The Sprinter’s Scheme, Part 2: Can Teerlinck’s Jet Techniques Help the Cowboys Linemen Take Off?

This is the second part of a three-part series looking at the rush philosophy of Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa-2.”   Part 1 looked at the origins of the slant-nose 4-man line which is a regular feature of the Dungy/Kiffin scheme.

It seems obvious, but defensive play is mainly a reactive activity. As Dave Campo explained to me a few summers ago, players on an offense leave their huddle knowing where they are going on each play.  It’s the defense’s duty to tease out their intent as much as possible pre-snap and to react as quickly as possible once the play is recognized.

The challenge for innovative coordinators is how to minimize and even eliminate the offense’s edge.  Some, like Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville, pressured the offense and made them the unit which adjusts.  In Pittsburgh, Tony Dungy played in and later coordinated a scheme which used power and penetration to disrupt opponents.  It relied on four-man pressure and looked for that pressure to feed turnovers into a back seven which played controlled zones.

When Dungy moved to Minnesota in the early ’90s, he worked with a coach who took a very scientific approach to line play. John Teerlinck had earned a Masters degree in physical education which coordinating Eastern Illinois’ defense in 1979. Teerlinck’s topic was on movement and reaction in a sports context.  Teerlinck wanted to learn what factors affected an athlete’s reaction time.  He looked at stimulus-response activities, looking for ways he could reduce his players’ reaction times.

Teerlinck drew four conclusions from his research, which he began applying to line play:

  1. Stronger stimuli produced better reaction times;
  2. All reaction times are reduced through repetition;
  3. Stimuli which are the hardest to identify can be improved the most by repetition;
  4. Any type of response can be taught to respond to any type of stimuli.

Teerlinck used his stimulus-response research to produce the Jet technique. This is an attacking, pass-first approach which attempts to win the snap.  Teerlinck and Dungy looked for linemen who had natural explosion (they call it get-off) and trained them to react to balls being snapped the way sprinters react to starting guns.

The tackles and ends played one-gap at all times. They were not to give their opponents clear targets to hit. They were schooled to give offensive linemen “half a body” at most and to “make themselves small.”

They lined up like sprinters in blocks with all the weight on their hands.  Their stimulus was the ball — if that was the first object that moved.  The coaches took it upon themselves to find earlier stimuli, if they existed. If the quarterback moved a leg a fraction before the snap, that became the stimulus to track in that week’s game plan.

The players were taught to bend the rules on snaps. They were to crowd the line of scrimmage as much as possible, leaving a “credit cards worth of space” between themselves and the football. If the center lifted the ball every time, that was licence to crowd a few inches closer. The coaches studied officiating teams, looking for those who could let the defensive line creep across the nose of the ball.  The defense received weekly reports on the officials’ tendencies.

When the ball was finally snapped, the lineman’s initial task was to explode across the line, to gain penetration.  While that was going on,the linemen were to key on a second stimulus, the offensive lineman’s movement. Teerlinck’s players were drilled on which action to take once they recognized the stimulus, and to make these reactions second nature. In this frame, you see how the tackles react to a lineman’s down block, which is supposed to tip a trap:

While Teerlinck’s linemen deeloped automatic recognition of the blocks they would encounter, the Jet was above all a rushing technique. The linemen were to get upfield and attack the quarterback. If they encountered a run, they were supposed to stop it on the fly.  The technique tried making play-action passes ineffective;  if linemen were rushing all the time, they should not be fooled by a run-fake.

The Jet technique seems vulnerable to teams which could run effectively, yet it worked.  In ’94 the Vikings ranked 1st in rush defense, allowing just over 68 yards a game.  Though his line had lost Pro Bowl end Chris Doleman, Teerlinck’s tackles, John Randle and Henry Thomas, combined for 20.5 sacks.

Teerlinck left to become the Lions DC in ’95.  Dungy also lost his linebacking coach Monte Kiffin that year, Kiffin leaving to coordinate the Saints defense.  The following year, Dungy became Tampa Bay’s head coach  and hired Kiffin to run his scheme. Kiffin recruited USC’s line coach Rod Marinelli to teach Teerlinck’s speed roles.  Marinelli got Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice to thrive in the scheme, and he and Kiffin won a Super Bowl in 2002.

Teerlinck, meanwhile, moved to Denver, where he helped DT Trevor Pryce reach the Pro Bowl. He also helped Mike Shanahan and DC Greg Robinson win two Super Bowls. When Tony Dungy was fired by the Bucs in 2001, he took over the Colts.  There, Dungy re-united with Teerlinck, who developed Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  They won a Super Bowl in 2006.

The Jet has worked, for tackles and ends alike. Most important for Cowboys partisans, tackles and ends who appear too small have thrived in it. Freeney played over a decade of super football at 6’1″, 268 lbs.  His book-end Robert Mathis played at 6’2″, 245. Henry Thomas, the Vikings nose tackle Jimmy Johnson tried in vain to include in the Herschel Walker trade, weighed only 277 lbs.

Size matters less than quickness in the Jet.  If fans have any doubts that Marinelli will continue these techniques, the sign outside the Valley Ranch D-lineman’s office which reads, “Rush Men” makes it plain. The Cowboys will learn the Jet.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • AustonianAggie

    Eastern Illinois sure has a large impact on the NFL, right? 4 Head Coaches, and Tony Romo

  • Sergio Padron

    Rafa, this is fantastic. These kind of information makes the offseason tolerable.

  • e40

    my brain literally cant handle the concept of demarcus ware being trained to get off the line even faster.

    • jarhead

      the refs couldnt handle it either. I’ll never forget the dallas playoff loss to the gints (13-3 season). Early in the game, gints were in 3rd and short. Ware appeared to be offsides, but slow motion showed he timed it perfectly. the gints play was an incomplete pass, but a bogus offsides call (granted, from a human ref) gave the gints a first down.

      dude has been called off before when he was faster than the eye could see.

  • Cowboys4Life

    Thanks to the person on a previous post who recommended the article on the Seahawks 4-3 over on FieldGulls.

    Between that and Raf’s breakdowns I feel like I’m getting a better understanding of the various nuances of this defense and of what we might try to do on D next year.

    Should make watching the games even more fun. I can’t wait till the season starts.

  • scottmaui

    great background. thanks for this Raf. awesome stuff. can’t wait to see it in action! I think our DTs & DEs are good fits to thrive in this system.

  • LT

    I’m all for getting more pressure on the QB, especially from the front 4, but should we expect more offsides because of the dline’s focus on getting after the QB? We’ve seen Ware and Spencer get some untimely offsides penalties in the past few years.

    • Roger

      I lived in Minnesota while the Vikings were using this technique in the early to 90’s.
      They had the most off-sides of any team. It was surprising how often they got flagged, but they also had tons of sacks and negative yardage plays. They were willing to live with the off sides

    • AustonianAggie

      some offsides calls against Ware are bullcrap, caused by Officals who can’t believe his speed

      • Steven Van Over

        As my dad is fond of pointing out, “they can’t believe their lying eyes!”