Dolphins relying on players health to improve defense

Oct 16, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Reshad Jones (20) reacts after making an interception catch during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Reshad Jones (20) reacts after making an interception catch during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Dolphins have made a couple of signings on the defensive side of the ball this off-season. It’s not enough.

Ranked near last in stopping the run in 2016 and not much better at stopping the pass, the Dolphins defense needed a makeover and got a touch-up. Miami ranked 30th in run defense and 18th in pass defense and in the end it was this that exited them from the post-season.

Following the Wild Card loss to the Steelers head coach Adam Gase made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the early exit and even a month later he was still complaining about the poor play and execution. Fixing the defense was, is, a priority.

The biggest off-season move thus far was the extension to Reshad Jones who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Miami’s defense suffered greatly without Jones in the lineup. Miami is now hoping that Jones will stay healthy to make the defense better.

it’s a gamble with Koa Misi as well. Misi restructured his contract that gives him $1.7 million guaranteed regardless of whether he is cleared to play or not. That decision won’t come until May. Both the Dolphins and Misi believe he will be cleared but it’s clearly a gamble.

Outside of the internal retention of Kiko Alonso and Reshad Jones as well as offers to Michael Thomas the Dolphins added LB Lawrence Timmons and re-signed Andre Branch. The problem here is two-fold. While Branch was good he wasn’t great and Timmons has seen his production slide over the last two seasons. The caveat however is both have been able to retain their health and Miami is hoping that continues.

The question has to be asked however. Have the Dolphins improved on defense?

It’s a tough question to answer and that answer won’t likely thrill a lot of people because it’s yes and no. Miami is relying on Jones and Misi to be healthy. They are relying on Xavien Howard to be 100% healthy. And they are relying on players to do better than they have been.

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Along the defensive line Earl Mitchell is gone and the replacement is inconsistent Jordan Phillips who has a ton of unrealized talent. Can he become a three down starter who can make an impact?

Here is a look at the defense by position.

Defensive tackles: Miami has not improved here. They are relying on Phillips which could pay off but could also fail. Earl Mitchell wasn’t much help last season so his release was warranted and there is still time to address the position in the draft. For now the Dolphins tackles are no better than last year. So it’s a push.

Defensive ends: Cameron Wake and Andre Branch are both back on the outside and both struggle to set the edge and contain. Wake is more a pass rush specialist who had a very good year in 2016. Branch is a little above average rushing the passer and average against the run. The point is that Miami did not get better at DE but they didn’t get any worse either.

Linebackers: Koa Misi doesn’t make the team stronger. Sorry. There are plenty out there who will show you a ton of stats and will try to make you feel better but in the three games that Misi played in last season, Miami lost all of them. Misi is now a back-up who may be relied up on to start. His health is a serious concern. The signing Timmons is a good move and does improve the Dolphins run defense but he is not a player who will be able to cover tight-ends consistently. Re-signing Kiko Alonso was a smart move but Alonso too has an injury history and has missed time in Philadelphia, Buffalo, and even in Miami last season.

Overall the  Dolphins linebackers are better because of the addition of Timmons but they are not close to moving the Dolphins defensive up the ladder. Miami should still look at the draft for help here and that will improve as well. The addition of Zac Brown would improve the defense as well. For the linebackers only though, Miami has, on paper improved.

Cornerback: This is another push. Miami has not made any significant additions and it really becomes more or less dependent on whether or not Howard can maintain his health and get the practice reps in during training camp. Miami needs Howard to play the full season because while Tony Lippett is good he is good as three not a one or two. Byron Maxwell played much better towards the end of the season than he did early on and maybe that is a sign of what could happen this year.

If Howard stays healthy and Maxwell continues to improve then the Dolphins will be better at cornerback but again, Miami is relying on health to make them better.

Safety: The return of Reshad Jones is huge. He excels at stopping the run and blitzing the quarterback. But the word “health” again comes into play. Adding Nate Allen to play in place of Isa Abdul-Quddus doesn’t make the Dolphins secondary great. IAQ was having a good year before the neck injury derailed his career. Miami released him this off-season.

Safety should be better with the Jones back on the field. So this has improved.

Overall the Dolphins have improved defensively but only as much as their players can stay healthy. While that is a given for any team consider that for the Dolphins, their defensive ability is linked to Jones, Alonso, Howard, and even Misi. If they are all on the field, Miami should be better than last season but take one of those players out and Miami will suffer. Especially given the lack of depth.

So are the Dolphins better on paper than they were last year on the field? Yes. And no.