Jordan Attaching Himself More To Tight Ends

Posted Nov 20, 2013

Rookie first-round pick is being used more in pass coverage.

One look at Miami Dolphins rookie defensive end Dion Jordan’s towering build will tell you all you need to know about how he matches up with opposing tight ends.

Jordan stands 6-foot-6 and has an incredible wingspan, which allows him to get his hands on footballs thrown in his direction. Since he is still developing in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system, he has been used primarily as a pass rusher on third downs, but Coyle has grown more and more comfortable with lining up against the likes of San Diego Chargers veteran tight end Antonio Gates and some of the other tall and athletic tight ends in the league.

“Dion is like a power forward in basketball. He’s a very smooth athlete. He’s got great length and he can run like a deer,” Coyle said. “You put those qualities together, he’s not intimidated, he’s actually bigger and taller than most of these guys or at least as tall as some of these tight ends. They’re used to smaller guys covering them and that’s a big advantage, the body positioning and boxing out and playing basketball, which a lot of them do.”

Though at 260 pounds Jordan is considered on the lighter side for a defensive lineman, he has shown an ability to use his leverage to his advantage. Still, disrupting the passing game against teams that like to get their tight ends involved is something he takes more pride in.

Back in college at the University of Oregon, Jordan played linebacker and was tasked with covering tight ends on a regular basis. He was credited with two pass breakups in his four seasons so whenever he is asked to drop into coverage it’s more or less second nature.

“I’ve done it for a while and when you train yourself to do something it’s kind of normal when you get thrown in there to get back to it so it was nothing,” said Jordan, who held his own against Gates. “We understand when we play these types of guys those are huge targets for those quarterbacks because it’s easy to get the ball to a guy like Jimmy Graham or (Rob) Gronkowski or Antonio Gates because of their size. It creates mismatches for certain positions on the field and with my skill set I was able just to play that role to help our team at least eliminate somewhat of what those guys are able to do.”

Linebacker Philip Wheeler was given the primary task of covering Gates last week, but in some of those crucial situations when all signs pointed to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers eyeing Gates as his first option it was up to Jordan to defend him. Gates being a former basketball player still has some of those natural instincts that allow him to get open even when it looks like he is covered.

So Coyle knew the best way to combat that was to put someone of similar size and with a similar set of skills on him. He sees Jordan as that guy and was satisfied with the results his rookie got against that type of tight end.

“Gates is a perfect example,” Coyle added. “He’s a guy that can just muscle up on people like he’s waiting to get the ball in the low post and just catch a little hook route. Dion covered him a few times (last Sunday) and did a very good job. He’s very natural at those kinds of things.”

While Jordan makes it clear that he gets more satisfaction out of sacking the quarterback, he still takes pride in making a play in pass defense on a third down when the offense is driving towards a possible score.

“Those are big plays and we understand that those are targets for these quarterbacks,” Jordan said. “If I’m able to eliminate that target then it’ll create a big play. It’s a lot easier, too, when you got guys like (Cameron) Wake rushing and putting the pressure on him so everything kind of just falls into pieces with the athletes we have on our defense. It’s just eliminating certain targets for quarterbacks and just trying to create bigger opportunities for the defense just to make plays on those critical downs.”

This week, Jordan will try to take Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen out of the equation and limit the options for quarterback Cam Newton at Sun Life Stadium. Olsen has caught 40 passes for 492 yards and four touchdowns on the season, but Head Coach Joe Philbin shares Coyle’s confidence in Jordan.

“Kevin and his staff have been finding different ways to utilize him,” Philbin said. “He’s been very effective whether it be in zone coverages or man coverages. He’s got the ability to run with guys down the field so I don’t think we’re afraid to match him up in either a man or a zone scheme.”
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