Andy Cohen: The Defensive Theme Is More Big Plays

Posted Jun 13, 2013

The Dolphins defense will have at least four new starters this season and so much of the emphasis centers on creating takeaways

Standing on the dark green field under the Dolphins’ practice bubble early Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Coyle one-by-one listed some of the accomplishments of last year’s defense, his first season running the show as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Seventh in scoring defense.

First in red zone defense.

Third in the AFC in points allowed.

Sixth in the AFC in third down conversion rate.

All very impressive. But Coyle wants more.

He wants turnovers. He wants defensive touchdowns. He wants game-defining plays by his defense.

“As good as we were last year, we weren’t happy with the lack of big plays and takeaways on defense,” he said. “We’ve got to get better at that.”

And that in a nutshell is Coyle’s mission this season. He doesn’t need to be reminded of the impact a takeaway can have on a game. In 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals scored defensive touchdowns in three straight games, the first time that had happened there in 30 years. Coyle was the secondary coach.

“You score a defensive touchdown and I’ve got to believe you are going to win 80 or 90 percent of those games,” he said. “The thing about what happened in Cincinnati was the snowball effect. Once the plays came, more plays followed. Those are the types of things we are looking for here.”

So intent are the Dolphins in coming up with those big defensive plays that Coyle says the staff spent part of this offseason studying every turnover forced by the Dolphins last season. “We wanted to see why we didn’t score touchdowns off those turnovers,” he said. “We evaluated everything.”

And those impact plays should be more plentiful this year. A productive offseason both in free agency and the draft has helped deliver to Coyle the type of players he feels he needs to come up with more big defensive plays. Indeed, that was the underlying theme in every defensive move that was made.

They brought in a pair of linebackers, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler, who are both athletic and quick and both have a history of forcing turnovers, either in pass coverage or by knocking the ball loose from the runner.

They signed free agent cornerback Brent Grimes, who has a resume filled with big defensive plays, not to mention a Pro Bowl invitation, and then drafted the best pass rusher available in Dion Jordan, who knows a thing or about forcing turnovers. Then they went out and drafted a pair of cornerbacks, Jamar Taylor in the second round and Will Davis in the third round, both of whom spent their college years making impactful defensive plays.

Ask Coyle about his young linebackers and he says: “We’ve got three starters who can fly to the ball.”

Ask him about his secondary and he says: “I expect us to be a lot better than we were last season.”

Ask him about his defensive line and he says: “We pride ourselves in being dominant up front.”

Do you get the idea that Coyle expects improvement from this year’s defense? You bet he does.

A year ago he implemented his system, a base 3-4 defense with enough flexibility to quickly turn it into a 4-3. He says about 95 percent of that defense is already installed and mini camp still has a day left.

“The new players and the returning players are blending together very well,” he said.

He is especially impressed with the versatility of this group, how a defensive lineman like Jared Odrick can play several positions, how his cornerbacks have the flexibility to play tight man-to-man coverage or zone, how his linebackers can drop back in pass coverage as efficiently as they can defend the run.

All of that is important, and all of that will help this defense grow. But it is clear by talking to Coyle, by watching the emphasis of all the defensive drills in mini camp, that paramount on his list of objectives for this season is forcing turnovers and scoring defensive touchdowns.

A year ago, the Dolphins had 13 interceptions and no cornerback had more than two. Defensive touchdowns? None. Fumble recoveries? The Dolphins had six all season. That has a lot to do with finishing with a minus-10 in turnover/takeaway ratio.

“This has been our emphasis since the day I got here,” he said. “We are all well aware of the importance of getting takeaways and big plays out of our defense, but what we did last year isn’t close to what we want.”

So a new season begins with a new set of goals. Coyle’s defense will have at least four new starters and perhaps as many as five or six. There has clearly been an upgrade in talent. You can see it even in shorts and no pads. They are younger, faster, more aggressive, more diversified and more in tune with Coyle’s mantra of creating takeaways and big plays.

Coyle says the chemistry is coming together, that his players have the right mindset and that, although he is seeing it in June, the real test will come in training camp and beyond.

Make plays. Score touchdowns. You hear it so much from the offense. But the defense needs to have that mentality as well.

“I believe in this group,” Coyle said. “And I believe we’ve got the pieces to make it happen. Now, we just need to go out and do it.”
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