In his first season as a defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli has the Bears' defense ranked near the top of the league, and no team is allowing fewer points per game (14.6). If Chicago's "D" continues playing at this level against some tougher competition over the next few weeks, Marinelli's performance could get consideration when observers evaluate the candidates for Assistant Coach of the Year.
Marinelli is making the most of an opportunity that he came close to missing out on.
Head coach Lovie Smith handled the D-coordinator duties in 2009 but decided to give them up after the season. After Perry Fewell, who was being pursued by the Bears, accepted an offer to become the Giants' defensive coordinator, Smith turned to Marinelli.
With a straightforward approach and a wealth of experience coaching the Tampa-2 defense, it didn't take long for players to embrace Marinelli's style.
Players like DT Matt Toeaina and DE Israel Idonije, who have become full-time starters for the first time in their careers this season, have shown significant improvement since Smith hired Marinelli to coach the defensive line before last season.
"Whenever (Marinelli) talks, you've got to make sure you listen because he won't say nothing that you don't want to hear," Toeaina told PFW. "We have to be wired in every time he has something to say."
Some observers are going to wait and see how Chicago fares against Michael Vick and the Eagles' explosive offense in Week 12 and the Patriots, who recently dropped 39 points on a tough Steelers defense, in Week 14 before they start calling the Bears' "D" elite. Smith, who remains very involved with creating the defensive game plans, doesn't think he's seen the best the group has to offer yet.
"We started off pretty strong, and the guys — just looking at personnel — we felt pretty good about having a good defense this year," Smith said. "But they are getting better and better, starting to feel it, and we haven't peaked yet."
In the end, Marinelli's work this season could be undervalued because of the perception that Smith is still the one in charge on defense. There's little Marinelli can do to change that, but Smith, who has said he's never been around a better coach than Marinelli, and some Bears defenders could make a pretty strong case for him.