Today begins the first mandatory mini-camp for the Miami Dolphins. While Jason Taylor will skip this camp and then of course be fined by the team for his absence, the rest of the players will begin the hard road of recovery from a 1-15 record last year.
Let’s be fair though, half of these guys do not deserve to carry last years debacle on their on their shoulders. Nor does the current coaching staff…in fact, only one coach remains from last years staff and he has a Bill Parcells connection.
While most will continue to focus on the quarterbacks, as evident in the local media blogs and articles, the real questions will come in the form of the defense. Allow me to explain.
At quarterback we already know that Josh McCown and John Beck will be the two who will battle for the number 1 spot but we also know that while we can watch them throw to receivers who are not wearing full pads and not taking the big shots over the middle, the only thing to watch is their mechanics. The real competition begins when the pads come on and we see how those mechanics are put to use and who has a better grasp of the playbook.
Over on the defense however we get a bit of a chance to really look at how some of these guys are going to transition to a 34 defense or at a new position all together. I’m not talking about the bull rushing and run stopping NT’s and DE’s, I’m talking about linebackers. Matt Roth will likely see time on the OLB, Charlie Anderson and Reggie Torbor will be on the inside and Joey Porter will be on the outside as well.
While they can’t “hit” anyone, they can react. The reaction of a LB is something you can watch without pads, without contact. I know because I used to coach the position. Read and react. While the DT’s go through hand to hand combat on the interior, it’s more of a sumo wrestling match than a UFC fight. The LB’s are making their presence known.
To fully grasp what I am talking about, consider this. A cornerback and safety are not going to light up a WR on a go route, they are not going meet that WR at the point of the catch. They will either try and knock the ball down instead of the player or they will try and take the ball out of the air. It’s non-contact.
A defensive end will rush the QB but he will not sack him or even touch him. Same with the interior defenseman. During a run play, the D’line become bullfighters and give it their best two hand touch while yelling “Ole'”! The LB’s won’t do any hitting either, but their practice is a bit different.
Reading and reacting doesn’t need contact. The interior LB’s will have to read the play from the start. Run or pass? While they are not likely to work on formulated blitzing schemes, they will work on filling gap holes, pursuit angles, and end support. Read a play action pass and the MLB’s will need to know where their passing lane assignments are, the drop zone depth, and watch for TE’s and RB’s out of the back-field. For LB’ers there is no such thing as taking a play off in a mini-camp. You can lose your starting spot or a roster spot if your on the bubble just easily as you could if the staff finds out you can’t hit hard enough.
Matt Roth is one such player. He will be lining up both on the end and moving back to OLB. Too small and too slow for the DE spot in a 34, Roth will have to eventually make it as a LB instead if he wants to stay with the Dolphins. He will be one to watch this weekend. You can teach a LB to read and how to react to a given play, but you can’t teach the quickness in that reaction, you can’t teach the drive to a LB to be successfully. While the rest of the defense concentrates on their playbook and the audible signals, the LB’s will be concentrating on their playbook, the signals, and much, much more.
If your looking to see how our defense may unfold this early your best bet would be to ignore the hype and knocks on the two QB’s and read more of what is said about the LB’s instead.