“I think anytime you get on the field to run, whether with the first, second group or whatever it is, it’s a learning experience, especially here in the preseason,” said Trusnik, who was signed last summer as an unrestricted free agent and led Miami’s special teams with 14 tackles. “Getting your feet in there and hitting another team, running with the ones playing Mike, I’m just learning from whatever I did that week and working to correct things while moving on this week.”
For Spitler, this is his third season with the Dolphins after being taken in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. He made his mark his first two seasons and quickly became a favorite of special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi.
Head Coach Joe Philbin has taken notice of Spitler in recent weeks, especially when he’s been lining up with the first team, and sees him as somebody who can contribute in a variety of ways.
“I like Austin a lot. He kind of plays fast,” Philbin said. “We thought in the two games that we played, he’s played fast. He’s been decisive. He’s pulled the trigger. He’s made some tackles. He’s kind of an old-fashioned linebacker type if you know what I mean. Not super fancy, but I like the kid. I think he’s a football player.
“I think he can tackle people. I think he’s instinctive. I think he reads blocking schemes pretty well and he shows up around the ball. He plays fast. That’s the one thing that we, again, we’ve been harping on from a defensive standpoint is we need more clips where guys are playing fast and guys are getting around the football.”
Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle are Spitler’s second head coach and defensive coordinator in his young career and he admits that he is still learning Coyle’s defense. He doesn’t differentiate between the skills needed to succeed on special teams and the skills needed to succeed at linebacker because he believes they’re on in the same when it comes down to execution.
If there is one common denominator between the two positions it’s the love of contact a player must have. Spitler and Trusnik do not shy away from that aspect of the game whether they’re flying down the field on punt or kickoff coverage or blitzing from their linebacker position.
“I take pride in special teams. It’s what I’ve known for the past two years,” said Spitler, who had 10 special teams tackles last year and one tackle on defense. “I’ve just really learned to enjoy it, have fun with it and not to look at it as a punishment. It’s way to stay in the league and I want to go out there and be the best special teams player I can be just like I want to be the best linebacker I can possibly be.
“I enjoy it. I love running down the field at 100 miles an hour and sticking my head in there against the wedge. I take a lot of pride in it. You’ve got to love contact and you want to bang heads. It’s a mentality and you carry over to linebacker what you learned on special teams.”
Spitler described the linebacker group as being among the tightest on the team and he’s been a part of it for two full seasons. Trusnik blended in perfectly from the moment he put on the uniform and began soaking in as much knowledge as he could from the veterans.
This is also the second year that Dansby and Burnett have been in together as Burnett was signed as a free agent early in last year’s training camp. They have served as positive mentors to Spitler and Trusnik and have helped them to develop to where they are now.
“I think right off the bat we’ve got two great ballplayers in Kevin and Karlos and great leaders at that,” Trusnik said. “They do a lot of things right on our defense, so from watching them and learning from them even this past year, I’ve been able to critique my game and help my game out. My job out here is just to do my job, whether it’s on special teams being a leader and making plays or knowing multiple positions on defense. Whatever it is I’m going to go out there and do it.”
Spitler and Trusnik have taken that motto to another level of late, putting their stamina to the test by running down on a punt or kickoff and then staying out on the field for a defensive series. Their hard work seems to be paying off in the eyes of this Dolphins regime.