New DC Vance Joseph has plenty to like from revamped Dolphins defense
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- As Vance Joseph began to evaluate the Miami Dolphins' front four, linebackers and secondary in offseason drills, he felt a little uncomfortable about his own position.
The first-time defensive coordinator was unsure how to situate himself or spend his time.
"It's different," Joseph said Monday. "At first I couldn't find a spot to keep myself busy. Now I float from spot to spot."
Joseph typically starts with the defensive backs -- the position he coached before this year -- and then moves forward.
He likes what he sees. Offseason additions on defense have included ends Mario Williams, Andre Branch and Jason Jones, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard, a second-round draft pick. End Cameron Wake has returned from Achilles tendon surgery, and former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan has applied for reinstatement after being suspended for the 2015 season.
Despite the loss of end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Brent Grimes in free agency, new head coach Adam Gase and his staff believe they've upgraded a unit that ranked 28th in the NFL against the pass and 21st against the run in 2015.
Joseph said he's pleased with the attitude and effort in drills, including Monday's OTA.
"Guys have been engaged every day," he said. "That's important. If you're going to be a great defense, you can't take days off. The work ethic has been very impressive."
Some evaluations will have to wait. With four-time Pro Bowlers Williams, Wake and Ndamukong Suh up front, the Dolphins expect to mount a formidable pass rush. But contact has been limited in drills thus far, so Joseph's not quite sure what he's got.
"It's tough," he said. "We're not wearing pads, and obviously for an offensive lineman, it's tough blocking Mario Williams with no pads. The evaluation is going to come better with pads on in training camp.
"We've got great potential with Mario, Cam and Suh. They've got a history of being great pass rushers. But that's on paper. Until we do it, nothing is solid."
Suh has a history of skipping OTAs to train on his own, but he has taken part in team sessions this year, which pleases Joseph.
"They're voluntary workouts," Joseph said. "But it's voluntary to be good. If guys want to be good on defense, they're going to be here working."
Not here working: Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones. He has skipped OTAs because he's seeking a new contract.
"It doesn't hold us back," Joseph said. "I don't even think about it. I move on with guys who are here. That's who we're coaching, and that's who were going to go forward with -- until he shows up."
Joseph said he wasn't sure whether to expect Jones at mini-camp next week, when attendance is mandatory.
The veteran's absence further clouds the outlook in the secondary. The biggest question mark for Joseph is at cornerback, where the only player with much experience is Maxwell, who had a poor season in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Howard and second-round pro Tony Lippett are competing for a starting job opposite Maxwell, and second-year pro Bobby McCain is the front-runner for the nickel spot.
"To be a great secondary, we need three or four guys who can play," Joseph said.
Joseph has been an assistant with five other NFL teams, most recently the Cincinnati Bengals as defensive backs coach in 2014-15. He wants his corners playing press coverage, which is in keeping with an overall aggressive philosophy for his 4-3 scheme.
"He's pretty adamant about us having this attack-style defense," tackle Earl Mitchell said.
"He's brilliant and he's passionate and you can feel it," linebacker Jelani Jenkins said.
It may have taken awhile on the practice field, but Gase said Joseph has found his spot.
"Guys are being held accountable for sure," Gase said. "You look at the effort and energy the defense is playing with, especially up front, and the way these guys are running to the ball, it's impressive."