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NOTEBOOK: Ellerbe And Wheeler Add New Dimension; Other Notes

Posted Sep 18, 2013

Two athletic linebackers give Miami’s defense lots of options.



These first five games of the 2013 season for the Miami Dolphins illustrate precisely why they made such a concerted effort to bring in linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler as free agents.

Facing offenses like the Indianapolis last week, the Atlanta Falcons this week, New Orleans the following week and finally Baltimore right before the bye, Miami needed to get faster and more versatile on defense. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle knew he had the speed and athleticism up front already, but the young and agile Ellerbe and Wheeler allows him to get even more creative, and Head Coach Joe Philbin is appreciative of the added dimension they bring to the field.

“Yeah, it’s no secret we are going to line those two up in the A-gap at various times,” Philbin said. “Sometimes they are going to blitz, and sometimes they are going to push out and cover guys. That’s not a mystery. We are going to continue to do that. If you line up and play us, we are going to do that. They present some good options for us.”

Even though they came from different teams (Ellerbe from the Ravens and Wheeler from the Oakland Raiders), the two have come together in the huddle and on the field rather seamlessly. They are the two leading tacklers for the Dolphins through two games, with Ellerbe on top with 20 tackles (10 solo) and Wheeler at 18 (four solo) and one sack.

Coyle hasn’t been afraid to blitz them at the same time or to send one and have the other drop into pass coverage because they are athletic enough to be effective either way. Wheeler came on a blitz on 4th-and-10 late in the Colts game, avoided the attempted block by running back Donald Brown and sacked Andrew Luck to seal the 24-20 win. He finished with 12 tackles (8 solo) and Ellerbe led the team with 14 (6 solo) and Wheeler enjoys all of the possibilities this defense provides for him and Ellerbe.

“I think it looks good right now and I think we’re just getting started,” said Wheeler, who is coming off a breakout season in Oakland where he racked up 110 tackles (78 solo), three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. “We can do even more things to be explosive on defense. We’re just going to work on it and I like the way it’s coming along so far.”

Coyle concurs.

“We are really pleased with both of those guys,” Coyle said. “They fly around. They play with great energy. We just have to keep on limiting the mistakes and improving the communication. They play at a very, very high tempo, and I’m really pleased with that.”

THE ART OF BLOWING THE PERFECT BUBBLE

Wide receiver Mike Wallace’s first touchdown as a Miami Dolphin came on a perfectly executed bubble screen in the first quarter of last week’s win in Indianapolis and showcased the unique skill sets of not just Wallace but also his blockers on the play. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman claimed the offense never executed the play that well in practice and right tackle Tyson Clabo calls it his favorite play.

“We’ve been practicing it for a while and every time we practice it I’m coming back to the huddle telling Mike, ‘That’s a touchdown,’ and he’s agreeing with me,” Clabo said. “Sure enough I called it I guess. I love that play. It’s a good play.”

Not only did Clabo quickly get down the field to take his defender out of the way, but center Mike Pouncey pulled and was five yards ahead of Wallace almost in the end zone drive blocking his defender. Tight end Charles Clay sealed off the edge with a kick-out block to give Wallace a clear lane to run.

The only reason Wallace wasn’t as surprised as everyone else to see Pouncey get down the field that fast and that far is because he played with Pouncey’s twin brother, Maurkice, in Pittsburgh with the Steelers where the other Pouncey also plays center. He admitted had he not played with the twin brother he might have been more surprised.

“Them being twins with the same genes, I wasn’t surprised. He flashed in front of me and once I saw who it was I knew I was okay,” said Wallace, who finished with a career-high nine receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. “Everybody on that play had a great block and I always knew if we ran this play it could be a touchdown. When we finally saw the call come in, Clabo and I were very excited and we had to make it work.”

THIS AND THAT

Safety Chris Clemons was off to the side working with the trainers for the second consecutive day and was the only player present not practicing. … Defensive tackle Paul Soliai was not at practice for the second straight day. … As strong as rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis’ leg is, it is still important for those players on the kickoff coverage unit to stay in their lanes and be ready to converge on the opposing returner. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi is a stickler for lane discipline, which must be why he keeps trying different combinations in order to find one that clicks, and today was no different. Cornerback Brent Grimes has switched sides after lining up to Sturgis’ far left and cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and rookie Don Jones have swapped positions next to Sturgis.

SIR MIX-A-LOT

Midway thorough game week, the musical mix for the team stretching period was a little more balanced than usual. Omnia’s “The Light” kicked things off, followed by Florida’s own Rick Ross with “Hustlin’.” The Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, closed out the session with his classic, “Super Bad.”

THE LAST WORD

“Mike is the most athletically talented center that I’ve been around, there’s no question, and I played with a great one. I played with one of the greats of all time. Todd McClure is one of the greatest centers that ever played the game, but athletically, Mike Pouncey has got him. Now early in his career, McClure could run and he was very athletic but right now I don’t remember him ever running the way that Mike Pouncey can run. He can run and we can do a lot of different things with that. Not everybody has that.” – Clabo on the speed of center Mike Pouncey

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