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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