After overhaul, defense remains Dolphins strength
The Miami Dolphins hired an offensive coordinator as their
coach, then used their first-round pick to draft a quarterback who
will give the ball much of the time to their best-known player,
And yet if they win this season, it will be with defense.
Dolphins defenders get overlooked and believe they’re
”We don’t have a lot of superstars,” linebacker Karlos Dansby
said, ”but we all feel like we’re superstars. That’s our
For the first time since the 1960s, the Dolphins have endured
three consecutive losing seasons, but don’t blame the defense.
Miami ranked eighth in the NFL in offensive points allowed each of
past two years, and went 6-10 in 2011 despite ranking in the top 10
in rushing defense, sacks and third-down stops.
The offense sputtered through most of the four-year Tony Sparano
era. So the Dolphins hired Packers offensive coordinator Joe
Philbin as coach, then courted Peyton Manning before drafting Texas
A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who won the starting job in
There were also changes on defense. Philbin hired as his
defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who had been defensive backs
coach for the Bengals. Coyle switched from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3.
And the Dolphins jettisoned two starters in the secondary, the
weakest part of the defense in recent seasons.
This hasn’t changed: Defense remains the strength of the
”We’re going to have a bunch of guys that do their job at a
high, high level each and every day,” Coyle said. ”I’ve got faith
in this group.”
Miami is especially stout up front, where the charge is led by
end Cameron Wake, who has 28 sacks in three NFL seasons.
”Big players have to step up and make big plays,” Wake said.
”I consider myself one of those guys.”
The Dolphins also expect to be strong inside, where the 4-3
alignment allows them to double up with Paul Soliai and Randy
Starks. Each has made the Pro Bowl, and at a combined 650 pounds,
they’re the biggest reasons the defense should be good.
”In the scheme that we play, to have two interior dominant
players is absolutely key,” Coyle said. ”It forces the offense
into situations where they can’t single block them, and then we’ll
have our linebackers freer to the football, which is what we want.
They’re guys that can not only eat up blockers, but they can make
plays as well. That’s what we’re counting on them to do. We have to
be really strong inside for us to be successful on defense.”
The Dolphins ranked third in the NFL in run defense last year,
giving up just 3.7 yards per carry. A repeat performance would put
the defense in a position to force mistakes, Philbin said.
”That gives you a starting point,” he said. ”If you can make
a team get into a situation where they have to throw the ball, and
they can’t knock you around for 4 or 5 yards on first down on a
consistent basis, I think that gives your defensive play-calling an
While the front seven returns mostly intact, the shaky secondary
has undergone a shakeup. Safety Yeremiah Bell, a five-year starter,
was released in March at age 34, and cornerback Vontae Davis was
traded after losing his No. 1 job in training camp to newcomer
Richard Marshall, who has 17 career interceptions.
Fourth-year pro Chris Clemons replaces Bell, and Coyle is hoping
the changes will produce better ball-hawking. Over the past three
years the Dolphins have 59 takeaways, fewest in the NFL.
Safeties Clemons and Reshad Jones have three career
interceptions between them. Linebackers Dansby, Kevin Burnett and
Koa Misi have not a single fumble recovery in a combined 76 games
with Miami. Even Wake, a Pro Bowl selection in 2010, has not a
single career recovery or interception.
”It’s a point of emphasis in every meeting we have and
everything that we do,” Coyle said. ”It’s kind of the type of
thing that snowballs once you start to get a few early in the
season. There’s a tendency to expect it, and that’s what hopefully
will happen with us as we go through the season.”
The offense could use the help. With a rookie quarterback,
blocking issues and perhaps the NFL’s worst receiving corps, points
will likely be hard to come by. Dominating defense would take a lot
of pressure off Tannehill.
”Next to the running game, we’re his best friend,” Burnett
Kicker Dan Carpenter and punter Brandon Fields are among the
NFL’s best, which means the Dolphins may find themselves counting
on field position to win field goal contests – as was often the
case under Sparano.
”Expectations for this team outside our locker room are pretty
low,” guard Richie Incognito said. ”People don’t expect us to do
much, which is fine. We have to prove their expectation levels are
wrong, and we can only do that by having success on the
Following an offseason overhaul, dominating defense remains the
Dolphins’ best hope.
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and