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Bears’ Rod Marinelli on recovery mission with Vernon Gholston, Amobi Okoye


VernGholst(left) was hardly difference-maker his four seasons with Jets but he might be better fit Bears’ system. | Al Bello~Getty

Vernon Gholston (left) was hardly a difference-maker in his four seasons with the Jets, but he might be a better fit in the Bears’ system. | Al Bello~Getty Images

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:22AM



BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — When Rex Ryan became the New York Jets’ head coach in 2009, he promised to take his best shot at making something out of disappointing former first-round draft pick Vernon Gholston.

‘‘If he doesn’t do it for this team, he’s never going to do it,’’ Ryan said at his introductory news conference.

Those are ominous words for Bears coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, especially since the blustery Ryan had Gholston pegged when he entered the 2008 draft after a sudden 14½-sack season at Ohio State and an off-the-charts performance at the NFL combine.

‘‘I didn’t like the kid coming out of college. He’s a good athlete and a smart guy. But I thought he was a phony,’’ Ryan, who was with the Baltimore Ravens at the time, wrote in his book, Play It Like You Mean It, which was published in May.

Ryan later regretted using the word ‘‘phony.’’

‘‘What I meant by ‘phony’ was that his [combine] numbers were phony,’’ Ryan told reporters. ‘‘His numbers were better than anybody in the history of football, and I was like, ‘That’s not how he plays. Nobody plays like that.’ But Vernon got better, and he is a tremendous person.’’

Ryan’s words notwithstanding, Marinelli is ‘‘anxious’’ to take his shot at Gholston, the sixth pick of the 2008 draft, who was cut by the Jets after four seasons and no sacks.

The Bears are hoping Gholston will flourish in a system where he might be a better fit. He was a 4-3 defensive end at Ohio State. He played linebacker in a 3-4 under Eric Mangini as a rookie with the Jets in 2008, then in Ryan’s defense in 2009. He was moved to defensive end in 2010.

‘‘Vernon’s got great speed. He’s really put together,’’ Marinelli said Thursday at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. ‘‘Sometimes, for a guy that’s played down a little bit more and then he’s moved back, sometimes your instincts may possibly get taken away a little bit.

‘‘But we’re going to get him down on the ground, put his hand down there, and just rep him — over and over and over. Because I know he’s got speed, and we’ve just got to work with him.’’

With all due respect to Ryan, the Bears think Marinelli has a chance to make a difference with players such as Gholston and Amobi Okoye, another top-10 drafted lineman (10th overall by the Houston Texans in 2007) the Bears signed.

Marinelli’s history of developing outstanding lineman gives the Bears an even better chance of hitting the long shot, though Marinelli doesn’t look at it as much of a gamble.

‘‘I just think the fit sometimes can be right. I don’t know if it’s a roll of the dice,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m anxious. It’s not dice for me. I’m very anxious. Very ambitious to work with these men — and believe in them and go, just like we do that whole group. I’m just looking forward to the challenge.’’

The 6-2, 292-pound Okoye was a four-year starter with the Texans who had 45 tackles, three sacks, seven tackles-for-loss and 11 quarterback hits last season. A defensive tackle, he was going to be moved to end after the Texans went to a 3-4 defense under newly hired coordinator Wade Phillips. But Okoye was traded after the Texans took defensive end J.J. Watt of Wisconsin with the 11th overall pick in April.

The low-key Marinelli isn’t prone to gushing about his players and isn’t about to place expectations on a player who never has played for him.

‘‘He fits — no doubt about that,’’ Marinelli said of Okoye. ‘‘He’s played in [something] close to our system. He’s got good rush ability.

‘‘Before I give him expectations, I just want to see him practice, see what he does well, understands the concepts of our defense — how hard we’re going to play, how fast and physical we’re going to play, and the tempo. And then we’ll go from there.’’



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