Sapp praises Marinelli, plans on working with Tommie Harris
By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 1/14/2009 4:29 PM

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Rod Marinelli walked into Halas Hall late Wednesday morning for the first time since being named Bears defensive line coach and assistant head coach.

A few hours earlier, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star defensive tackle Warren Sapp praised his one-time coach during a radio interview on WSCR-AM 670 in Chicago.


Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli sit in the stands and watch the action at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
“I love the man,” said Sapp, who was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2003 when Marinelli was his position coach in Tampa Bay. “I absolutely adore him because he took me on a path to greatness and wouldn’t let me detour off it even a little bit.”

After Sapp was named NFL defensive player of the year in 1999, Marinelli challenged him to become even more dominant, and Sapp responded by increasing his sack total from 12½ to 16½.

“He’ll challenge you in a way that just is going to push your boundaries,” Sapp told Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley on the Score. “If [Bears defensive linemen] buy into a system that lives off the front four—that’s what the defense does—greatness is right in front of them.

“When Rod gets finished with this group, they’re going to come out like a pumped-up pack of wild dogs, I guarantee it. It’s going to be that defense that you know and love because he won’t accept anything other than what is called for. And that group knows what it is. They put it on tape before. Once you put it on tape, you know what it is, so now let’s go back to that.”
Sapp recalled that Marinelli put Tampa Bay’s defensive line through a series of strenuous pass-rushing drills at the outset of every practice.

“That lets you know who wants it and who doesn’t,” Sapp said. “We used to call it ’30 minutes of hell.’ It will be an absolute grind the first 30 minutes of practice because you have to put the work in on the practice field to be able to go out on Sunday and have the type of fun that defense will allow you to have as a group.”

Sapp also revealed during the interview that he intends to begin working with Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris the day after the Super Bowl. Playing the same 'three technique' position, Harris was still in college when he first sought advice from Sapp.

“The kid reached out to me when he was at Oklahoma and I really want to see him do well,” Sapp said. “I know the system, and he has all the tools. We’re just going to go work on it. … He’s too good of a player to be sitting in that system looking like he’s not a player.”

Sapp also praised Bears coach Lovie Smith, who served as Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach from 1996-2000 and said Tuesday that he would become more involved in calling defensive plays.

“I love it,” Sapp said. “It’s not going to be a problem. Him and Rod, his old roommate, they used to sit in their room and draw it up and bring it out of there. I guarantee you it’s the thing that’s going to bring [the Bears defense] back alive. I’m telling you. They’ve always been hands-on.

"Lovie’s the one that implemented the fit that we used in Tampa that gave us our championship [in 2002]. He invented the number system that we used. Without him, we don’t fit that run like we fit that run.”







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WHAT ARE THE BEARS GETTING IN ROD MARINELLI?

WS: The architect of the one of the greatest pass rushes the NFL has ever known. We went on a string of 70 straight games with a sack. It was all of us. That was our little string. Him, it was all of us. We attacked quarterbacks like it was nobody's business. I just spoke to him the other day. He said, `Yeah, it's going to be fun again. Here we go.' He has a good group and he's excited. I spoke to him [Tuesday] night and said he was packing up and going to Chicago today. Look out Windy City, here comes the man.


IS IT THE X'S AND O'S OF ROD MARINELLI OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE?

WS: No, it's the passion. It's his conviction. You don't see many men stand and do what he did up in Detroit, going 0-16 and people attacking him and talking about his daughter and different stuff. He's a man of dignity who served his country in the Vietnam War. I love the man. I absolutely adore him because he took me on a path to greatness and wouldn't let me deter off it even a little bit. After I won my defensive player of the year award, he looked at me said, `Let's see if your play can catch up with your athletic ability.'

I said, `What do you mean my athletic ability?'

He said, `What can you do?'

I said, `I can do anything.'

He said, `Well, let's see.'

I came back and up put 16 1/2 [sacks] so he'll challenge you in a way that just is going to push your boundaries. If [Adewale] Ogunleye and Alex Brown and Tommie Harris and the rest of them, [Israel Idonije] and [Marcus Harrison] and the rest of those guys up there buy into a system that lives off the front four, that's what the defense does, it lives off the front four. If they want that, greatness is right in front of them. Just go get it.

HOW DID ROD MARINELLI MAKE YOU A BETTER PLAYER?

WS: I tell you, it's boots on the ground. I went in there and we worked everyday. I was in there with Eric Curry and some of those old-school Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Santana Dotson, and Mark Wheeler, big grunt guys that held up the place, did a great job. It is what it is. We were going a different direction. We started doing those pass-rushing drills where we were hanging and on our toes and we came out like the third day in a row and we were all looking at each other, me, Regan [Upshaw] and all those young guys like, `Yeah, let's go!' They looked at us, and turned to Rod and said, `Are we going to do this every day?' That let's you know who wants it and who doesn't, trust me, my friend. We used to call it 30 minutes of hell. It will be an absolute grind the first 30 minutes of practice because you have to put the work in on the practice field to be able to go out on Sunday and have the type of fun that defense will allow you to have as a group.

TOMMIE HARRIS HAS THE KNEE ISSUE AND WE KNOW HIS PRACTICE WAS LIMITED DURING THE WEEK. HOW DOES HE GO THROUGH THE 30 MINUTES OF HELL THAT MAKES YOU THAT PLAYER ON SUNDAY AND YOU HAVE THE KNEE AND YOU CAN'T GET THAT THING RIGHT?

WS: I guarantee you he is going to be healthy this year and if he's not, it will be obvious. You have to put him together before he gets there. Rod will do a great job with that. He's always done a great job with me because I had a little trick knee sometimes and I didn't practice at times but you know when you need to grind and the grind happens. I talked to Tommie the other day and I told him, `Me and you are going to start this offseason as soon as I get out of Tampa [after Super Bowl XLIII] buddy because the under tackle position is something that not many people even want to be talked about because it's not a defensive tackle and it's not something else, it's an under tackle, a unique guy that goes both ways, that does special things. I only know two other ones other than myself and that's John Randle and Keith Millard that even consider themselves as under tackles. If you want to be in that class with me and those other two dudes, we're going to have to look each other in the eye and we're going to have to talk about this the right way and see what he's thinking. Because if he's not thinking about it the right way, with me and Rod, we're going to get some work out of Tommie, I guarantee you this because he's too good of a player to be sitting in that system looking like he's not a player.

SO YOU ARE GOING TO WORK WITH TOMMIE?

WS: I am going to work with him, yes.