NFL Nation: John Teerlinck

Best of NFL: AFC South coaches

June, 29, 2011
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As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC South:

Best no-nonsense assistant, John Teerlinck: Teerlinck, the Colts' defensive line coach, teaches technique, then expects his charges to master it. He’s straightforward and direct with players, who get no babying and can’t get away with excuses. While he has top-flight ends to work with in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, his interior linemen of late haven’t been of the highest quality. He doesn’t complain (most assistants don’t, mind you), he just rolls up his sleeves and gets to work with what he has with high expectations for performance and production.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonEven in cold-weather games, Jack Del Rio is well-dressed.
Best dressed, Jack Del Rio: The Jaguars have three prime-time games in 2011 if we get the full schedule. Del Rio was a suit and tie guy before and has talked about breaking them out for games again. Now do Reebok suits qualify a guy for best dressed? The rumpled sportswriter is unqualified to say, but they certainly look more like off the rack than designer. Nobody in the division coaching ranks I can think of is going to be confused with Louis Vuitton. But Mr. Blackwell would have to at least appreciate the effort, especially if Del Rio misses the weekend coaches are supposed to wear Jaguars bowling shirts. He’s typically the best-dressed guy at team events and community appearances, and he’s not in Reebok at them.

Best sense of humor, Gary Kubiak: We poke fun at Houston's Kubiak at times for being such an aw-shucks type. But his self-effacing humor is no act. He’s pretty good at self-deprecating humor, and his timing and delivery of concise lines that produce a laugh can be excellent. Sometime all that serves to take the heat off the guys in his locker room -- which maybe isn’t always such a great thing. That said, it helps make him a coach his players love working for and makes for some humorous sound bites.

Best at weathering the cold, Bruce Matthews: Matthews, the Titans' offensive line coach, was part of offensive lines in Tennessee that had an internal rule -- if you don’t wear it for a game in September, you can’t wear it for a game in December. That means no long sleeves for a snowy game in Cleveland and other road trips to icy venues and no complaining about the elements. As a coach, he’s not going to roam the sideline in frigid locales in short sleeves. But I don’t imagine we’re going to see him flinch or get frostbite in a blizzard, either.

Best at sticking to his news conference plan, Jim Caldwell: Ask the Colts' coach the right sort of question, and you can get a helpful and insightful answer. But ask too specifically about strategy or philosophy or injury, especially leading into a game, and he’s going to answer politely with a smile without giving reporters anything much. I’ve done a word count of some of Caldwell's press sessions and come up with a remarkably low number. I don’t know that he’d be expansive in other circumstances, but in the Colts’ culture, he certainly isn’t. And he’s pretty good at it.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJoe Cullen is back in the NFL, bringing energy and high-decibel levels to 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.”
Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson & Eric FosterUS Presswire/Getty Images/AP PhotoDaniel Muir (left), Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster will face the league's best rushing offense Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2009 Indianapolis Colts needed to be stouter.

Item No. 1 on virtually every team's list of needs after the 2008 season was defensive tackle. A new head coach with a new defensive coordinator would still want quick interior linemen, but a little more beef would help the team better tamp down the run.

Thus, the Colts selected Fili Moala out of USC in the second round of the 2009 draft. They grabbed Terrance Taylor from Michigan in the fourth round. They recruited Adrian Grady from Louisville as an undrafted free agent. They ultimately brought back veteran Ed Johnson, who had been waived early in the 2008 season.

Things were going to appear a whole lot different between veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Months later, here stand the Colts, a game away from their second Super Bowl in four seasons. The three defensive tackles who will key the run-stopping efforts Sunday against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game are... the same three guys they intended to replace with upgrades.

New York has a Pro Bowl center in Nick Mangold and a Pro Bowl left guard in Alan Faneca, two key pieces of an offensive line that blocks for the NFL’s top rushing team. The Colts will counter with starting defensive tackles Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir and Eric Foster as the primary changeup.

Of all the "upgrades," only second-rounder Moala stuck -- and he's inactive when the guys ahead of him are healthy.

The three holdovers are used to beating long odds. Antonio Johnson was signed off the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in early November 2008 and played eight games with the Colts that season. Muir was a waiver claim from the Green Bay Packers in late August 2008. Foster was an undrafted free agent from Rutgers signed in 2008.

And so it’s no-names versus big-names in the trenches when the Jets have the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it could be the matchup most telling in who wins the AFC title and advances to the Super Bowl.

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