DAVIE, Fla. — When Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin went through year-end film, one player kept appearing.
Fifth-year pro Koa Misi stood out in several examples focusing on basic fundamentals.
"One of the things we’ve emphasized strongly have been fundamentals on defense, whether its block protection, pursuit, tackling, creating turnovers," Philbin said. "And one of the things we’ve liked about [Misi] — I’ve liked about in particular — is that when we do a year-end cut up and we show examples of how to take on a block, how to tackle properly, how to pursue the football, he shows up in a lot of those cut-ups."
For Miami, which ranked 24th in run defense last season giving up 124 yards per game, improving at linebacker is an area the team would like to focus on before training camp. Having committed a combined 10 years and $61 million to linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe last summer, the Dolphins are being forced to find a solution from within, and Misi is at the center of it.
During organized team activities, Miami is experimenting with a shift at the position. The Dolphins moved Ellerbe to the strong side and Misi to the middle. One might consider it a promotion for Misi, who had success against the run on the outside last season.
Having played the outside before, Ellerbe suggested he is comfortable with the move. For Misi, the new role has required extra study of formations and adjustments while fulfilling his coaches’ requests to "be more vocal."
"I was playing outside — I’ve played defensive line, I’ve played outside linebacker," Misi said. "All our reads were from the outside in. I was walked out as No. 2. I’m playing ‘Mike’ now, I’m in the middle. I’m reading everything inside out, dropping in the middle. Everything is different. I’ve got a lot more calls to make, a lot more reads.
"I’ve always been open to anything. Since I got here, I’ve been switching positions. I am always open to try something new. If it works, it works. If not, we’ll go back to the way things were."
Philbin noted Misi’s character and work ethic makes him a strong fit for the play-calling role.
"We think he has great leadership qualities," Philbin said. "We think his play has certainly exemplified that over the period of time I have been here. He plays football the right way. We’re going to see how he adjusts to that position and how he relates to the players at his position and the defense in general."
The Dolphins have only spent four days on the field putting classroom sessions into practice. But defensive lineman Olivier Vernon can already see the improvement behind him.
"Ellerbee is more comfortable on the outside, and Misi is new to [the middle]," Vernon said. "But [Misi’s] playing it very well, like he has played it before. Everybody is being vocal on defense, as it should be, and we expect it to carry out during the season."
The Dolphins are also hoping the move works in order to better utilize their personnel. During Monday’s practice, for instance, linebacker Jelani Jenkins also saw action on the outside, at times replacing Ellerbe.
"In the long term, it’s going to provide us with more depth of whether we stay with it or not," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "It’s hard to get a true evaluation when you’re out here running around in shorts, but certainly you can start to see them getting more comfortable with the positions they are featured in right now. I think so far, so good."
Misi recognized the move is only a start, but agreed he is "feeling a lot more comfortable."