Halftime Adjustments Come Fast And Furious For Dolphins

Posted Nov 30, 2012

Twelve minutes of organized chaos takes place in the locker room.

So much of what goes on behind the scenes of a typical football game in the National Football League has been caught on film that there is not much more left to the imagination. There is one area, however, that still holds a lot of intrigue and that’s what takes place at halftime.

Technological advances have helped considerably over the years as coaching staffs scramble to make adjustments for the final 30 minutes, but when you take into account everything that needs to be done from the time the teams leave the field at the end of the first half and return for the start of the second half, it really is quite mind-boggling.

“Oh my goodness, I forget that you guys never get to see that stuff,” said Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who leads the team with 9.5 sacks. “Organized chaos is probably a good description, or precision recklessness. It feels like seven or eight minutes and not the 12 minutes that are actually on the clock. You’re literally running inside after that last play, the coaches are coming down from upstairs and you probably have a minute-and-a-half to do whatever – go to the bathroom, you’re tape’s always going to be loose and I usually retie my shoes, change my gloves, get a piece of gum, drink an energy drink and they’ve got bananas and oranges and energy foods going.

“While you’re doing that, the coaches are putting up the pictures of the plays, the DBs coach is writing on this side of the board, the D-line coach is writing on this side of the board and the D-coordinator is getting ready. I’m listening and watching and then everybody sits down and they go over everything and then it seems like maybe three more minutes and they blow the whistle and either you’re about to go out and be on defense or the offense is about to go out there. So you literally have to get the entire half of information probably in legitimately five minutes, because you have the setup in the beginning and then Coach Philbin meets with all of us, so you get all your corrections, fixes, your recovery, tape, drinks, redo your pads, etc., in a short period of time.”

In essence, what Wake described is the NFL’s version of a pit stop in a NASCAR race – minus the air-powered drills and super-sized gasoline cans in pit road. Those precious minutes inside the locker room are even more important when the team is facing an unfamiliar opponent, like Miami did last week in the Seattle Seahawks.

This week, the New England Patriots come to Sun Life Stadium and as a division foe within the AFC East, they are more familiar to the Dolphins from a personnel standpoint. Everything that Wake talked about taking place during halftime on his side of the room is duplicated on the other side by the offense.

“It’s mainly just trying to get corrections done as far as things they did different than we thought and things that are or are not working good for us,” Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long said. “Really, it’s just a quick hit on what we’re going to do in the second half, correct any mistakes that happened and try to get a little rest. Everybody’s yelling, everybody’s coaching and trying to figure things out, so it’s definitely a little chaotic in there. We don’t make drastic changes and this week we definitely know their personnel but they are the New England Patriots so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin is meticulous in how he goes about his job and he tries to keep the halftime process consistent and organized in spite of the short of window of time he has to get things accomplished. He has to take into account the time it takes for offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and the other assistant coaches working from the press box to get down to the locker room and the needs of the trainers and the entire equipment staff.

Philbin places a lot of importance on those 12 minutes and on using them wisely and efficiently but he also knows adjustments can still be made during the second half as the game progresses. Still, an ideal halftime for him would involve not having to make major changes.

“Yeah I think it’s an important time. It’s a fast time, so we want our players to go in and attend to their needs if they need anything physically or what have you,” Philbin explained. “Then they sit down as a unit and our coaches gather, but it’s quick. You know our guys are coming down from the box; our coordinators are upstairs. Our position guys are coming off the field. If I have any specific instructions, they’re sitting in different spots, and (Darren Rizzi) Riz usually hits the guys before, then the coordinators offensively and defensively.

“You hope there’s not too much. You hope there’s not a whole litany of things that you have to cover at halftime. I’d say you have time for two, three adjustments maybe. Not that you can’t communicate other things on the sideline, but it happens quick; it’s fast paced. It’s an important time though, there’s no doubt about it. Usually my feeling is, let’s get these guys re-focused on what the plan is. Let’s not reinvent things unless the wheels are totally falling off.”

The veteran players like Wake, Long and left guard Richie Incognito are accustomed to the fast pace of halftime and have figured out the tricks of the trade when it comes to multi-tasking. They’ll be listening to their position coaches while getting their shoulder pads readjusted or having a cut tended to.

Rookies like right tackle Jonathan Martin, however, were used to longer halftimes in college – in fact, almost twice as long. There is a 20-minute intermission in the college ranks, so a full eight extra minutes to get the corrections made and get equipment and medical issues resolved.

“It does feel a little shorter now and it’s real quick for us,” Martin said. “We get in there and we’re eating something real quick, getting something to drink, going to the bathroom and then Coach Sherman will come in and tell us something quickly about where we need to improve. He’ll say something like, ‘All right, we need to protect better,’ or ‘we need to run the ball better.’ Then we’ll meet with Coach (Jim) Turner, our O-line coach and go over more specific stuff and certain plays. It’s just highlighting things we need to improve so that we can go out there and get it done in the second half.”

Wake mentioned the times when he needs to get air out into his helmet or have his chin strap replaced as more examples of how similar that process really is to a pit stop during a car race. The equipment staff and trainers are running all over the locker room tending to different players at the same time that Philbin and the coaches are barking out instructions and showing pictures from above the field.

As he looks at Sunday’s game against New England and what that halftime period will be like, Wake thinks about how vastly different it is from his high school and even college days.

“You’d like to think you come in and you hear, ‘Hey, good job guys. Everybody’s doing well. Keep it up.’ That’s the perfect halftime,” he said. “That’s obviously always not the case. Coach Coyle, he has to go over everybody – the D-line, linebackers and DBs – and then each position coach has even more detailed specifics in terms of how to play the technique Coach Coyle just went over.

“You break off into three little meeting for a minute and then Coach Philbin meets with the team, so you don’t have a lot of time to do a lot. We think it’s normal, but when I think back on it my wrists taped, changed my gloves, got an orange, a half a sandwich, an energy drink, re-snapped my helmet and got air and changed my mouthpiece and I’m out the door all within five minutes. That’s not even exaggerating.”

No room for exaggeration.

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