Jags Looking For Fresh Start

Joe Cullen and the Jaguars' pass rush have one thing in common. They both need a fresh start. So now the question is whether Cullen, the team's new defensive line coach, can help provide it.

Cullen is back in the NFL after spending a year at Idaho State. The previous three years, he was the defensive line coach for the Detroit Lions. They went 10-38 the three years he was there and went 0-16 in his final season before Rod Marinelli and the members of his staff were fired.

But Cullen's problem with finding an NFL job had little to do with the record. Actually, the Lions had 97 sacks in his three years there, close to the league average of 103 over that span. His problem stemmed from two off-the-field incidents at the start of his tenure in Detroit.

On Aug. 24, 2006, the night before a preseason game, he pulled up to a Wendy's drive-through in Dearborn, Michigan while naked at the wheel of his SUV. He was charged with indecent and obscene conduct. Eight days later, he was arrested on a DUI charge with a blood alcohol content of 1.2. Michigan's legal limit is 0.8 The Lions suspended him for the first game and the league fined him $20,000 and suspended him for the final game.

Cullen said both incidents were alcohol related and he has no memory of the fast food incident. He apparently blacked out. Still, Marinelli stood by him and he coached three years but couldn't find a job in the NFL last year. But coach Jack Del Rio was willing to gamble on him because Del Rio is being viewed as a lame-duck coach who will be fired if he doesn't make the playoffs. So coaches weren't eager to take the defensive line coach job after he fired Ted Monachino.

Working for Del Rio isn't a job with long-term security even if he is not fired. Del Rio has fired 19 assistant coaches in his first seven years. Cullen, for his part, was just happy to get back in the NFL so he jumped at the job. And Cullen said he's been sober for over three years.

In an hour-long interview with the Florida Times-Union, he said, "First, if there's anyone out there that's perfect, I'd like to meet him. Number two, with me and my isolated incidents, I've never been in trouble in my life other than when alcohol is involved. So I made a promise to myself that alcohol and I weren't going to be teammates anymore."

He added, "I know my judgment -- what I'm going to do and what I want to do -- is clear. I think if you show true remorse, and you're willing to do whatever it takes to better yourself, not just as a football coach, but as a person, then to me, people deserve second chances. You're always going to have people that are going to doubt you, people are always going to say, 'ahhh, you shouldn't have hired that guy.' That's what I'd say to that."

Cullen went through an NFL-sponsored alcohol rehab outpatient program from September of 2006 through the following July. But in Jacksonville, Cullen's personal life might not be his biggest problem. His problem is trying to improve the pass rush that got just 14 sacks last year.

He still believes in Derrick Harvey, the Jaguars' first-round draft pick in 2008 who has shown little ability to rush the passer.

"Looking at the tape, there's some guys here like Derrick Harvey and John Henderson that can get to the quarterback. There were a lot of close-but-no-cigar (quarterback sacks)," he said.

The problem is that close doesn't count.

Still, he said when he was in Detroit, he worked out Harvey at Florida.

"The qualities we saw in Derrick are still there. He's explosive, strong. He's going to be a powerful rusher. With more repetition and work, that can come out of him."

This is the same Harvey who had just two sacks last year. He has looked like an average player. Turning him into an effective pass rusher will be a test of Cullen's coaching ability.

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