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November 26, 2020

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The Marinelli Factor’: Raiders turn to veteran coach to strengthen defense

Second-year edge rushers rave about the improvements made under new position coach

Rod Marinelli

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli talks to players on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Dallas beat Miami 31-6.

Las Vegas Raiders Practice 8/17

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) stretches during an NFL football training camp practice Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Henderson. (AP Photo/John Locher, Pool) Launch slideshow »

The Raiders’ offense had its way with the defense when the two units lined up against each other for a rushing drill early on the first day of padded practice Monday morning in Henderson. A pair of decent-sized holes opened for the Raiders’ running backs to burst through on each of the first two plays.  

Rod Marinelli wasn’t having it. The Raiders’ new defensive line coach spared a few choice words and demanded better out of his front.   

“He’s all business, he’s tough as hell,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of Marinelli. “He doesn’t give in to the times. He’s old school.”

Some say “old-school” coaching tactics don’t work on the new generation of NFL players, but it appears that generalization couldn’t be further from the truth as it pertains to the Raiders. Every defensive lineman who’s spoken to the media throughout training camp so far has gushed over Marinelli’s impact.

It’s shown on the field too, where the diminutive, often hunched-over septuagenarian former Marine has gotten immediate results when he unleashes his fiery tirades. On Monday, the gaps initially available to running backs Jalen Richard and Lynn Bowden dissipated almost as soon as Marinelli opened his mouth.   

“The thing I love about him is he keeps it real and he pushes me every day,” defensive end Maxx Crosby said. “That’s one thing I want. I don’t want, because I had one good year, a coach that taps me on the ass being nice and overdoes everything, “Yeah, good job, Maxx.’ That’s not me. That’s not my personality.”

Las Vegas is focusing its efforts up front to fix a long-hemorrhaging defense. A pair of high-profile free agent signings on the defensive line — tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Carl Nassib — are among the players slotting alongside hopeful second-year, edge-rushing stars in Crosby and Clelin Ferrell.

Gruden believes the veteran and young players alike will take a step forward because of what he refers to as “the Marinelli factor.”

“To learn from someone that is considered a legend in the game and not even just that, he doesn’t carry himself that way, he carries himself like he’s that young coach who’s dying to make an impact on the league,” Ferrell said. “It’s been truly, truly great.”

The Gruden-Marinelli combination has worked once before. Marinelli was already entrenched with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the Raiders traded Gruden to the team in 2002 with the latter saying he did his “best recruiting job of all-time” to keep the former.

They won a Super Bowl together their first year and continued to field one of the NFL’s best defenses for the next three seasons, helping to elevate Marinelli to a head-coaching candidate around the league. He ultimately took the Detroit Lions job, and though he fizzled out there after three years, Marinelli kept going.

He had a late-career resurgence by emerging as one of the NFL’s better defensive coordinators over the last decade in stints with Chicago and Dallas.

Gruden must have recreated his recruiting success because many expected Marinelli to retire after last season when his contract with the Cowboys expired. Instead, he agreed to a reunion with Gruden in Las Vegas.

“The biggest thing he told me is, you have to block out all the noise, you have to come in and be a leader,” Ferrell said. “I really love his teaching because he understands and appreciates that football isn’t a scientific thing at the end of the day. It’s a game we all love to play and you just have to go out there and play hard.”

Ferrell has taken some criticism out of last season after he only managed 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks despite being taken with the No. 3 pick overall draft pick. His rookie learning curve was considered one of the things holding back the defensive front.

The Raiders did make moderate improvements last year but still ranked in the bottom half of the league against the rush by most metrics (21st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA) and in adjusted sack rate (27th). Those are areas Marinelli has generally helped improve at every stop.

He’s “tremendous” in teaching technique, according to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who’s working alongside Marinelli for the first time.

But Marinelli hasn’t been harping on hand work or demonstrating pass-rushing moves when he’s at his loudest at practice; he’s been calling for effort. That’s resonated with Crosby, who’s taking in every word from his new coach and moving faster than ever before to appease him.

“He doesn’t want us thinking about this and that, he wants us to get off and react, be natural and be a football player, make plays, get off the ball and make a decision from there,” Crosby said. “So, I love it. I love his coaching style and think it’s going to help everyone on this D-line.”  

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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