Crusty Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli didn’t mince words.
Considering what the Cowboys added in free agency and taking into account their nine 2018 draft picks, including top pick Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch whom he absolutely loves, Marinelli said it was an addition to the coaching staff that might have the biggest impact on the team’s fortunes in 2018.
Marinelli is the latest to sing the praises of former Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the architect of Seattle's famed Legion of Boom secondary, who is now the Cowboys secondary coach/defensive passing game coordinator.
Cornerback Chido Awuzie said he’s already learned more from Richard than he did all of last season under then secondary coach Joe Baker, whose contract was not renewed.
Coach Jason Garrett said Richard’s reputation in Seattle preceded him, and he has done nothing but live up to expectations so far with veterans in the off-season program and the rookies in this weekend's minicamp.
“He’s a really well-respected coach and a well-respected guy,” Garrett said. “Obviously a big part of what they’ve done in Seattle for a number of years, and Seattle has arguably been the best defense in football for the last seven or eight years. I think he’s had a big role in that.
“Yeah, again, he’s a very good coach and I think you see that right from the start. We heard it. We saw it in the interview and we’ve seen that right from day one as a coaching staff. Just how he interacts and what he can bring, and I think the players are getting a glimpse of that here the last couple of weeks when he’s been around them in the meeting room and out on the field. He’s a demanding guy. He’s an inspirational guy. He’s a very good teacher. He knows his stuff inside and out and I think he’ll have a positive impact on the team.”
But again, it was Marinelli who brought the fire.
"Might be as good as any acquisition coming in," Marinelli said. "This guy's really good. He is special. He is one of the best things we've got. He did a terrific job in Seattle. The resume is in the tape. He brings energy, intensity. And he can relate well to these players. That’s what I really like. You get tickled when you get a guy like that. Can help the players, relate, communicate and teach. What an acquisition. To me, it’s big time.”
There is already a mutual admiration society between Marinelli and Richard. The defenses in Dallas and Seattle are similar, and the two say they will work well together with Richard handling the passing game and back end and Marinelli handing the front.
"I love coach Marinelli," Richard said. "It will work because I think we're cut from the same cloth. There's a standard of excellence, there's a level of commitment, there's a definite love that I see from him. And hopefully he sees it from me. From the sounds of it, it's really cool he does. I love this guy. From day one, it was recognizing what he offered me, and really it was a book on his life. That shows me a guy who cares about others elevating around him and him trying to make everyone around him better. I'm truly grateful to be here and truly grateful for him."
Richard will bring a similar style and philosophy to Dallas that he had in Seattle when it comes to using bigger cornerbacks. He is the reason the Cowboys moved Byron Jones from safety to cornerback.
"It's just a part of the system, and that's pretty much what it is," Richard said. "There are certain individuals, certain guys of a nature who fit a certain profile, who have historically worked better with this style of scheme and this defense. So the more guys we can get of this nature, of that stature, of that build, the better that we think we can be.”
Why does he like big cornerbacks?
"Length, strength, create issues at the line of scrimmage,” Richard said. “We want to cause as many problems as we can for an offense before the ball is even snapped. If we're up there at the line of scrimmage and we're making you think about where you need to go and how you're going to get around me, it's a whole lot better than just thinking about where you need to go."
And he saw that in Jones dating to 2014 when the Cowboys drafted him in the first round out of Connecticut and moved him to safety.
"Yes, prototypical, fantastic athlete," Richard said. "Great height, size, length, speed, everything is there. He has a great attitude. He's been working really hard from day one."
Richard is not trying to make the Cowboys another Legion of Boom. They will have to earn their own nickname.
But the style of play and characteristics of a physical, turnover-created unit will be the same.
The mindset, however, is about "loving our brother" (LOB) by being accountable, responsible and dependable.
"It was a standard of excellence,” Richard said of the Legion of Boom moniker. “And a standard of love and a standard of brotherhood, that's all it meant. It was each one teach one. Everyone cares for one another. And everyone can count on one another. More than being accountable it was about being dependable. Mistakes and all these things happen, ‘Oh I'm accountable, that was my fault.' How about being dependable and not allowing the mistakes to happen? It was going above and beyond the relationship factor.
"...[Being physical and forcing turnovers] That's the standard. That's who we will be because that's a part of the standard, that's a part of the style, part of what's necessary for our defense to be successful. The legion was more about Love Our Brothers."
There is already much love for Richard in Dallas.