DAVIE, Fla. – Defensively speaking, the Miami Dolphins began the offseason focused on improving two key areas: Forcing turnovers and preventing big plays.
The Dolphins defense had 10 interceptions and six fumble recoveries last season for a minus-10 giveaway/takeaway differential. That tied Pittsburgh for 11th in the AFC.
Miami also surrendered 60 pass plays of 20 or more yards. That tied the New York Giants for 28th out of 32 teams in the league.
Nobody needed to remind Jeff Ireland of those numbers entering the offseason. The general manager went out and signed free-agent linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to replace Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Former All-Pro cornerback Brent Grimes was signed in free agency. Oregon edge rusher Dion Jordan was the top pick in the draft and cornerback Jamar Taylor was taken in the second round.
It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to oversee the 4-3 defense’s development and production.
“I see a group that knows the system better, that understands how we want things done — how we meet, how we practice, things that (head coach) Joe (Philbin) has instituted here,” Coyle said Wednesday on Day 2 of Miami’s three-day minicamp.
“As a result, we’re further ahead, much further ahead, than we were a year ago going into the preseason, both schematically and just in the whole operation of things.”
Coyle said that he had seen reason for optimism in terms of creating more turnovers and limiting big-yardage plays during the organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp.
“We’ve had some good days out here in the spring, but we did last spring, too. It only counts come the fall,” he said. “We emphasize it in everything we do since the day we got here.
“I think we’ve got some playmakers at the linebacking corps. I think our secondary right now has improved and we’ve got guys making plays on the ball in every practice.”
As the Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach from 2003-11, Coyle understands the importance of a physical, speedy secondary. He also knows Miami signed two quality linebackers in Ellerbe and Wheeler.
“Honestly, we never thought we would be able to get both here and we did,” Coyle said. “So, as a result, they’re still going through a bit of a learning curve learning the system but we love a lot of things we’re seeing here on the field. I think our ability to make plays at that position certainly will be advanced coming this fall.”
The most significant news on the defensive line, so far, has been the use of Jared Odrick at tackle. He had been converted to a 3-4 end upon turning pro.
“The one thing I see about J.O. is that he’s certainly showing us that he can not only play the position, but be very good at the position in the league,” Coyle said. “One thing that I think is exciting about this whole group is the versatility that we have.”
Coyle didn’t say how he intends to use top pick Jordan, who hasn’t arrived yet because his school Oregon, operates on the quarter system instead of semesters.
“We haven’t had a chance to see him yet so it’s difficult to assess that,” Coyle said, “but he’s certainly an outstanding talent that we’re looking forward to working with.”
When he does arrive, Jordan will join a line that includes tackles Odrick, Randy Starks, and Paul Soliai and end Cameron Wake.
“Obviously, we pride ourselves up front on the ability to be dominating,” Coyle said. “We’ve added to our ability to rush the passer in the draft. There’s a lot to be excited about as we’re moving forward.”