The Bears' defensive front hasn't yet achieved the level of success that requires a nickname, like the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" of the 1960s, the Vikings' "Purple People Eaters" of the '70s or the Jets' "New York Sack Exchange" of the '80s.
But the Bears already have 14 sacks, more than every team in the NFL except the Broncos, who have 15. The same group of Bears finished 29th in sack percentage last season, totaling just 28 all year. Last year, the Bears' defensive linemen had 22.5 sacks. This year, they already have 10 after four games, led by Adewale Ogunleye's 4.5 and Alex Brown's 2.5.
There's hardly any difference in the personnel. There's little difference in the scheme, although the Bears are blitzing more than they have in the past. But there's a difference in leadership.
The deft touch of defensive line guru Rod Marinelli has yielded impressive results in the early going. It's hard to say exactly how much the former Lions coach has helped a group that underachieved last season, but his players consider his input to be substantial.
"Can I put a value on Rod Marinelli?" asked tackle Tommie Harris. "Priceless. He means so much to this team, so much to this defense. He brings so much to the table. I'm glad to have him. He's meant so much to my career in just this little time that I'm looking forward to our future here in Chicago."
Harris, who had five sacks last year, has yet to join the sack attack, but he had the first interception of his NFL career Sunday against the Lions and has been back to his old disruptive self the past two games after a slow start. Harris credits Marinelli with improving the defensive line in several areas.
"He's more than just a coach," Harris said. "He's a teacher, like a real teacher, like a professor. It's like we go to class every day. We're really learning."
Any detail from pad level to hand placement, no matter how small, is important to Marinelli, who has a way of conveying the significance of the tiniest, most technical minutiae to his players.
"I feel like the majority of the guys that I've talked to who he's coached in the past can become coaches after football," Harris said. "A lot of guys don't learn what they're doing. They're just out there doing it. But you actually understand the whole scheme of the defense when you have Coach Marinelli."
Bears' defensive linemen assumed that Sunday's game against the Lions meant a great deal to Marinelli since he was fired following last year's 0-16 campaign. but they could only guess since he never mentioned it. They responded with five sacks.
"The way he puts his heart and soul into coaching," Ogunleye said, "I'm glad we came out with our highest sack total in this game."
DE Adewale Ogunleye and DT Tommie Harris
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel
Only once last season did the Bears have five sacks in a game. In five games last year, they didn't have any sacks. They've got at least two in every game this season.
Bears coach Lovie Smith, who was on Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay staff with Marinelli from 1996-2000, credits the defensive line coach/assistant head coach with much of the D-line's improvement. That has fueled the improved play of the defense as a whole.
"Rod has done a super job," Smith said. "I would say Rod has definitely had a lot to do with that [improvement]. They've done what we've asked them to do, what we've expected them to do. The defensive line has always been the engine of our defense."
With Marinelli's tinkering, that engine is running a lot smoother this year.
NEWS AND NOTES
No single play got more attention – or laughs – in the Bears' locker room after Sunday's game than defensive tackle Harris' first career interception and the ensuing "return," which was less than graceful.
No one had more fun with it than Harris, who was asked why he didn't flash his breakaway speed.
"Breakaway speed?" he said. "I caught the ball, and the lineman was right there. I didn't know which way to go. I've heard the saying, 'Act like you've been there before,' but I've never been there. This was my first time, so I just did what I could do."
Harris stumbled ahead for six yards to the Lions' 8-yard line, which set up a TD. Afterward, he talked about his previous interception, which came against UCLA when he was at Oklahoma. He wasn't even sure if it was an interception or a fumble, since the intended receiver was separated from the ball almost immediately.
"Well," Harris asked, "did the receiver have possession?"
"I don't know nothing about no depression," Harris said, cracking up the crowd.
On Monday, a non-practice day, Harris was asked if he would be working on his returns.
"I'm definitely going to get on that," he said. "That's why I came in today, to work on the Jugs machine and do a little moves out there." ...
Jay Cutler was sacked once by safety Louis Delmas, a rookie from Western Michigan, and hit a couple more times. Each time, words were exchanged. Cutler was asked if the two were old friends.
"I'm going to call him after the game," Cutler said with a laugh.
"What are you going to call him?" Cutler was asked.
"Nah, I don't know," the Bears quarterback said. "I've never met the guy. This is my first encounter with him. We'll see him in a few weeks."
The Bears play the Lions again in the regular-season finale on Jan. 3 in Detroit. ...
Harris said Smith has been more emotional than he was at halftime Sunday, but his words were effective in helping the Bears turn a 21-21 game into a rout.
"He doesn't call each guy out," Harris said. "When he does speak, it means a lot to us. He spoke more than what he usually does at halftime. Whenever a coach has to come in and state the obvious, it means something is going wrong. Guys saw that and began to talk to other guys."
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