Innovative Defense A Hit Among Players

Posted Aug 2, 2012

Lots of attention is being paid to the quarterback competition and the offensive system being installed by the new Miami Dolphins coaching staff, but the defense is also going through a transition.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is coming from a team in the Cincinnati Bengals that primarily ran a 4-3 scheme, and while last year’s Dolphins mixed in some 4-3 with their base 3-4, the returning starters already are seeing the differences.

“It’s a big difference. It’s two totally different defenses, two totally different techniques and everything’s brand new for me,” said inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who is in his third year with the Dolphins. “I’m just trying to pick up on it as fast as I possibly can. OTAs and minicamps helped me out tremendously so I’m just trying to have a lot of carryover right now.”

Dansby has been open about how different his role is in this system than last year being that he is a true middle linebacker. He has a little more responsibility when it comes to calling the defensive plays and getting everybody properly aligned. From a strategic standpoint he will be expected to disrupt the backfield a little more and take advantage of the pass rush lanes that will open up courtesy of the front four.

On the flip side, Cameron Wake goes from being an outside linebacker and standing up in a two-point stance on the edge in that alignment back to becoming the true defensive end that he was in the Canadian Football League and at Penn State. He admittedly is just as comfortable with his hand in the ground as he was with it by his side the last three years but is ready to produce just the same, and that’s what Coyle expects.

“I think that they are embracing it, and for some of them, it lends to their skill sets, maybe a little better, but not necessarily,” Coyle said. “They played darn good defense a year ago in the 3-4, and as I told you guys in the beginning, there weren’t that many true 3-4 snaps. There was a lot of under defense, a lot of substitution defense, so there are elements of what we did here a year ago that we are incorporating and some that we will continue to incorporate as the year goes on. But I think the transition has been great.”

Some of the offensive players have certainly taken notice of the positive changes on defense and have been challenged during team drills. In addition to adjusting to their own fast pace and some of the nuances of the offensive system, the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen have had to prepare for different looks and different techniques.

“It is just really aggressive. They don’t hesitate to get in your face and press-man and show some type of blitz,” fifth-year wide receiver Davone Bess said. “I think overall, they are continuing to develop the chemistry amongst each other for the most part. It is the same group of guys we had in the past, but I think they are just doing a better job of being more aggressive.”

Communication is the key to making this defense go and as Philbin and Coyle have explained it, that communication has to take place right up the middle – starting from the middle linebacker and working forward to the defensive line and then back to the safeties. It’s all about being in the right position and making the right reads.

For Dansby, who was getting accustomed to playing inside linebacker in the 3-4 and sometimes making the calls for his side while Kevin Burnett took care of the other side, this is a role he is excited about.

“(The biggest difference is) against the run and having to read certain keys,” Dansby said. “You’ve got to be able to see the guards, see the tackles and see the running backs. I’ve got enough height so I can see it all. That’s a good thing. This gives me an opportunity to be versatile, play the run fast, get back in coverage and get underneath routes. It’s a perfect place for me.”

If there is one position on offense that has been impacted the most by the new defense it’s the quarterback. David Garrard, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill and Pat Devlin are not only learning offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s offense, but they are being tested on every down by Coyle and his defensive calls.

Garrard is the most experienced signal caller on the roster and he thought he had seen it all in terms of defensive coverages and alignments on the practice field. That was until he signed with the Dolphins and had to match wits with Coyle.

“They bring it every play, every down,” said Garrard, who missed all of last season with a back injury and spent his first eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “Usually you start seeing exotic defenses, exotic blitzes on third-and-long. Not with this defense. It can be first down, second down, any down. It doesn’t matter, they’re bringing it and you’ve got to be on your toes. But they’ve been doing a good job of it and we’ve been doing a good job of picking things up too. … It will be good once we start playing other jerseys that aren’t orange and white or teal and white out here. It will be good for us.”

The element of surprise awaiting Miami’s opponents facing this defense for the first time is something Coyle and his players are counting on.
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