The work of Bucs Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli is reflected in Tampa Bay's number-one ranking in run defense
*by Pat Kirwan, NFL.com Senior Analyst
(Editor's note: For eight years, I have written the Unsung Heroes column during the season to bring attention to the people behind the scenes that help make some of the extraordinary things happen in the NFL on any given weekend. At the end of the year, the Unsung Hero of the Year is presented a trophy made in the name of Chip Myers, a longtime NFL assistant coach and former player who passed away just days after he was elevated to his first coordinator's position with the Minnesota Vikings. Chip was well respected by everyone in the coaching ranks and embodied all the virtues assistant coaches need to be successful. He was humble, a good teacher, a loyal friend and a tireless worker.)*
During the first five weeks, I concentrated on the offensive and defensive coordinators who develop the game plans. As the year goes on, I will revisit the coordinators often, but it is now time to take a look at the real Unsung Heroes of the NFL -- the assistant coaches.
An assistant coach can walk into almost any restaurant or store in the city he coaches in and no one will even recognize him. For the most part, they are never on television, rarely get home to see their families, probably move seven or eight times during their professional coaching careers, and think nothing of sleeping in their office a few nights a week.
This week, I decided to take a look at a few of the defensive line coaches who work down in the pit with the big guys. As my radio partner at Sirius Radio, Tim Ryan, a former NFL defensive lineman says, "Show me a great cornerback or coverage scheme, and I'll show you a great defensive line."
There's no doubt it all starts up front on defense. Here are five of the men pushing the big men to play great. The combined record of these five teams is 22-7, and four of them are in first place.
1. Rod Marinelli, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach/assistant head coach: Marinelli came to the Bucs from the college coaching ranks in 1996 and quickly became one of the best in the business. He should be a head coach in the minds of those who work with him in Tampa, and I can't disagree after watching the man coach over the past six years. Marinelli loves working with guys who have quickness, and when you see the Tampa Bay D-linemen in street clothes, you think there's no chance they are NFL defensive linemen. Last week in the big victory against the Dolphins, they stopped the run as they always do, and the men up front were the big reason. After six games, the Bucs' front four has 69 tackles, nine sacks and too many pressures to count. Tampa Bay sits on top of the NFC South, and Marinelli has a lot to do with the success.
2. John Teerlinck, Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach: Teerlinck played pro football and coached NFL defensive lines for the past 16 seasons. He has a very aggressive style of coaching and believes in pass rush over everything else. The 6-0 Colts have given up the fewest points in the NFL, and Teerlinck's defensive line has an incredible: 117 tackles, 20 sacks and two fumble recoveries. It's an understatement to say his players are around the ball. I talked with DE Robert Mathis and he said there's no way you aren't hustling every second of every play with Teerlinck coaching you. Mathis came into the NFL three years ago from Alabama A&M at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. Today, he leads the NFL with seven sacks.
3. Kacy Rogers, Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach: Rogers is a young coach born in 1969, six years after N.Y. Jets QB Vinny Testaverde was born. He is dealing with a three-man defensive line and two rookie players in Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. The Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 4-2 record and their front three has recorded 10 sacks and 67 tackles. Last week against the Giants, the Cowboys got to Eli Manning four times. Often you hear there's no place for a quick, undersized defensive tackle in the 3-4 -- especially if he played in a 4-3 scheme before the changeover. That's not the case for one of Rogers' players, La'Roi Glover. Glover splits time at nose tackle with Jason Ferguson, but he already has 3½ sacks. Rogers has his front three playing well for the fast-starting Cowboys.
4. Sal Sunseri, Carolina defensive line coach: I remember Sunseri from his University of Pittsburgh days as a linebacker. He was tough then, and he has instilled that toughness in his defensive linemen with the Panthers. Last week in the big Panthers victory at Detroit, the defense had six sacks. Sometimes sacks might not come from the defensive line, but they are set up by the defensive linemen. Sunseri lost his top defensive tackle, Kris Jenkins, a few weeks ago, but the backups set up the sacks in the 21-20 victory on the road. Right now, the Panthers are sitting in second place with a 4-2 record. The Carolina defensive line has 6½ sacks, 87 tackles and an impressive five fumble recoveries. A fumble recovery is even better than an interception because it is usually closer to the end zone. Sunseri will be a defensive coordinator someday, and a good one when he takes his playing experience at linebacker and combines it with his coaching experience with the front four.
5. Dwaine Board, Seattle Seahawks defensive line: Board played on the defensive line in the NFL for 10 years and brought his playing experience and knowledge to the coaching profession for the past 14 years. His Seattle defense has 18 sacks and is on a pace to blow away last year's total of 36. Board's front four has 11 of those sacks in five games, and an impressive 85 tackles and two fumble recoveries. His most impressive pupil is DT Rocky Bernard. Never heard of Bernard? Well, he has 4½ sacks and 15 tackles -- not bad for a guy who wasn't a high draft pick and wasn't supposed to be an instant hit. The Seahawks are in first place and finally defeated their arch rival, St. Louis, and Board's defensive line had a lot more to do with it than most people really know.