Amid changes to both personnel and the coaching staff, the Miami defense made marked improvements over the course of the 2020 season. Eight of the newcomers accounted for a combined 4,599 snaps for Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer's unit. Of Miami's 41 sacks, which ranked tied for 10th in the NFL, 23.5 came from players new to the roster in 2020.
The veteran-most defender on the Dolphins roster was part of a triumvirate of linebackers that set a new standard in the franchise record books. Kyle Van Noy signed as a free agent and produced six sacks. Third-year linebacker Jerome Baker (7) and second-year linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (5.5) combined with Van Noy to generate 18.5 sacks, the most by a trio of linebackers in team history.
Among the newcomers in the secondary, cornerbacks Byron Jones and Noah Igbinoghene along with safety Brandon Jones accounted for a combined 1,485 snaps. Incumbent cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Nik Needham and safeties Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe rounded out the top seven snap-takers in a group that helped Miami lead the league in takeaways.
The turnover-centric mindset from the defensive backs unit started back in training camp with another newcomer, Defensive Backs Coach Gerald Alexander. Alexander spent time with the Dolphins in 2019 as an intern before returning to his job as the defensive backs coach at the University of California-Berkeley. He took the same job with the Dolphins in 2020 after Boyer was promoted to defensive coordinator.
Alexander's primary area of focus: takeaways.
"It's getting them mindful of -- it's all about the ball. Everything we do, every technique, every detailed coaching point that we give them and every defensive scheme, is all about getting the ball. You start to see that energy, that competitiveness among those guys at practice doing the little things that reward points. At the same time, I'm trying to build culture. I'm trying to build a way of behaving in the defensive back room.” Gerald Alexander
Alexander's defensive backs unit contributed to a defense that totaled 29 takeaways, the most in the NFL. Miami also finished first in third-down defense. Several elements came together for the Dolphins to allow only 31.2 percent of opponent's third downs to move the chains. Among them, new assistant defensive backs coach Curt Kuntz, who Head Coach Brian Flores says led third down meetings each week.
"He's just very detailed in his explanations of what's going on throughout the week and third downs," McCain said. "He's very detailed, a very good coach, and he helps us out."
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Both Alexander and Campanile will coach at the East West Shrine Bowl, which will be played on Saturday. They will also work with the players throughout the week at the Shrine Bowl practices.
The Dolphins have one player on the roster from recent Shrine Bowls; wide receiver Malcolm Perry. Perry touched the ball once in last year's game, a 52-yard touchdown run.
Perry joined the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield after he was selected in the seventh round last April. He talked about his time at the Naval Academy including the rigorous schedule and how it prepared him for the NFL.
That Two-Point Conversion Looked Familiar
Over Divisional round weekend, the Los Angeles Rams executed a hook and lateral to convert a two-point play in their 32-18 loss at the Green Bay Packers. The play appeared to be nearly identical to a play executed by the Dolphins back in their Week 15, 22-12 win over the New England Patriots.