With the knowledge that Vance Joseph has accepted the head coaching position for the Denver Broncos, replacing the retired Gary Kubiak, all reports have indicated that Dolphins head coach will be looking from within to fill the vacant defensive coordinator position.
The man for the job will more than likely be linebacker coach Matt Burke, who accepted the job as the Dolphins linebacker coach after previously spending stints with the Detroit Lions (2009-13) and Cincinnati Bengals (2014-15) in the same position.
On the surface, this seems like a very questionable move by Gase, promoting a position coach to a coordinator position when it was his unit that was the key weakness on the defense all throughout the season. Miami's defense gave up the third most rushing yards in the NFL in 2016 with a whopping 2,247.
Only the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers gave up more yards than the Dolphins on the ground. The respective records of those two teams? Cleveland went 1-15, San Francisco went 2-14.
How did Miami manage to go 10-6? The offense managed to score its fair share of points, the defense finished the season ranked 11th in turnovers, but truth be told, the Dolphins went 10-6 through nothing less than sheer force of will. They were determined to win those game and they did.
It speaks highly of the new culture, but culture alone cannot maintain success. Miami cannot and will not continue being successful if their defense can't find a way to stop the run, and that largely fell on Matt Burke's linebacker unit to make plays as the defensive line focused mainly on rushing the passer through Jim Washburn's Wide-9 technique.
So it begs the question. Why on Earth would Adam Gase choose Burke - whose linebacker corps was among the worst in the NFL from the very beginning - to take over as the defensive coordinator?
No doubt that Adam Gase will come up with a different answer, but one thing we can definitely say right now is that Burke has experience with teams whose linebacker corps has been successful in the past. With both the Lions and the Bengals, the linebackers were key units on the defense, without which their defenses would not be nearly as formidable.
When you think of the Bengals defense, you think of the players at the linebacker position. Guys like Vincent Rey, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict, all talented linebackers that have been the core of the Cincinnati defense for several seasons. Burke coached those players for two seasons, and those two seasons, they had the 20th ranked rushing defense (2014) and then the 7th ranked rushing defense (2015).
Back during Burke's Lions years, the rushing defense wasn't exactly something to brag about, ranking within the 20s against the run, all except for his final two seasons in Detroit, when the rushing defense improved to 16th and then 6th in 2012-13.
So why did the Dolphins defense flop so spectacularly this season if Burke (and of course Vance Joseph) are so qualified to be doing what they do? Simply put, personnel is - and has been - an issue. Think back to the past season and a half, when the Dolphins suddenly, inexplicably, lost all ability to stop the run. It started during the Broncos game in 2014, and never went back to being good.
Who were the linebackers at the time? Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi was there and so was Jelani Jenkins. But none of those names are players you would consider starting caliber, even if the Dolphins - at the time - apparently thought so.
Then Jenkins had a breakout season and he took over for Ellerbe after his injury. Misi played in the middle with Wheeler on the other end. At the time, mind you, the defense was able to stop the run. But also bear in mind that the defensive line was less lopsided in its structure. Jared Odrick and Randy Starks were able to stop the run as well as rush the passer to an extent.
Ndamukong Suh can also stop the run, but he's primarily a pass rusher. As for Earl Mitchell, he would be an excellent backup, but he doesn't have a specific thing he's good at. Jordan Phillips is also a pass rusher, despite his wide frame. So the defensive line lets running backs break free now.
Odrick and Starks are long gone, and so is Miami's run support.
When Reshad Jones turns out to be your best linebacker, you know there's a personnel issue, so it isn't fair to blame everything on the coaches. Linebacker has been an issue for the Dolphins ever since the departure of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett shortly after the end of the 2012 season. Then head coach Joe Philbin didn't appreciate their tendency to be vocal, and the rest is history.
Can Burke do the job of defensive coordinator? Reports are that Burke was already very involved in the defense game-planning, along with Vance Joseph, and Adam Gase counts on Burke for a lot. If it's truly a matter of trusting in Adam Gase - which he's proven fans should - then heed Gase's decision and trust that Burke has what it takes.
Unproven does not mean bad, which Gase has already clearly demonstrated. Burke - for all anyone can predict - may be the next great defensive coordinator in the NFL. Will Gase explore other possibilities? Surely he will. But Burke seems to be the favorite and there's no reason to believe that - after a LB corps overhaul - the defense won't improve in 2017.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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