Rod Marinelli: Mickey Goldmill and the Physics of Defensive Line Play



Widely recognized as one of the best teachers in the game, Rod Marinelli’s direct, passionate, encouraging, and personable demeanor was on display throughout practice.

As I stalked Rod Marinelli from one end of Ladd-Peebles Stadium today, I kept hearing Mickey Goldmill and Richard Feynman in my head. Stay with me. The parallels to Rocky Balboa’s rough-edged trainer and the beloved teacher of physics both fit.

Widely recognized as one of the best teachers in the game, Marinelli’s direct, passionate, encouraging, and personable demeanor was on display throughout practice. It was a joy to watch for the small harem of coaches, scouts, and writers who followed the North defensive line group from station to station.

“You may start to feel a little athletic in about six months.”

In 25 minutes of individual drills, Marinelli ran his eight NFL hopefuls through a master class of physics. Using the standing heavy bags as a dance partner, Marinelli drilled home the importance of playing with controlled speed and violence and how to use both length and power to generate leverage.

Lesson 1: Understand that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Marinelli stressed the importance of a short, compact stride with the inside foot to effectively penetrate toward the pocket. Matt Ioannidis consistently drew praise here.

Lesson 2: Rotate explosively around the hip girdle to generate violence and power with the upper body.

Marinelli wanted both edge players and tackles to feel the upper body extension and explosiveness generated with a full hip turn as they executed club moves on the heavy standing bag. Jihad Ward and Sheldon Day consistently impressed him here.

Lesson 3: Be violent but economical in your approach.

Marinelli wanted purposeful footwork without hops and skips and jumps that cause a loss in power. He also wanted the club hand at shoulder level on the offensive lineman to limit the chance the opponent could recover. Marinelli also consistently stressed the use of the backside arm to rip through and finish a pass rush. Adolphus Washington and Day did well here.

Lesson 4: Use your length and reach to improve your leverage.

Marinelli wanted the players to understand that a long arm correctly placed was just as important to winning the leverage battle with an offensive lineman as pad level. This was another area in which Ward excelled and drew praise.

At the end of the rotation, Marinelli used the “might start to feel a little athletic” line to remind the players that the big picture was just as important as the details.

“Illinois, that’s good shit right there.”

Throughout the session, Marinelli struck the right mix of encouragement and constructive criticism. He frequently stopped to make a teaching point, but still kept the drills moving briskly. There was near continual encouragement, usually by referring to the player by his school, and frequent reminders that pass rush technique doesn’t come easy.

“Don’t be scared to show your stuff.”

Individual drills at the Senior Bowl, like any other practice session, can be monotonous. Not for Marinelli. Like Mickey’s unorthodox chicken-chasing methods of training Rocky, Marinelli twice showed unique methods I’ve yet to see in my previous trips to Mobile.

The image of Marinelli using the goal post as a prop to help the players feel how hand technique and pad level are connected is a great example of his resourcefulness. He also encouraged players to try new things during “freestyle” runs on the standing bags. It was his way of getting them comfortable with new counter techniques in a low pressure environment.

I’m going to audit Marinelli’s class again tomorrow. And I can’t wait to see how he builds on Tuesday’s lessons.

Continue checking for additional Senior Bowl coverage at the RSP blog’s Senior Bowl Central.

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