By: Hussam Patel
Defense wins championships and that's widely known to any coach, player and fan. Certainly, last year's dolphins defense was not primed in any way to compete for a championship and was a disaster. This year is a whole new defensive team with an infusion of rookie’s vets and leftovers from previous seasons. Now look I am not rushing to say the dolphins have a championship defense, after 6 weeks they look pretty good.
Hanging around playoff teams, New England, Buffalo and Seattle in one score games, compared to last year is a massive improvement. A complete destruction of Jacksonville, the 49ers and the Jets, The Dolphins Defense look to build upon their streak against the Los Angeles Rams.
Let's take a deep dive into the Dolphins Main Linebacker Core.
Coming onto his own in his 1st year in Brian Flores’ Defense and earning the green dot on his helmet, calling the plays for the Dolphins defense, his versatility in the run blocking and pass rush game has put value into the Linebacker Core. Per PFF his snap counts Baker has played the following: 214 as an off-ball Linebacker, 114 and an EDGE defender, 20 as a slot defender, 5 out wide and 2 as a FS during end of halves.
He’s been astute in coverage and lodging 2 sacks as a rusher and key piece in Miami multiple defensive looks. While not tallying a lot of sacks Baker does pressure the Quarterback a lot when blitzing which allows teammates to beat their matchup and sack the QB.
Kyle Van Noy
Known as “KVN”, another addition coming from New England and familiar with Brain Flores. Versatility is the name of his game, he can play zone coverage, man coverage and blitzing the Quarterback. Van Noy is able to lineup and has the build to play multiple positions in different fronts in the Dolphins defense as a SAM, WILL, EDGE which allows him to defeat run blocks and beat blocks to put pressure on opposing QBs. He has been a critical cog in this defense.
Another new Miami Dolphin reuniting with Brian Flores, Elandon Roberts embodies much of the mental and physical make-up Coach wants in his players. Roberts is a throwback; a physical, downhill pursuit player that seeks and initiates contact, and beats blocks by taking them head on. Has been beat multiple times is the pass game with a step slow.
The reason why the Dolphins let go of Raekwon McMillian is because both Roberts and McMillian have the same skill-set as tenacious run stoppers, but weak in the pass game. Having McMillian made no sense for the Dolphins future plans with Roberts penciled in and McMillian being a Free Agent. Did I also mention he can also play Full back?
Another defensive acquisition this free agency, Kamu Grugier-Hill has developed into a rotational defender in sub-packages and excelling on special teams. At 230 pounds developing into a rotational defender. Not only that he is one tough son of a gun. Breaking a bone in a 24-0 win over the Jets, stitched it back up and came back into the game.
He had a great game against the win over the Jaguars recording 8 tackles and pressuring Gardner Minshew all over the place. Another key ingredient we see with the Dolphins Linebackers is versatility to rush the QB and Grugier-Hill does that. Coming into the season and in week 1 exposed Grugier-Hill's ability to come off blocks in the run game he practiced the technique and learned from his mistakes to efficiently take on blocks and could see an increased role later on in the season.
Andrew Van Ginkel
Coined “AVG” and the sophomore goldilocks coming out of Wisconsin, seeing an increase in snaps after Vince Biegel’s season ending injury totaling the following snaps as detailed by my colleague Ron Hiatt. Don’t let his 6’4 240lb frame fool you, he’s very fluid in coverage and can sneak around tackles to set the edge and sack the quarterback.
Flores has cited he’s gotten much better in his 2nd year progression. “He’s even stronger” as LB Coach Austin Vlark said he improved his off-season regiment which allows him to handle bigger tackles. His progression is worth watching and could possibly take snaps from KVN and Elandon Roberts if he continues to improve.
Playing last season as a rotational LB and a substitute for the main LB core played very minimally last season but has increased due to injuries to KVN and AVG. Having someone come off the bench like Eguavoen is beneficial and solidifies the Linebackers depth. He saw an increase in snaps in the San Francisco game and the Jets game noting preparation, while not a starter, is essential who started six games last season, had played less than a dozen snaps on defense all season before logging 49 snaps on Sunday. His work ethic is amazing- “ “You prepare so much for this team, [you think] this might be my time and it doesn’t happen. But I don’t regret the hard work. I could still be on the streets. Why not use my time studying my opponents”
Long gone are the days of previous Dolphins Linebacker greats such as Zach Thomas and Channing Crowder, and look better compared to having Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe. An infusion of versatility and mix of different coverages and packages utilizing Baker, KVN, AVG, Roberts, Grugier-Hill and Eguavoen has bolstered the Dolphins LB corps, while missing Vince Biegel due to a season ending-injury. Flores and Co. have taught them well, communicated well and put them in positions to excel against their match-ups.
(Link to Part I)
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