During the 2014 season, the Miami Dolphins defense went through a series of hills and valleys as they were largely inconsistent throughout the second half of the season. While some of that can be blamed on injuries and lack of depth, it can also be blamed on the complexity of the defense under coordinator Kevin Coyle. Thus, when Joe Philbin was debating whether or not to let Coyle go this offseason, he came to the realization that this style of defense could work if things were simplified. That’s why in 2015, the defense is going to be just that throughout the season.
"It all starts with looking at what our players doing best. Once we establish that - and we spent a lot of time looking at everything through the end of the season and assessing the issues we had; the problems we had and things we need to do better,” Coyle said. “We have developed and come up with a plan that we think will allow our players to utilize their talents to the best of their ability and to get the kind of repetition that we need in order to play fast and decisive on defense.”
Philbin went into a little more detail, talking about how there are going to be less packages and substitutions throughout the game.
"It started as the staff has put together the plan for OTAs. As I think I mentioned at the Owner's Meetings, some of it is the multiplicity of different groupings and different packages. So far, I think we've trimmed that down a little bit and then it's the volume within each concept because how can you get the guys repetitions. Everything is really starting now. Even the way we rotate people to get them exposure to different coverages for example, young players, we want Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain to get a sense of hey, some of our fire zone coverages, some of our cloud coverages, some of our man coverages. We're looking to expose these guys to different things, to find out more about them and what they do well, but at the same time, trying to keep the focus narrow."
Coyle noted that this doesn’t mean the defense will be plain and vanilla. Instead, it will still be one that attacks and is aggressive.
“Ultimately, that's going to be our charge to put together a defense that is aggressive, attacking. And yet our players can handle everything with it. I think they're doing an outstanding job. I'm so impressed with the way they've been working through four days, particularly handling a lot of multiplicity from our offense - motion, shifting, movement almost on every play. This is not like Football 101 out here. And yet, our mental errors have been down. Even the young players are really grasping it quickly. So that's very encouraging."
Philbin echoed those sentiments and said that the defense he ultimately oversees as the head coach should be one that is always looking for a turnover, regardless of where they are on the field and what the situation is.
“I mean one of the things we showed to the team the first day of OTA practice was our turnover ratio over a three year period and while the trend is positive, we're moving it in the right direction we've got to accelerate it more and part of the way of doing that is you can get your hands on the football. You've got to make those plays when they present themselves. So that's something that's going to be big emphasis from now until the season ends."
At the end of the day, Coyle is confident that simplifying the defense, having less substitution packages and keeping certain guys on the field as much as possible is going to create a lot of disadvantages for the opposing offense because they won’t be able to pinpoint their game-plan around the Dolphins’ different packages.
‘As Coach (Joe Philbin) described I think to you all earlier in the winter time or in the spring, it's not so much the volume of what you do, it's when you start creating different packages with different personnel, a way of trying to get the repetitions that you feel confident you've gotten enough work with the right players in at certain times, and I think that's what we're trying to take a look at. To me, the more you can do with the players that are on the field, I'm talking about in a third-down situation and not have to be subbing. The harder it is for the offense because they're looking at your subs just like you're looking at theirs, so when they see certain guys come in the game, they may have, ‘OK, they're going to be in one of these three, four, five things.' Whereas if you keep certain groups in the game along the period of time, you have the whole gamut of what you have in the defensive package to run. If you have the athletes that can do that, fortunately we've got some of those guys and I think that's going to be a point of emphasis for us as we're moving forward."
It’s great to see the coaching staff adapting as they grow into their roles. This is a definite change from previous years and we can only hope that it will pay off positive dividends this coming season.
This story was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs