Lets rewind the clock, shall we?
It was 2012, the Dolphins just hired Green Bay Packers’ OC Joe Philbin as head coach. Philbin then proceeds to hire Mike Sherman as Offensive Coordinator(which seemed like a good idea at the time, since he coached QB Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M), and Kevin Coyle as Defensive Coordinator.
Coyle was the Bengal’s DB’s coach from 2003-2011. During that time, the Bengals had 150 interceptions, which was 5th most in the NFL during that span. Coyle coached productive and pro-bowl corners like Artrell Hawkins, Tory James, Deltha O’Neal, Leon Hall, and Johnathan Joseph. Dolphinland was excited to see a coach from a successful defensive tree come in to work with their talented cornerbacks: Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.
However, the Dolphins traded away Vontae Davis during the training camp leading into the 2012 season. This event was widely advertised thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks (the Emmy for Best Producer going to Stephen Ross). By the time Vontae was done calling his grandmother in March of 2013, Sean Smith had left to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
Due to the lack of talent and bad linebacker signings of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, the Miami Defense took a dip in production. According to NFL.com, the Dolphins ranked 21st in defense during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but jumped to 12th overall in 2014. However, after being defeated by the Broncos in Week 12 of the 2014 NFL season, the Dolphin Defense allowed 26.8 points per game for the final 6 games of the season. This period came to be known as “The Mile High Drop”, and led to the Fins going 2-4 down the stretch and missing the playoffs for the 7th straight season.
After the season, rumblings of players disdain for the complexity of Kevin Coyle’s system began to emerge. Young players had difficulty grasping the playbook and complained of its thickness during gameday. Perhaps the playbook was too big, or perhaps this was an example of mentally weak players taking on the personality of their mentally weak coach. Regardless of the reason, instead of telling them to man-up, be professionals, and learn the assignments, Joe Philbin ordered Coyle to dumb it down. So that’s what he did.
During the 2015 offseason, the once overly creative mad scientist ridded the defense of the “5-2” front and the 3rd down “Speed Package”. Granted, both schemes were complex, but both were highly effective. The “5-2” slowed the rushing attack of most opponents, and the Speed Package created big plays on defense(i.e. the home victory against the Patriots in Week 1 of 2014). Unfortunately, simplifying a defense, also simplifies ways for offenses to pick you apart, and that’s exactly what opposing teams did.
“It was very vanilla. Other teams knew it was very vanilla. They went out there and worked their game plan and executed.” – Safety Michael Thomas.
Four weeks into the season, the Dolphins were 1-3, allowing 25.25 points per game, and before you could say “Here we go again”, Kevin Coyle was fired. Despite all the coaching changes, the defense continued to falter and finished 21st against the pass and 28th against the run.
Fast forward to last week when safety Reshad Jones returned from his 1 day $25,000 vacation. Adam Gase is the Head Coach and unofficial OC, and Vance Joseph is the new defensive coordinator. Something Jones said after practice got my attention about the new system...
“It’s pretty much the same stuff we was doing, you know. Different terminology. I feel good about plugging in on the spot on this defense and helping this team… I’m a seasoned vet now. Its pretty much the same defense.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Like Coyle, Vance Joseph was also a defensive backs coach for the Bengals. During his time in Cincinnati from 2014-15, the Bengals Defense racked up 21 interceptions and ranked 11th overall, according to NFL.com.
But what do Reshad Jones’ comments mean?
Will the defense be full of stunts and complexity?
Will the playbook be as thick as Coyle’s? Thicker?
Joseph’s comments throughout this offseason provide some idea of what fans can expect from this defense. In May, he admitted he prefers the 3-4 alignment. But due to the personnel that he is playing with, he will be sticking with the 4-3.
“I don’t want to be a guy who as a coordinator, I’m a 3-4 guy with 4-3 personnel-driven team. I’m not going to say, ‘Well, let’s change it,’ and set us back two or three years. That’s not smart in my opinion. That’s not coordinating. If this team had 3-4 personnel, we’d be a 3-4 defense. I can do both. For me, it’s not a big deal to be a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, it’s just numbers. It would be a shame to come to a place that’s close to being good on defense and then flip it, then you’re three years away again. I didn’t want to do that.”
This is a smart move considering the 4-3 is the best formation to get the most out of Ndamukong Suh. It also shows Joseph is smart enough to adapt to the tools he is given, compared to the stubborn coaches the Dolphins have had in the past trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Kevin Coyle being one of them as the Dolphins switched from Mike Nolan’s 3-4 to Coyle’s 4-3 in 2012(2011 defense fell from 15th overall to 21st in 2012).
As far as complexity, expect the Dolphin D to be constantly moving with the possibility of blitzes coming from anywhere.
“I don’t want to be a defense that’s reacting to the offense. I want to play on our terms… We’re going to be an attack-style defense from every position – from the D-line, corners, safeties, linebackers. Every position.”
Joseph believes this philosophy is guaranteed to cause havoc and create turnovers this upcoming season. But if Miami is going to have a defense that dictates to the offense, we should assume the playbook will have some thickness to it. There are a lot of young players on this team, particularly at cornerback. It’ll be interesting to see which ones maintained their college study habits.