There’s no secret about what the Miami Dolphin’s number one strength is, D-E-F-E-N-S-E! With the off-season currently in full throttle, Miami will look to build upon it’s strength and improve after a sub-par 2011-2012 season.
After the loss of “mastermind” defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan (Now in Atlanta), Miami brought in Kevin Coyle to fill the void after Nolan’s departure. Coyle had previously been in Cincinnati for the past eleven years, coaching the defensive backs (excellent!!!!). Coyle has turned former Miami Dolphins, Chris Crocker and Gibril Wilson, along with former Florida Gator, Reggie Nelson, into very serviceable starters. With Coyle’s new 4-3 hybrid, the pressure placed upon safeties in Nolan’s 3-4 defense, is now non-existent.
With Kevin Coyle now taking the reins of Miami’s strong point, let’s dive into a deeper look at the 2012-2013 Miami Dolphins Defense!
Defensive Tackle: Miami brought NT Paul Soliai back on a two-year, twelve million dollar contract which seemed to be a puzzling move with Miami’s transition to a 4-3 defense. Soliai possesses the versatility to play both nose tackle and defensive tackle, therefore this move deserves an A+. Pairing Soliai with Randy Starks will allow Miami’s linebackers to roam free and rack up tackles. Starks seems more comfortable inside at defensive tackle. He is strong at the point of attack and is quicker off the ball than most Offensive Guards. With Tony McDaniel and Jared Odrick shifting inside on passing downs to spell both Starks and Soliai, Miami has one of the more versatile defensive tackle corps in the NFL.
Defensive End: Wait a minute, Jared Odrick is a defensive tackle, right? Wrong. In Miami’s new 4-3 hybrid defense, I expect Odrick to start on the strong side, with Cameron Wake on the weak side. Odrick has the strength, speed, and quickness to start at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. In Odrick’s second full season, I see Odrick completely breaking out (I’m expecting AT LEAST 8 sacks). With Odrick occupying the strong side, expect Wake to finally have a spectacular season. Wake has all of the qualities to be the best pass rusher in the NFL, not to mention Pro Football Focus rated Cameron Wake as the best Outside Linebacker in the NFL last season. Wake is in line for a more expanded pass rushing role this year. Expect Odrick, as I stated above in the Defensive Tackle category, to shift inside to defensive tackle on passing downs for Paul Soliai (Who is nearly in effective as a pass rusher). Who will fill in for Odrick at defensive end? Two guys to watch for, Jamaal Westerman and Miami’s third round selection, Olivier Vernon. Both are similar in size, speed, and strength. Westerman should get the call early on in the season, but expect Vernon’s role to increase as the season picks up.
Linebacker: Miami has a very good one-two punch at linebacker with Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Both should be in line for a bigger role this season with the shift to a 4-3 scheme. Early expectations were that Dansby would play the Mike role, but I think Burnett has a more natural fit at the Mike spot. Burnett plays more downhill and has better vision than Dansby. Dansby should play at the Sam position covering tight ends and backs coming out of the back field. Koa Misi is the wild card of the bunch, who is a more natural fit at the Will spot, but has the body for the Mike spot. Misi could be in line for a make or break year, especially after Miami signed former Patriot, Gary Guyton during the free agency period. Also, do not sleep on Miami’s fifth round selection, Josh Kaddu, who could end up being the Dime package linebacker and a special teams ace. With all of that being said, Dansby is probably the fastest of the three starters, but all three seem to be interchangeable. As I said before, expect Miami’s linebackers to fly around like mad men this season with the beefed up defensive line in front of them.
Corners: Vontae Davis finally began producing after an incident during the beginning of the season last year. Davis proved to be a shut down corner after a promising rookie and sophomore season, but never really producing. Sean Smith is in a contract year, which should help him play at a high level. But with Smith, “The only thing that’s sure about Sean Smith, is that nothing is for sure…” Smith has all of the tools to be a lock down corner and team with Davis to be one of the better corner tandems in the NFL. BUT, Smith seems to have a great game and then a horrible game. Consistency is needed, which is why Miami brought in Richard Marshall to compete with Smith for the spot opposite Davis. Marshall is a versatile player who can lock down a receiver at corner or at safety. Davis, Marshall, and Smith could end up working out for Miami, or it could end up imploding, reminiscent of what happened in Philadelphia last year.
Safety: Safety is an area of concern for Miami. After releasing fan favorite, Yeremiah Bell, Miami has little to no experience at safety. Reshad Jones, who played well at times last season but has the same consistency issues that Sean Smith has, is almost guaranteed a starting job (Jones has the most experience and highest ceiling). Jones should make the transition to Strong Safety, after playing Free Safety last year, and fill the void left by Bell. The most interesting battle will be at Free Safety. Options include Chris Clemons, former Viking, Tyrell Johnson, and converted corner, Jimmy Wilson. All are viable options for Miami at free safety. Clemons had promising rookie and sophomore campaigns, but took a step backwards last season due to lingering injuries. Johnson shined at moments in Minnesota, but also looked like a junior high player half of the time. Wilson is the wild card. Wilson had a very good rookie season for a late round pick, but also suffered through rookie mistakes. With a full off-season under his belt, Wilson just may be able to beat out his competition to earn a starting role. The safety battle is definitely worth watching this off-season.
Bottom Line: Miami’s defense has been the glue for this franchise for as long as I can remember. With a spectacular run defense and an improving pass defense, look for Miami to be a top the league leaders in all defensive categories. Have faith in your Dolphins fans! Keep your ‘phins up, and as Clyde Gates says, “BIM” (Believe in Miami)!
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