Rebuilt Secondary is a Microcosm of Dolphins New Direction

Football is the ultimate team game. Stats only tell a partial truth that must be backed up with what the eye in the sky says because different assignments and play responsibilities can have a “trickle-down effect” on a player’s teammates. Sure, losing Cam Wake mid-season hamstrung (Achilles-strung?) the pass rush. But the primary culprit in being the 26th ranked pass defense was a sheer lack of talent in the secondary. Aside from the talent, a lack of cohesion loomed even larger. That ranking reflects yards per-play, not volume yardage, for those that were eager to correct me.

No longer will we see the diminutive Brent Grimes playing an off-man coverage on one side of the field with Brice McCain or Jamar Taylor not only trying to figure out which coverage they’re in, but which sport in general they are currently playing.

The trio of Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier laid out an objective to get bigger, stronger and more physically imposing in the secondary. The project isn’t complete just yet as there are still a few unknowns at some key positions – but if you read my first piece, you’re starting to recognize the trend of purpose and direction with this franchise. Going from dysfunction to clear direction was phase number one of the rebuild.

Grimes, McCain, Taylor are all on to different clubs. Newcomers Byron Maxwell and rookie second round pick Xavien Howard join incumbents Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain as the likely top four on the cornerback depth chart when training camp opens in seven weeks. Sixth round rookie Jordan Lucas and the former consensus number one cornerback in college football, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are also in the mix.

Vance Joseph was brought in to coordinate the defense and these additions all point to a central identity coach Joseph is trying to impose. A physical defense following the trend of the ever adapting NFL landscape that is leaning towards longer, more physically imposing receivers.

Below are the measurements of the 2016 Dolphins cornerbacks that figure into the fray. Now the depth chart is extremely tentative at this moment (it’s only June) but if I had to forecast the depth chart, it would go as follows.

Byron Maxwell: 6-1, 207 lbs.

Tony Lippett: 6-2, 192 lbs.

Bobby McCain: 5-9, 195 lbs.

Xavien Howard: 6-0, 201 lbs.

Jordan Lucas: 6-0, 194 lbs.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: 5-9, 194 lbs.

The two clear outliers are McCain and Ifo, but you’ll notice their weight is pretty close to the guys that stand four-six inches taller than them – and their style of play reflects it. They both want to hit skill players in the mouth first and ask questions later.

Moving into the front seven, a lot of guys are being brought in to execute specific roles that they were successful in the past with other teams – but we’ll touch more on that later.

Much like he did with the Seattle Seahawks, Byron Maxwell is set to lock down one side of the field. You won’t see the Dolphins corners chasing particular receivers to varying sides of the formation. Maxwell will play one side and the battle for the other is between Lippett and Howard.

lippett
Big Things Expected From Big Tony Lippett

The mainstay is that the scheme is defined. We’re going to see a press-man cover two with the corners playing more of a trail technique. So if you’re longing for the days of Grimes and McCain playing 15 yards off on 3rd down and 12 and allowing for simple completions and conversions, I’ve got bad news: 1.) You’re a Jets fan so why the fuck are you reading this? 2.) We’ve got real football coaches on this team now so you might have to go down to the local Y to see Joe Philbin and his staff running PowerPoint seminars on proper bed checking procedures.

In the slot will likely be Bobby McCain. He was one of my favorite picks of recent Dolphins draft memory and did what he does best late in his rookie campaign – find the football. He’s going to jump some routes in this more aggressive, attacking style of defense employed by Vance Joseph.

You all know about Reshad Jones and his defensive player of the year worthy 2015 season. You also remember Kevin Coyle preaching the idea that two safeties are interchangeable and there is no weak/strong safety in his scheme. Luckily, for us, that’s the only similarity coach Joseph employs. Newcomer Isa Abdul-Quddus (or Isis, as the podcast boys so aptly named him) has a lot of experience in this style of defense. He was a stalwart in the Lions secondary late last year coming down close to the line of scrimmage and defending the edges on run plays.

Now while Jones excels at doing a lot of those same things, this only frees him up more to read the quarterback’s eyes, have more downfield responsibility, and blitz even more frequently. The more ground we can make Jones responsible for, the better this defense will be.

So you have an idea of the direction they’re going with this secondary, but the plan floods into the linebackers and down linemen as well. There are aspects of the Bills 2014 wide 9 defensive like look. There are also parts from the Lions scheme, which is very similar, from the past two years that will accompany the additions of Jim Washburn and Kevin Burke. Each had a heavy hand in the early development of the wide 9 fronts and have brought over players familiar with the scheme.

The most obvious improvement will come from Ndamukong Suh getting back to the exact same role he played in Detroit that saw him earn multiple all-pro selections. Mario Williams won’t have to harbor his foot fetish blackmail over Rex Ryan for dropping him into coverage as he’s going to have his hands in the dirt with an eye on playing the run and a focus on hitting quarterbacks. Jason Jones could get the bulk of the base 4-3 looks with Cameron Wake fulfilling that Trace Armstrong role getting a concentrated number of pass rush snaps.

Playing the wide 9 up front requires an athletic linebacker that can cover sideline to sideline and drop down the pipe and cover the seam. Say what you will about his injury history, but there aren’t many MIKE linebackers better in coverage than Kiko Alonso.

There were a lot of questions about what exactly this team was doing with its initial off-season period in letting three key cogs from the 2015 team walk. I’m with everyone on Lamar Miller being set free – I just can’t understand that move. Olivier Vernon now holds the distinction of most overpaid player in the league and Rishard Matthews was simply caught in a log jam.

This team identified what it does well, what it does poorly, and how it can build off of those two concepts. This is going to be a process. Typically, 6-10 teams with a 20 year track record of sheer mediocrity don’t get repaired overnight (although this is the NFL and that kind of thing does happen on occasion.) But the Dolphins focus is to become a consistent contender that adapts its scheme to fit the players it has.

We attacked the defensive side of the ball getting players that fit what we can do from the outset. On offense, coach Gase was given a bevy of mismatch nightmares through the draft. There is structure, there’s a plan, and the front office and coaching staff are aligned in sticking to that project.

Complete dysfunction is a thing of the past. Our team logo may as well have been Joe Philbin’s stupid, bewildered confused face applauding the team off the field after another three and out for the last four years. Now, we may as well change it to Ndamukong Suh stomping on quarterbacks – preferably Tom “Uggs” Brady.

 

Contact Travis Wingfield:

E-mail: traviswingfield@yahoo.com

Twitter: @twingfield2

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