INDIANAPOLIS -- Rod Marinelli has been through a defensive rebuilding job before. Maybe not as severe as he has to do with the Dallas Cowboys, but a rebuild nonetheless.
In 2009, Marinelli joined the Chicago Bears as defensive line coach. The Bears finished 17th in total defense, 13th against the pass, 23rd against the rush and 21st in points allowed.
In 2010 Marinelli became the defensive coordinator and the Bears finished ninth in total defense, 20th against the pass, second against the rush and fourth in points allowed.
The Cowboys were 32nd in yards, 30th against the pass, 27th against the rush and 26th in points allowed.
Monte Kiffin was moved to assistant head coach/defense and Marinelli was promoted to defensive coordinator last month.
“We’ve kind of got things in place for the most part,” Marinelli said from the NFL scouting combine “Now you’ve just got to make some corrections, add some people and go from there.”
The Bears started four different defensive linemen from 2009 to 2010, and added Julius Peppers as a free agent. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to the lineup from a wrist injury after playing in just one game in 2009. Free-agent pickups Tim Jennings and Chris Harris solidified the secondary.
Chicago went from a 7-9 record to an 11-5 finish.
Despite their defensive woes in 2013, the Cowboys finished 8-8, losing their third straight winner-take-all NFC East championship game in Week 17 to miss the playoffs.
To Marinelli, there is no mystery to his success.
“With me, I think it’s just going back to being really fundamentally sound,” he said. “That’s kind of always been my base. Just getting guys to do things right and coach these guys extremely hard ... Being really detailed in what you’re doing, being exact. Again just being with these guys is going to help, and I think adding some pieces is going to help.”
The Cowboys will be hard-pressed to add significant pieces in free agency with their salary-cap situation. The futures of Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware are in question. A healthy Sean Lee will help. So would a healthy Morris Claiborne. Improvement from Bruce Carter and Brandon Carr is a must. They also must find players in the early rounds of the draft that can contribute.
Where does Marinelli want to see the most help?
“Your front seven,” he said. “You always look at it. You’ve always got to look at the front seven. That kind of drives the whole thing for us. So hopefully we’ll be adding pieces, and I like some of the guys that were injured last year, (Tyrone) Crawford, Ben Bass. Some of these other guys I’m looking forward to seeing.”
Marinelli will continue to coach the defensive line, but he said Leon Lett and Ben Bloom will alleviate some of the workload. It’s how he operated in Chicago as well.
“The key is the foundation,” Marinelli said. "If you can get that going, you get yourself a foundation and you build off that. Get the right pieces, the right couple of guys and things will jump quick.”
That’s the Cowboys' hope.