JACKSONVILLE – It will be physical. And relentless.
When discussing the Jaguars' defense, coordinator Joe Cullen mentions those things first. That he's less specific discussing scheme doesn't mean he's against sharing details. It's just that the defense as he sees it won't be one style, formation or "scheme."
A 3-4? A 4-3?
"There are elements of both," Cullen said.
Cullen, hired by Head Coach Urban Meyer in January, discussed multiple topics when he spoke with Jaguars Media recently. Among them: returning to Jacksonville, where he spent 2010-2012 as defensive line coach, and the excitement around the franchise under Meyer.
A major topic, too, was what scheme the Jaguars will play next season, with many observers and fans assuming the team will run a 3-4 defense after being 4-3-based for more than a decade. Cullen, who spent the last five seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive line coach, said that's true.
To a point.
"It's a hybrid," Cullen said. "It's a 3-4 base but we're going to end up in a lot of 4-3 looks and basically you kind of suit it to your personnel. Now, we have a feel what we're getting to, but it will be based on what we do and what our personnel can do.
"The best way to describe it is we're going to be an attacking defense that will have multiple looks of a 3-4 and a 4-3."
Cullen, too, discussed his first opportunity as a coordinator in the NFL.
'When you're a position coach, you're in your own little world and worried about your position – what you had to do to make your unit the best you could be," Cullen said. "Now, as a coordinator, the exciting part is you're working with every position trying to get the defense the best it can be. But now you're dealing with different position coaches.
"Part of my job is developing the coaches as well as the players. Part of the excitement of building the defense is doing it together with a great group of guys, that's what we have. It will be a collaborative effort and it's going to be really fun to build with those guys.
"They're all not only great coaches, but great people."
Here's Jaguars Media's conversation with Cullen. The conversation as been edited and condensed.
Q: Why Jacksonville? Why now?
A: This is my second time, and Jacksonville always had a special place in my heart. The sun's always out, No. 1, but there are great people in the organization. I was here when Wayne Weaver was the owner, then I was here the year Shad and Tony [Khan] took over [as owners]. When I left it always felt like this was someday a place I'd like to get back to – because of the people. The city loves football and they're starving to get back to where they were. I always felt in the back of my mind that maybe someday I would be back. The people made the difference.
Q: What was Meyer's pitch when he spoke to you about this job in January?
A: There really wasn't much of a sales pitch. If you look at Coach Meyer's track record as a coach, it's second to none. I had a relationship with him. It probably goes back over 20 years. One of my close friends in coaching is [Colorado State Head Coach and former Meyer assistant] Steve Adazzio. They worked at Notre Dame together. I really got to know Coach [Meyer] when he was at Utah. Then he got to Florida and when I came here [to the Jaguars] in 2010, I would go over to Florida and talk to his staff and talk to Coach and watch practices. We always stayed in great touch.
Q: And now a chance after 14 NFL seasons to be a coordinator…
A: It's a great opportunity, a great challenge and I'm looking forward to it. I've been a coordinator before [at Richmond in 1997-1998 and 2000 and at Indiana in 2004], and there were a couple of opportunities before in the NFL and they just didn't work out, but this is a great opportunity – especially in Jacksonville. I think every position coach has the aspiration of wanting to be a coordinator and maybe a head coach at some point. You want to be the best you can be at your position and if the opportunity happens, it happens.
Q: Talk about the excitement around this team in recent months.
A: When I first came into interview, I got off the plane, I said, 'How fitting would it be? I had an opportunity to get back in the league in Jacksonville and to have the opportunity to be a first-time coordinator in Jacksonville would be something great.' The excitement that Coach Meyer has brought, and [General Manager] Trent Baalke, for what we're going to be doing is off the charts. The city is excited about it and we're all excited about it.
Q: The team was very active in free agency, particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary…
A: It was great. It was an opportunity to target some really good players and we did that. Ownership was really big with that. Our head coach was big with that. Our general manager and all our coaches did a phenomenal job. There were some relationships we had [with free-agent signees], but I think we really targeted a great group on our side of the football. We really helped ourselves. We're really excited not only about the guys we targeted in free agency, but the guys we were able to keep.
Q: Meyer has talked extensively about the need to be dominant on the defensive line. You're a defensive line coach. It sounds as if you two are in lockstep on that topic.
A: Like any great defense, it all starts up front. Our head coach has the same philosophy. If you look at our general manager, he started out in this profession as a defensive line coach. Any great defense starts in the middle, then you work your way through the linebacker crew and then to the safeties. But if you don't have the guys up front, it's going to be tough to have a good defense.
Q: Your reputation is a fiery, emotional coach. Do you take a different approach as a coordinator?
A: I think the moments will be there for that. Nothing really has changed. I haven't changed since the last time I was here. I'm one way when I get across those white lines – whether it be on the practice field or the game field. It's full speed, plus-two mentality and relentless effort. I don't think anything will change with that.
Q: As a coordinator, you oversee the whole defense. How tough will it be not to go over to the defensive line in pass-rush drills?
A: I may be gravitating toward that area, I'm sure. Now, I'm responsible for all the defense. But I'll be working with that position. I told the defensive line coaches – Tosh Lupoi and Sterling Lucas – I'll just be their assistant.
Q: You have a reputation as a tough, demanding coach. But you also have a reputation for players loving to play for you. How do those two mix?
A: Like anything, when you're dealing with people, if they know you really care about them and you're trying to bring out their best, I think they're going to give you everything they have. Now, that's not easy. My mentor in this profession when I first got hired said, 'Your best friend in this profession brings out your best – player or coach.' Players want to be pushed to the limit to exceed their goals. When you do that, it's not always going to be easy to do. It's going to take some tough love. It's going to take some tough coaching. At the end of the day, they know we're trying to develop them as players – and really, develop them as men as well. When the player knows you care about him and have his back, he'll run through a brick wall for you.
Q: You spent the last five seasons with one of the NFL's most-consistent franchises, one with a reputation for tough defense. What did you learn in Baltimore?
A: When you walked into that door, there was an expectation on defense. That expectation was it didn't matter who the names were, what the numbers were. They were going to play like a Raven. Playing like a Raven meant physical, dominant defense. And really it stressed relentless effort. You're going to find out here pretty soon that Coach Meyer's culture is right on with that. Winning cultures pretty much are the same thing.
Q: What will a Jaguars defense look like this season?
A: When you put the tape on, after we play our first opponent – preseason, first game – there are things we're going to make sure happen. No. 1 is relentless effort. Everybody that steps on the field is going to lead the NFL in effort at their position. No. 2 is a team that is physical. When they play the Jacksonville Jaguars, they're going to know we outhit him and we outworked them.