Two of the greatest defensive players in Miami Dolphins history – Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas – like what they are seeing so far out of the 2012 defense.
Five days before they become the newest members of the Dolphins Honor Roll, Taylor and Thomas sat down with Dolphins.com and weighed in on the performances of Cam Wake,
Of course Taylor played with those guys in what was his final season last year, so he had a closer connection. But Thomas excelled in a similar scheme as current defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s 4-3, with Tim Bowens and Daryl Gardener occupying the two big defensive tackle spots currently occupied by Soliai and Starks.
“I love to see the 4-3 back in the mix because it’s the most common defense,” said Thomas, who was named to a franchise record seven Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons. “I love to see them be fundamentally sound because that means it’s good coaching. Kevin Coyle is doing a great job with the defense, especially with the front seven. Them getting pressure makes it a lot easier on the coverage, but I’m very impressed.
“I feel like Paul Soliai has really stepped up his game. He’s a lot like Tim Bowens, and Randy Starks is a beast. I like the 4-3 because it definitely keeps it simple. You don’t have to make major adjustments and you keep speed on the field, and that’s what the game’s turned into, more speed and mismatches and that’s why I’m so happy that they got the 4-3 back here.”
For Taylor, he pretty much realized he was passing the baton to Wake back in 2009 when the two-time CFL Defensive Player of the Year first arrived in South Florida. He immediately played the role of mentor to Wake and then watched his protégé pile up 14 sacks in 2012, good enough to earn him a starting spot in the Pro Bowl.
Taylor was named to six Pro Bowls in his 15-year NFL career and his 139.5 sacks rank sixth all-time. He compiled 131 of those sacks as a Miami Dolphin, by far the most in franchise history, and his eight career interceptions are the most by a Dolphins defensive lineman. Though Wake has not intercepted any passes, his 33.5 sacks through his first 36 NFL games are ahead of Taylor’s pace, as Taylor compiled 31 sacks in his first four seasons.
“He’s got all the intangibles,” Taylor said of Wake. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick and he’s got great explosion. He can get from here to three yards faster than most guys can and that has a lot to do with getting on the edge of an offensive tackle. I like how when he came in he was a very quiet guy. He didn’t have a whole lot to say. He kept his ears open and his eyes open and didn’t say a whole lot, and even last year he didn’t really say a whole lot. He became a little more, vocal but that might just be his personality.
“He still changes the game so much even when he’s not getting sacks and people don’t always understand that about pass rushers. It doesn’t always manifest itself in numbers. The things that don’t show up in the box score change the came completely and that’s what he does.”
Taylor also can relate to the position change Wake made this year from outside linebacker in the 3-4 schemes that were run during his first three seasons to defensive end in the 4-3. Taylor actually did the reverse, moving from defensive end to outside linebacker under Nick Saban in 2005, and one year later he won his only NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at that position.
“It’s a transition and I was resistant to going from defensive end to linebacker at the beginning because I didn’t understand what it would entail,” Taylor said. “But having stood up and moved around a little bit and having a chance to rush from standing up, I did enjoy that. I think the more variables you can throw at an offense, the more looks and disguises you can throw at them, I think it helps.
“It is more comfortable to put your hand in the ground in a four-point stance and just get after it, but I think there is a place in this game for moving around. Look, he’s athletic enough he can do both. I mean the guy can play any position on the field besides quarterback because I saw him throw and he can’t do that. But he’s a very dynamic talent.”
Thomas has become an avid fan since retiring on May 20th, 2010 and naturally follows the defensive side of the ball when attending games. Veteran Karlos Dansby is currently playing that middle linebacker spot where Thomas roamed for so many years, but this year Thomas has been pleasantly surprised by the play of young Koa Misi.
“He’s been more coming off the edge and now he’s off the line of scrimmage and especially on the weak side you can get vulnerable and a lot of times you’ve got to tackle in open space,” said Thomas, who recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his first 11 seasons. “It puts a lot of pressure on him, but I was surprised. I know he has good coaching with George Edwards and that’s got to help him a lot but he’s playing well. I thought he’d be more from the SAM, the strong side, but boy was I wrong because he’s looked good out there making a lot of plays.”
Overall, this defense is holding up the Dolphins’ tradition well in the eyes of Taylor and Thomas because they are playing the kind of team defense they grew accustomed to in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s. Taylor was quick to point out that it wouldn’t be fair to try and draw direct comparisons between the two eras because the personnel was different, starting with the Pro Bowl cornerback tandem of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
However, Thomas summed it up best in terms of how impactful a good defense can be when he reflected on the fact that he and his brother-in-law will see their names unveiled on the Honor Roll at halftime of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams at Sun Life Stadium.
“You’re only as good as what’s around you because if they’re having a bad day (up front) you’re having a bad day (at linebacker) and if the corners are having a bad day, Jason’s having a bad day because they’re going to be getting rid of that ball,” Thomas said. “It’s so true and that’s why it’s a team sport but we’re going up individually and I wish when we were dominant on defense we could all go up together. It’s just a big honor to go up there, especially thanks to the types of players we had around us.”