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Sitting down with Joe Cullen (part one of two)

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Anybody who has had the pleasure of attending a Jaguars practice knows the voice of Joe Cullen. 

"LARRRYYYY."

"Throw your fast ball."

"Terrance, get your RIP up."

"Let's GO."

The voice echoes throughout the Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields, encouraging Cullen's group of linemen and demanding intensity on every snap. 

Cullen was hired as defensive line coach in 2010 and was charged with the task of improving a pass rush that netted only 14 sacks the year before.

The Jaguars defensive linemen combined for 20.5 of the club's 26 sacks this past season, the fifth-most among AFC teams.  The Jaguars improved their sack total by 12 from the 2009 season, and the plus-12 sack improvement tied for the fifth-best in the NFL. 

The line should only get better next season as young regulars such as Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, Tyson Alualu and Austen Lane gain more experience and the return of Aaron Kampman from injury gives the group an instant spark.

I sat down with Cullen this week to discuss his coaching background, what he liked in 2010 and what the future holds for the Rushmen. 

You ask any Jaguars defensive lineman about you, your style of coaching and what you bring to the meeting room and they always revert back to your "intensity."  Where does that come from?

I was the only boy out of seven.  My dad was very quiet but very intense.  A lot of the things I do today are what he taught me.  He instilled in me work ethic, toughness, play as hard as you can every time you step on the field and don't let anyone outwork you.  When I went to college I had a defensive coordinator named Jim Reid that recruited me and then became my head coach. He was as intense as they come, fiery type of coach.  After my freshman season, he became my head coach and then I worked for him for nine years.  He was the head coach at the University of Massachusetts and he hired me as a full-time coach the day I graduated.

What position did you start out coaching?

It's funny.  We were sitting around one day and he (Coach Reid) said we had just lost our running backs coach.  Everybody was looking around the table and he said don't worry because we just hired one.  Everybody was thinking, 'Wow, who did they hire.' He calls me into the office and says, 'You're going to be our running backs coach.'  We had success and won the championship that year.  In fact, we started off 9-0-1 and the only tie was against Duff (Mark Duffner, Jaguars linebackers coach) at Holy Cross.  Duff had won 35 straight games and we tied 10-10 in the season-opener.  

When did you make the move to defensive line coach?
I moved over the next year and have been there ever since.  I went with Coach Reid to Richmond, a place that had struggled.  He was the defensive coordinator at Boston College and he came back and took the job and we finished with seven wins our first year.  

You played nose guard in college and that is known for one of the nastiest positions along the line.

No question.  I was undersized when I played.  You're taking on double teams and you don't get a lot of press clippings.  It really starts with the man in the middle in any kind of defense. That's the way we always played and coached it.

First thing you do when you arrive in Jacksonville is you change the sign outside the position's meeting room.  It used to read Defensive Line and you took it down and replaced it with Rushmen.  What was the reason behind it?

Some of my mentors in this league were Rod Marinelli, Deek Pollard and John Teerlinck. All three of those guys are great at teaching pass rush. I worked for Rod at Detroit and have known him for a long time.   Having gone to Detroit, Coach Marinelli was a 35-year veteran defensive line coach and he became the head coach. A lot of the pressure was on the front.  We had to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. Our number one goal was obviously to stop the run but we had to get pressure and affect the quarterback.  Our job was to rush so that's where it came from.

Aaron Kampman said the thing that is unique about you and your coaching style is it's consistent.  You bring that intensity every day on the field and in the meeting room.

You are really only as strong as the man up front. There's all kinds of different styles.  Rod (Marinelli) was very intense but not very vocal.  There are different styles and mine has always been high-energy and vocal, good and bad.  I feel like when you go between those white lines you have to give your best every day as player and a coach.

Did you feel any resistance at first last year?
I really didn't.  It was a great group from the onset. You are always going to have resistance wherever you go because you're new.  You're trying to get a feel for guys.  Deep down, they knew for that position they had to practice with a high level of intensity every day and you have to practice full speed in order for that to be effective on game day. 

There was definitely a sense of urgency for the defensive linemen in 2010 after a season of recording only 14 sacks.  Did you sense that in the meeting room?

Most definitely. There was no hiding from the 14.  It was there, that was the number. It was something those guys wanted to better, not only for the team but the room itself. 

You take over in Jacksonville and one month later you are blessed to get Aaron Kampman in free agency.  Players have openly talked about the impact Aaron had on the defense and more importantly the team.

A lot of times in free agency you just don't know.  The one thing that was clear from a distance was I was in the same division with him and had played him six times in the regular season. He single-handedly almost beat us himself on that side of the ball.  It was the motor, the relentless energy and effort that he put forth.  He seemed like just a class act.  I coached one of his high school teammates, Jared DeVries, at Detroit so I had a feel for him coming in.  Coming in, he was one of the top defensive ends in terms of rushing the quarterback the last four or five years.  Right away, coming off an injury, the work ethic he showed in the rehab.  He came in and let his actions do everything.  To me actions speak louder than words. The guys gravitated to him, not only our room which we needed, but I think the team did as well.  His play showed it in big situations.  We needed to have a big win against Denver (season-opener) and he was all over the field.  He had two sacks and just had an unbelievable ballgame. As we went forward, we needed to have a big game at Dallas and he had a monster game.  In between, just the effort and the things he showed on and off the field you can't put a price on it.

You always hear the word 'motor' associated with guys like Aaron and Jeremy Mincey.  Can you teach a guy to have a motor?

No.  You can develop that in a young guy but you either have that or you don't.  The first thing we look for is a great motor.   If you have a great motor then we will find a way to get you better.  If you don't have a great motor and you haven't been coached that all the time then it's taking away from what you really want to do. You just have to be relentless and have a great motor.

Talking about motor, that was the word best used to describe Tyson Alualu.  How happy were you on draft day?

It wasn't just Tyson, but he's the epitome of what we wanted at that position and to build for the future.  Great motor, relentless, great character, and he's only going to get better.  He started off really well and then tailed a little bit.  We go to Dallas and we need to have a big game against Leonard Davis.  You put that tape on and it's an all-pro performance.  No one played like he did in that game.  He had a sack, numerous pressures, beat double-teams, they had like 40 yards rushing.  The double teams didn't move him an inch.

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