Take a flip card from just about any game played by the Miami Dolphins in 2011 and compare it to one from this season and three of the same names are in the linebackers spots –
The big difference now is they are the only three names at the top of the depth chart because Miami runs a base 4-3 scheme as opposed to the 3-4 that was run last year. Defensive end
This is the first time Dansby has lined up as the Mike linebacker in a 4-3 in his career and he has been tasked with making all of the calls for the defense as that unit’s quarterback. Having a veteran like Burnett on one side of him helps, as the two of them have played in 234 games between them. That’s 112 more games then the other four linebackers – Misi,
“It’s hard to move from a Mike in a 3-4 to a Mike in a 4-3 because the whole game changes,” said Dansby, who is in his ninth NFL season and third with the Dolphins. “The way you have to view the game changes. It’s a transition I’m still trying to make. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’ve looked at tape of Zach Thomas, Brian Urlacher and Jon Beason to help me get a better feel for the position.”
Linebackers coach George Edwards has been impressed with how Dansby has handled the switch as well as the other linebackers. Misi was a natural defensive end in college at Utah so he is still growing accustomed to playing off the line and dropping into coverage.
Edwards tried to keep it simple during the offseason workouts and camps when explaining the nuances of the 4-3 and getting all of his guys on the same page as new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. The concepts are what he focused on the most.
“I think the biggest thing is what they’re looking at as far as their vision, which is important in any scheme,” Edwards said. “We needed them to get their first step and their second step and make sure they knew their vision points as far as their responsibilities within each call. I think once they got acclimated to the run fits and just the coverages and the things we were asking them to do in coverage and the conflicts, that’s where we spent a lot of the time as far as the adjustments.”
Burnett has been around long enough and flourished in enough different systems that he understood the work that had to be put in both on the field and in the classroom. He and Dansby took the lead in that aspect and made sure Misi and the others got a quick grasp of things.
To a veteran like Burnett, who is in his eighth season and second in Miami, coaching is the key to success. It took him a little while to find his footing last season after having spent the previous two seasons in San Diego, but he has formed a unique bond with Edwards.
“He makes us play together and to me he makes us be a unit instead of playing as individuals,” said Burnett. “He says, ‘Look, okay you guys are going to make your own individual plays but if you guys don’t play together we lose.’ And he really emphasizes that, so that’s why we all have to be on the same page at all times. The older guys have to take over and you have to count on the younger guys to do their job.”
Which job needs to be done is where the challenge comes in for the linebackers because they are similar to the tight ends on offense as far as having to wear many different hats. In just one series, Dansby, Burnett and Misi might be asked to blitz and get pressure on the quarterback on one down, cover an athletic tight end or a speedy slot receiver down the seam or over the middle on another and fill the gap on a running play on another.
The level of non-verbal communication prior to the ball being snapped has to be high among the linebackers, especially against opposing offenses that like to run the no-huddle. There are checks upon checks based on how the offense is lining up and then who’s going in motion and what the quarterback is doing as the play clock winds down.
“You’ve got to be ready for everything,” Misi said. “In our defense our coaches ask us to a lot of different things and you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and know the playbook inside and out. You need to know what coverage you’re dropping into and if you’re supposed to be on the inside or the outside of the receiver and where your help is. If the quarterback changes the play at the line then you have to reboot your brain again and get into the right call.”
Misi couldn’t say enough about how much of a benefit it has been for him to have Dansby and Burnett out there with him because as he puts it, “they’re calling out plays before they even happen and that’s where I want to be in my career later on.” Edwards believes Misi is well on his way to achieving that goal after struggling a bit last season thanks to his hard work and the teaching he gets from Coyle.
Where Misi appears to have progressed the most is in pass defense, especially when he’s been matched up against must faster tight ends, receivers or running backs. Even when he’s gotten beat initially off the line, he has been able to make up ground and sense when the ball is in the air and knock it away.
“His ability to go run is a big attribute for him,” Edwards said. “He really plays hard all the time and having Karlos and Kevin in there to kind of anticipate and talk to him about what they’re trying to do really helps out. Karlos is a true professional, he always comes prepared and he does a good job communicating the message from the meeting room out to the field. “Kevin’s also a true professional. We ask him to do a lot of different things in different spots, especially coverage wise, and he’ll talk about what’s going on from play to play and get people lined up. There are run/pass conflicts every week going play action and those kinds of things and we have to spend a lot of time on it but those guys are working hard at it.”