into next season.|
Let us consider that as we attempt to prejudge the promotions and additions Gary Kubiak has made to his staff in Houston. Frank Bush, promoted to defensive coordinator, and David Gibbs, hired as defensive backs coach, each have extensive experience with the Denver Broncos on their resumes.
In a recent, scathing column in the Houston Chronicle, Richard Justice made fun of the franchise for its propensity to lean on people Kubiak and GM Rick Smith know from their previous NFL lives in Denver.
Justice wrote that Smith might not have trusted two staff members who were let go after the Texans' season ended -- strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley and head trainer Kevin Bastin -- "because neither worked for the Denver Broncos, had enough friends with the Denver Broncos or changed planes in Denver."
The strength and conditioning coach job is still open. But Kubiak's staff is otherwise complete and now includes eight assistants with Denver ties and 11 without them. (Relevant aside: Of the four coaches Kubiak let go, defensive coordinator Richard Smith was connected to the Broncos while defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and Riley were not.)
Now, of the team's four most powerful assistants by authority and title -- assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Bush and new assistant head coach/defensive line coach Bill Kollar -- only Kollar has no Broncos connection.
That certainly leads some to say, "Hey, coach Kubiak, there's a whole, big football world out there that extends beyond Denver, especially considering that your mentor and the head man out there, Mike Shanahan -- also your offensive coordinator's dad -- was just fired."
Kubiak isn't concerned with perception outside team headquarters, but he was willing to outline how he looks at people he considers hiring or shifting upward.
"This is important and I've been doing it long enough to have coached with a lot of football coaches," he said. "And having some familiarity with how a guy coaches, how a guy teaches, him knowing what you expect and what you stand for, that's is important to me. I can't speak for everyone else out there. At the same time, when you're interviewing coaches that you haven't worked with or you don't know personally, I start pulling from guys I do know that may have worked with them, guys who know their work habits, know what type of person they are.
"In this business, coaches bounce around and we all kind of know each other one way or another."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Peter King's All-Pro Team includes several people from the AFC South: Andre Johnson, Michael Roos, Dallas Clark, Albert Haynesworth, Cortland Finnegan and Jim Washburn. Peyton Manning is King's MVP, but not his All-Pro QB?
Meanwhile, Don Banks' All Disappointment Team features Brad Meester and Jack Del Rio, with mentions for Vince Young, Jerry Porter and Chris Myers.
Gary Kubiak interviewed Rod Marinelli for the Texans open defensive line coach post, says John McClain.
Richard Justice is hot and he says the dismissals of strength coach Dan Riley and trainer Kevin Bastin "rank as two of the monumental acts of stupidity in the brief history of the Texans.
Marlin Jackson is recovering well after season-ending knee surgery, writes Cliff Brunt.
Gregg Williams has started to interview for other defensive coordinator jobs. In an even bigger development, Vito Stellino actually got a comment from Williams' agent, the usually ellusive Marvin Demoff.
The Titans expect Leroy Harris to do just fine filling in at center for the injured Kevin Mawae, writes Gary Estwick. (The team officially designated Mawae as out Friday afternoon.)
Dan Pompeii looks at Mike Heimerdinger's strong return to the Titans.
Craig Hentrich thinks he's figured out a punting problem, says The Tennessean's notebook. Also assistant coach Bart Andrus is in the mix for the CFL Argos head coaching job.
Brandon Jones and Mark Clayton were on the same side for the BCS title game, says Estwick.
Some Titans-Ravens history in pictures, from The Tennessean.
It comes as no surprise that Gregg Williams isn't going to be back as Jacksonville's defensive coordinator, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
He and Jack Del Rio, both strong-willed coaching personalities, never seemed a good fit for each other. Del Rio is safe because of his big contract, and he's never hesitated to make changes on his staff.
In a normal year, Williams might have hit the market and found a better situation.
But with Mike Nolan already available and other head coaches who could be fired likely to be available as defensive coordinators, it could be a tough market. That list could include names like Rod Marinelli, Romeo Crennel, Jim Haslett as well as less likely possibilities like Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis and Mike Singletary.
Many will automatically presume Williams will land back in Tennessee, where he worked his way up under Jeff Fisher before leaving to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills after the 2000 season.
Fisher could have an opening if Jim Schwartz gets his first head coaching job. But with such a vacancy, Fisher would also look at strong in-house candidates Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil.