Miami coach’s mandate to be more physical comes with a cost
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) The Miami Dolphins tussled in a rugby-style scrum when practice began Wednesday, with younger players encircled by veterans and challenged to fight their way out of the pack.
”It was just something I thought up,” interim coach Dan Campbell said.
Since replacing Joe Philbin 2 1/2 weeks ago, Campbell has stressed the need to be more physical and aggressive. His lobbying paid off Sunday with a 38-10 win at Tennessee, which the Dolphins (2-3) trumpet as a turnaround in their season.
But for defensive end Olivier Vernon, the pedal-to-the-metal approach comes with a cost: He said he was fined by the NFL for a late, low hit that injured Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Vernon planned to appeal and declined to say how much he was fined. He hit the rookie quarterback’s left knee and drew criticism from Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who said it appeared Vernon was trying to hurt Mariota.
”It was nothing that was intentional,” Vernon said. ”Obviously quarterbacks are defenseless when they’re passing the ball. That’s a given. If that was my intent, I should have gotten fined the max.”
Mariota sprained his MCL but didn’t miss a snap. He finished the game with a brace on his knee.
Vernon apologized after the game to Mariota, who said he didn’t consider the hit malicious. On the play, Vernon drew the first of two penalties he received for roughing the passer.
Campbell didn’t view those infractions as negative repercussions from his mandate to be more aggressive.
”We’re just trying to play football,” he said. ”It’s no different than anybody else.”
And the new head coach offered support for Vernon.
”I just told him I know he’s not a dirty player,” Campbell said. ”He’s trying to get to the quarterback.”
The Dolphins did – they had six sacks after totaling one in the first four games. Cameron Wake had his first four sacks of the season and was chosen AFC defensive player of the week, while Vernon added his first sack of the year.
Miami also outrushed an opponent for the first time this year, 180-63, and would happily settle for the same thing Sunday against Houston.
Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who has played 20 games against Miami, noted the transformation under Campbell.
”The Dolphins got back to doing what they do best – running the ball,” Wilfork said. ”Last week everybody got a sneak peek at what they really are. They are a ground-and-pound team. They’re tough. They’re physical. As you can see, their coach got them fired up to play, and they responded. We’re going to get their best.”
Campbell, noting the Dolphins’ history of inconsistency, is doing what he can to ensure Wilfork’s correct. The coach has shortened practices but added more contact.
The scrum at the start of Wednesday’s workout was the latest wrinkle, with flailing arms and elbows making it look like a playground free-for-all.
”It’s fun. They were just messing around with each other,” said Campbell, a former NFL tight end. ”When you have the young guys in the middle and they have to find a way to get outside the circle, it kind of gets everybody fired up a little bit. It just created a little bit of energy.”
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