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Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli reunited again — on separate sidelines

TAMPA

They walked into the original One Buc Place together in 1996, new members of Tony Dungy's coaching staff. Rod Marinelli, a white former Vietnam vet who had coached the defensive line at Southern California, and Lovie Smith, nine years younger, an African-American from Big Sandy, Texas, who had coached defensive backs at Ohio State.

"We're about as different as you can imagine," Smith said.

They also were on the last rung of the Bucs' coaching ladder and forced to share a room at the Holiday Inn in Tampa while the rest of the staff had separate rooms at the airport Marriott.

"So we were the only two in the Holiday Inn Express," Marinelli said. "Everybody else had the Marriott at the airport with their own room. We said, 'Man …' So we were roomies.

"It was great. We spent, I think, three months together in the same hotel room. It was just learning the system and all that; it created an incredible bond."

Since then, their paths have crossed many times in the NFL. Marinelli coached against his friend when Smith was the defensive coordinator of the Rams and head coach of the Bears. Smith was in the same division as the Lions when Marinelli was their head coach from 2006-08. Marinelli served as the defensive line coach and assistant head coach, and later defensive coordinator with the Bears during Smith's final three years in Chicago.

Today they are competitors again. Smith, the head coach, is also calling the defense for the Bucs, and Marinelli is the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.

"(We) found out that we had a lot in common," Smith said. "(We) created a bond there — brotherly bond. I love him like I love my brother. That will never change. He's a good football coach. There's nothing like competing against your brother. You don't want to beat anybody worse than you want to beat your brother.

"We know what (the Cowboys) are going to bring to the table. It's an important game for us. We won't have a family reunion or anything like that this weekend, though."

There was speculation Marinelli would be reunited with Smith in Tampa Bay when his contract ran out with the Cowboys after the playoffs in January. But Marinelli said he liked what the Cowboys were building.

"He's one of my best friends in my life," Marinelli said of Smith. "But I just felt that we got something started here, and I've really enjoyed it here, and I've been (in Tampa Bay). Sometimes it's hard to go back. … I love the head coach and the organization."

This is Marinelli's first return trip to Raymond James Stadium since he left the Bucs after the 2005 season. His memories of his early days with the Bucs are good ones.

"Oh, great. … . It was all football," he said.

"We'd stay up at night just trying to learn the system. … There's a lot of details in it. So we kind of grew together within the system under coach Dungy … and the whole thing.

"It was a special time, really a special team. They had a long history of losing, and we were able to be part of something that was pretty special."

Midseason awards

We hold these truths be self-evident, but here's a stab at the best and worst of the Bucs at the halfway mark of the season.

Top Rookie: QB Jameis Winston. This is a tough one. But nobody has been asked to do more with less than Winston (he has played too many games without WR Vincent Jackson and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins). After a shaky start in which his first two passes at Raymond James Stadium were intercepted and returned for touchdowns, Winston has played turnover free the past four games and is looking like the fast-developing franchise QB the Bucs expected when they drafted him No. 1 overall.

Top Defensive player: LB Kwon Alexander. The Bucs probably never intended for the 21-year-old rookie to be the quarterback of the defense. But he is, and he has made the most impactful plays. Alexander is second on the team in tackles and has two interceptions, one sack, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His inspired play at Atlanta on Nov. 1 was the biggest reason for the Bucs' win.

Top Offensive player: RB Doug Martin. Perhaps motivated by the Bucs' refusal to pick up his fifth-year contract option, Martin has returned to his rookie form and is the NFL's fifth-leading rusher. He has broken more tackles than any league back.

Biggest surprise: G Ali Marpet. The rookie from Division III Hobart (N.Y.) College was expected to develop into a good player with time but had the biggest leap in competition to adjust to. But he has been dominant in the run game and looks like a future All-Pro.

Biggest disappointment: The Bucs' starting secondary. Coach Lovie Smith has used six combinations of defensive backs in eight games. But the most was expected from cornerbacks Alterraun Verner (right) and Johnthan Banks, and safeties Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte. Only Conte remains in the starting lineup. Verner is being used on passing downs as a nickel corner. Banks has been benched, and McDougald has not gotten better.

Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli reunited again — on separate sidelines 11/14/15 [Last modified: Saturday, November 21, 2015 5:21pm]
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