Rod Marinelli surrounds his defensive players with one message. They see it in the pictures hanging on the walls in the defensive meeting room. They hear it at practice with refrains of, “Get the ball!” They feel it by practicing the “Peanut Punch,” a fumble-generating move made famous by Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
Turnovers! Turnovers! Turnovers!
“It starts at 8 o’clock in the morning,” Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “We are doing rake drills. We are knocking balls out going into meetings, starting with the meetings early in the morning.
“Out here in practice, we’re doing the same things, and it carries over into the game. It becomes muscle memory.”
That is the mindset Marinelli, the Cowboys defensive line coach, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin are trying to instill. They are preaching what the players are practicing.
“That’s the right word: ‘Mindset,’” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, “and you just have to have that mentality. We’ve just got to keep preaching that.”
The Cowboys forced only 16 turnovers last season. Garrett cited the Cowboys’ lack of turnovers in firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin and Marinelli and changing schemes from the 3-4 to the 4-3.
The Bears, with Marinelli as their defensive coordinator, had a league-best 44 takeaways last season, including five against the Cowboys. Chicago averaged 41 the past three seasons under Marinelli. During Kiffin’s 13 years in Tampa Bay — 10 of those with Marinelli as the defensive line coach — the Bucs forced an average of 33 turnovers a season.
“This scheme is built where we should have a lot of turnovers,” Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “The coaches are doing a good job of putting us in position. We just have to execute.”
On the Miami Dolphins’ first play from scrimmage Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game, Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller failed to connect on a handoff. Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden fell on the fumble at the Miami 9-yard line.
It was a good start.
“That’s pretty nice,” Kiffin said. “You preach turnovers since the day you got here, and the first play in the 2013 season is a turnover. I’ll take that. That’s what the Chicago Bears did with Rod Marinelli. But we’ve got to keep getting them.
“The name of the game is turnovers, no doubt. Look what our offense did. They didn’t turn it over. When you win the turnovers, I don’t care high school, college or pro, you’ve got a good chance to win the game.”
It was not a good finish, though rookie DeVonte Holloman did contribute a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“We left three or four out there,” Marinelli said. “That’s where it’s the good and the bad. We’ve got to get them all. That’s what this thing is about. The takeaways are so important to winning. It’s just about winning and attitude to get to the ball. We didn’t have enough strip attempts. We have to just keep staying on it.
“ We want them to be a bunch of thieves.”