Rod Marinelli playing big role in Bears' success


Rod Marinelli playing big role in Bears' success

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Ask Lovie Smith about Rod Marinelli and the Chicago Bears coach comes about as close as he ever gets to waxing poetic.

That's hardly a surprise.

Smith and Marinelli are longtime friends and Chicago's defense is performing as well as any heading into Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions.

It helps having Pro Bowl players such as Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs, but don't underestimate the impact of their defensive coordinator.

``I couldn't do Rod justice by saying just one thing that he does,'' Smith said. ``He does so much. Again, I know I talk about this always, I've known him so long and I've seen him in every situation. He's just a great man, great coach, great leader. We could spend the rest of the day talking about him. He's such a valuable part of what we're doing here.''

What they're doing at the moment is impressive, and the defense is a big reason why Chicago leads the NFC North at 4-1.

The Bears are holding opponents to 291.2 yards per game and rank third overall on defense. They're tops against the run, lead the league in interceptions (13), are tied for fourth in sacks (18) and the defense has done its share of scoring, too.

That group has five touchdowns this season - all on interceptions in the past three games - and has given up just five TDs to opposing offenses.

Unsung players such as cornerback Tim Jennings (four interceptions, 14 pass breakups) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (4 1/2 sacks) have come up big, and a line that was a big question mark has created more than enough chaos.

And a big reason for all that is Marinelli. Now in his third season as coordinator and fourth on the Bears' staff, the Bears jumped at the chance to hire him as the line coach even after an awful three-year run as Detroit's head coach.

He was fired after the Lions went 0-16 in 2008, but he was also a logical fit for Chicago. After all, he was friends with Smith and knew the Cover-2 defense.

``We just learned it from the floor up together,'' Marinelli said. ``Trying to understand it and see it, the details that go into the system. When all the details and fundamentals that go in and how to drill it. I think it's the real belief, we have a great belief in what we do and how we do things. We kind of grew up in it with coach (Tony) Dungy and his belief obviously is very strong in it. We've always been tied to the system and how to do things.''

Players praise Marinelli's attention to detail and ability to get his message across.

``Before Coach Marinelli, I just did my job,'' defensive end Israel Idonije said. ``I lined up. Now, I know the passing strengths. I know just the entire offense and what their plan is and us as a defense, how to get a better matchup.''

He said that's one way Marinelli is different from other coaches.

``The biggest thing about him is what he expects from us,'' defensive end Corey Wootton said. ``He wants perfect. He stays on all of us. He wants the best out of everybody. He'll get on us. He'll yell at us, but he wants to get the most out of us.''

Players appreciate the way he breaks things down, and for Wootton, it's how he emphasizes the pass rush.

``He wrote down a stat when we first got to meetings this year about how many runs compared to passes,'' Wootton said. ``The passes outweighed the runs. The number was substantial. The NFL's a passing league so pass-rush is the emphasis.''

Note: Smith had plenty of praise for Chris Williams a day after the Bears terminated the offensive lineman's contract but also acknowledged it was time to part ways with the former first-round pick. ``I think sometimes it just doesn't work; simple as that,'' Smith said. ``I don't know all the reasons why, or just finding a position, it just doesn't work. There's no other good explanation I can give you except when you see that it's not gonna work, it's time to move on. And that's what we did.''


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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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