Early reports out of Dolphins training camp indicate that the defensive unit is already looking like a well-oiled machine, which should come as no surprise to Miami faithful. A deep, talented front seven has been upgraded over the course of the off-season and figures once again to be the squad’s linchpin for success. But what may surprise some fans is just how improved this defense may be with another year under the same regime, which has to put a smile on defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s face.
Last year’s seventh-ranked squad in points allowed welcomes back a core of veteran talent with a handful of upgrades. Jeff Ireland’s surprise jettison of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett opened the door for younger, faster models at the position in Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. Cam Wake should finally get some help in getting after the quarterback, thanks to the drafting of Dion Jordan and improvement shown by Olivier Vernon. Top-ranked safety duo Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons return to build on last season’s success. Even veteran addition Vaughn Martin has made his presence felt early on.
If a weakness has been pointed out, the finger is almost exclusively fixed on the cornerback position. Commentary over Miami’s pass defense often alludes to big plays down the field and receivers beating their man one-on-one. Look for that to change this season.
Entering his second year with the Dolphins, Coyle’s fingerprints are all over the secondary. Quick, athletic players designed to react and attack have replaced the larger, physical corners inherited by Coyle. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were uncomfortable and sluggish in zone coverage, part of the reason they are no longer around. Draft picks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis embody the smaller, quick-twitch guys who can beat receivers to the spot. In what may be the steal of the century, Brent Grimes brings an electric dynamic to pair alongside starter Richard Marshall. This group has been hand-selected by Coyle to fit his system and the results will begin to show.
The secondary will also receive a boost from an improved pass rush. Outside of Wake, the Dolphins were anemic in consistently pressuring the quarterback in 2012. Long pass sequences allowed down field and broken play completions regularly. A faster collapsing pocket should pay dividends for Miami’s speedy coverage.
Remember, Kevin Coyle spent the previous eight years as defensive backs coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. If Miami’s only perceived deficiency on the defensive side of the ball lies within his area of expertise, then the rest of the league is officially on notice.