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Burnett And Dansby Piloting Improved Dolphins Defense

Posted Nov 10, 2011

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is close enough to the Miami Dolphins’ practice facility to warrant the aviation reference made about the team’s two inside linebackers on Thursday.

Outside linebacker Cameron Wake called Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby the “pilot and co-pilot” of Miami’s defense. Their performances over the last three games have had a domino effect on the entire unit, and Burnett and Dansby insist they haven’t come close to peaking.

“If you remember when we were asked if we were going to be great and are we going to be world beaters I said it’s going to take time for us to play together,” said Burnett, who has registered 28 of his 45 tackles in this stretch and 1.5 sacks. “I guess the thing that is not understood is that we’re still not fully where we can be. I don’t think what you’ve seen in the last two weeks is close to where we can be. Not including preseason we’ve played eight games together. That’s not a long time to get to know somebody.”

Dansby has racked up 31 of his 53 tackles starting with the Denver Broncos game on October 23rd. He had 13 against the Broncos, seven at the New York Giants and 11 last week at Kansas City in Miami’s first win of the season.

He and Burnett combined for 23 tackles in the 31-3 rout of the Chiefs and wreaked havoc from everywhere on the field. They put pressure on quarterback Matt Cassel up the middle and from the outside, plugged the holes in the running game and dropped back into coverage, allowing their teammates to make impact plays as well.

“Those guys are downhill and I’m getting to watch it from the back,” strong safety Yeremiah Bell said. “Just some of the collisions those guys are doing and the way they’re hitting people and the sounds in there, it’s nice. I miss that so it feels good to see those guys doing their thing. When you’ve got two fast and physical guys like that it’s hard to say who you’re going to double team because the opposite guy’s going to make the play, disrupt it or open up lanes for someone else.”

Dansby and Burnett made their presence known very early in Kansas City as each rocked Chiefs running back Julian Battle for 1-yard losses on the opening drive. Dansby made a key tackle of wide receiver Steve Breaston on a third-down pass to prevent him from getting the first down and forced Kansas City to settle for a field goal.

Later in the first half Burnett chased down Cassel for a sack and sent the message that he and Dansby were going to be harassing the entire Chiefs offense all afternoon. The two executed the right calls on defense, communicated well with the defensive line and secondary and found a zone that caught the eye of Head Coach Tony Sparano and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

“It’s been really big and I think it’s led to obviously our defense playing better in the last several weeks,” Sparano said. “But I also think it’s had an impact on the third-down stuff, I really do. We’ve been getting people off the field a little bit better on third down right now than certainly we did in the beginning part of the year and I think it has a lot to do with the two of those guys and their communication in there.

“They’ve got to be on the same page and when they arrive at the ball they’ve got to be able to get you on the ground to get you off the field. They’re doing a much better job right now certainly of tackling and all of those things, communicating and it’s evident in their numbers. In the last couple weeks the number of tackles that these guys have had, they’re off the charts.”

Last year was Dansby’s first season in Miami after six years with the Arizona Cardinals, so he was the new inside linebacker trying to gel with Channing Crowder. Now he is the experienced guy in Nolan’s system working with the new guy, Burnett, and exactly midway through the schedule he is seeing progress.

In 2010 with the San Diego Chargers, Burnett had 95 tackles (80 solo), six sacks, two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His final numbers were similar to Dansby’s, who had 96 tackles (79 solo), three sacks, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

“We play off of each other well right now, especially the last couple of games and we’re looking forward to having more success during the season,” said Dansby, who is one of four team captains. “But it’s a long season and it just took a little time to make sure we were on the same page with terminology and everything. Now it’s starting to click and people are starting to notice our production on the inside and it’s making our team much better I think.”

Wake benefits from the pressure Burnett and Dansby create up the middle and the attention they draw from blockers by sneaking into the backfield form the outside. He has 5.5 sacks to lead the team and is on pace for his second straight season of double digit sacks.

When it comes to placing a value on what those two linebackers bring to the entire defense, Wake doesn’t shortchange them.

“When they’re out there they’re such an integral part of this team and overall what they do is very important and is very helpful,” he said. “From the top down they start off everything and they also make plays so they’ve got everything going on all at once.”

Dansby and Burnett established high expectations for each other and Dansby believes the ceiling for the two of them as a linebacker duo is very high. They want to be considered the best tandem in the league and to cause headaches for opposing offensive coordinators trying to game plan for them. Their personalities are similar and they like to push each other, with Dansby describing them as “a work in progress that’s only going to get better.” But Burnett is a little more vocal in the locker room and on the field and the closer he sees he and Dansby creating that perfect chemistry the more problems he is predicting for opposing offenses.

“It becomes a headache because you’ve got two inside backers who can make a lot of plays, you have a nose guard (Paul Soliai) who you can’t single block and you have a strong safety (Bell) who has led the team in tackles for the last 3-4 years now, so what do you do,” Burnett said. “Everything goes from the inside out, so calls, execution, win the game. That’s how it’s going to go.”
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