|Padawan Lett learning from Master Yoda Marinelli|
Sometimes the picture doesn’t need Photoshop. You look at it and the item that is different, the miss-step is readily obvious. That is the case this time and responsibility for the event is clear as a bell. There is no denying it. The proof is really, unassailable once laid out and considered. As much as it pains me to write this (can’t claim arthritis, weather is fine today) I have to admit that one aspect of Jerry’s master plan, to deal with team deficiencies by hiring superior coaches, is actually bearing tangible, measurable fruit. In Kiffin’s scheme, Rod Marinelli is able to take players off the NFL scrap heap and “coach em up” to a level where they are viable parts of a winning line. Not just “ok”, but productive parts of a dangerous unit.
Everyone’s longtime favorite Cowboys Nick Hayden, Jerome Long, David Carter, Caesar Rayford, Edgar Jones and George Selvie are the proof. We don’t have to point at Hatcher and state “wow, he is having a great year, must be coaching!” Nor are we looking at DeMarcus Ware and noting his incredible camp and start to the season. Everyone knows those are two talented guys. It’s nice to see them responding so quickly in a first year system, but these two were going to do well as a minimum. We also don’t have to point to one guy, say George Selvie and make a leap of faith to assume that the coaching is what got us that “one” guy. Nope, I’m talking about six players that were not on any pundit or fans radar on draft day, free agent day or ground hog day. Not one, but (count ‘em) six. One is luck. Two is really lucky. Three is the beginning of a trend. Four is very hard to explain. Five is a fistful and six is a new reality. Six means this is not smoke and mirrors. Six is a number that allows you to slap the “legitimate” label on the whole exercise.
Like anything in football, it’s a team thing. Scouts have to scout, front office has to bring them into the fold and the system has to be simple and flexible enough to (as Jimmy Johnson used to phrase it) “put players in a position that allows them to use the skills they have been using since they were kids.” Kiffin’s system is not overly simple. It is however, brilliant in that it builds upon the principles these athletes have been taught since they were in Pop Warner leagues. Unlike Ryan’s schemes that were Landryesque in their complexity (as an analyst, I loved them), Kiffin has a method of implementing his scheme in a manner that allows the players to excel quickly. In days of yore there was no free agency and you could keep players like Landry did for four years on the bench before they would start. Complexity was not an issue. Also Landry’s players (mostly) had degrees. They had gone through college and were more mature. Many of today’s athletes hit the NFL at an early age often without four years of college prep. Systems need to adapt to the age. Kiffin has it figured out and Marinelli is the Chef that works the magic with the recipe. To put it in perspective, for the first time since the 90′s fans are looking forward to watching the defense come on the field.
There are (of course) requirements. A player has to have “jump”. That quick first step. Examples of players that don’t have it are Lissemore and Spears. These guys are good football players, but not for this system. Using NFL rewind I rolled some game film of last years defensive line and watched the line movement. At the snap of the ball you can visibly track the difference in the way the line works. Marinelli has his guys come off the at the snap as a unit. When that ball moves the line comes alive twisting and driving for the pigskin. You didn’t see that last year with Ryan’s 3-4.
Raf and I watched in camp as “Yoda” Marinelli worked the DLine at the corner of the near field every day. His Popeye gait and intense gaze are unmistakable on the field. E.F. Hutton has nothing on this guy for when he talks, everyone is listening. Lett could often be seen tapping the oracle of the DLine for knowledge. One on one sessions were the norm at some part of every practice, before during and after. The man is in demand, unselfish with his time and a great communicator. He would work with Lett, who would then be seen passing along the information to Ratliff, Ware and crew in repetitive detail as a specific drill would often ensue as a result of these sessions.
At this point it is abundantly clear that the off season tea leave readers were on to something when they pointed out the advanced age of Kiffin/Marinelli and the issues they were going to experience in today’s NFL. Players would not respond to the old guys, they would not have the energy to lead such young athletes and the system was out dated, not even being able to stop Oregon (Chip Kelly) while Kiffin was at USC! I must admit, that was a fun “in your face” paragraph to write.
Ultimately, players make a system work or fail. The old saw about “great players make great coaches” has more than a grain of truth to it, however it’s also true that “great coaches get the most out of what they have” and the Kiffin/Marinelli two step has a track record that can not be denied. They are making the Cowboys defense a force again and the fans can only hope they are here for the long haul. Did I mention SIX new defensive linemen? Six, with two of them starting! Six sacks and eight QB hits versus the Rams. That is not luck my friends, not by a “long shot”, pun intended.
During last weeks game you could hear a ghost of a whisper in the tunnel leading to the field. It was far away and hard to make out, but if you fuzzed your eyes a bit, leaned back into the couch and relaxed you could hear from time to time a low chant wafting in on a virtual breeze …. “dooms day … dooms Day … Dooms Day”. It sounded good. Oh, and the new issue? It’s too early to call this group Dooms Day, but not to early to dream about it. Now that falls squarely on the shoulders of Kiffin and Marinelli.
What say you Cowboys Nation?
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