Written by Alain Poupart of MiamiDolphins.com
There are a couple of significant differences with Dion Jordan from this same time last year, one there for all to see and another one not so obvious. Combined, it’s those two changes that could make one big difference on the field in the fall. The obvious difference is Jordan’s physique and the extra 15 pounds of muscle he’s put on since the end of his rookie season. That was quite the topic of conversation the first time the media got a look at Jordan this spring.
“It’s not a big deal at all,” Jordan said. “Have you seen my frame, man? Does it look like I’m getting too big? I don’t think so. I just have to make sure I stay healthy. That’s part of being healthy. When I had the shoulder injury, I wasn’t able to do (much) in the weight room because I was injured. But now I had time to take care of my body and it’s a lot easier now. I would never sacrifice my speed for weight.
“It’s good. I don’t want it too big too fast. I’m still young. I’m sure the weight will come. So I’m not in a rush.”
Jordan was able to pick up strength in the offseason because he was able to lift weights, which wasn’t the case last year because he was recovering from shoulder surgery.
The rehabilitation was doubly damaging for Jordan after he was taken third overall by the Dolphins in the 2013 NFL draft because it also forced him to miss all of the offseason practices and even some during training camp.
As a result, Jordan played catch-up throughout his rookie season, both physically and mentally.
So while Jordan’s production in 2013 – 24 tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits — might have been disappointing, in many ways it was understandable.
Now that Jordan is up to speed on all counts, the Dolphins are excited to watch him try to deliver on the immense potential that made him the first defensive player drafted in 2013.
“Certainly, Dion wished he had a bigger rookie season and so do we, but we have great expectations for Dion Jordan coming into this year,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “You cannot have enough great pass rushers and we feel that with Dion at full speed, we have a prime-time player that’s going to explode this year.”
The reality is that the Dolphins, according to Coyle, contemplated having Jordan spend his entire rookie season on injured reserve because of the obstacles he had to deal with.
Then as the season went along, questions persisted as to why Jordan wasn’t getting more playing time. One simple answer was that Jordan wasn’t needed as much as he might have been because of Olivier Vernon’s sudden development at defensive end.
“As it went, we wished we could have gotten more, but situationally, we knew where his strengths were, where he had not gotten enough work,” Coyle said. “We didn’t want to expose him, nor the team. You also have to look at the fact that Olivier Vernon came on and had a stellar sophomore season. He came out and we knew that he was going to be a good player for us. He really came on and so the need to try to say, ‘We’ve got to get Dion in there,’ wasn’t quite as extreme as you might have thought going into the year with the kind of season that Olivier was having.
“With those two things being said, Dion has a season under his belt in which he played a role, scheme, with us and we expect him to certainly have a much more feature role this year.”
Exactly what kind of role remains to be determined.
Clearly, with Vernon and Cameron Wake, the Dolphins have two tremendous defensive ends to put in the starting lineup.
That said, Jordan is just too special a talent not to utilize.
At different times last year, he lined up as a pure defensive end and headed straight for the quarterback; at other times, he stood up in the middle of the defensive line and dropped back into coverage. He also got playing time on special teams.
Head Coach Joe Philbin said during the spring the focus moving forward might be on having Jordan rush the passer, although his ability to play different roles might come into play as well.
“The thing that we look for with him when we drafted him was it was a guy that was going to be able to put pressure on the quarterback,” Philbin said. “One of the big things we feel that’s important for our defense is to continually pressure opposing quarterbacks. And that was really the mind-set when we took him.”
Regardless of what he does, Jordan says he’s better prepared to deal with NFL offensive linemen now that he’s stronger.
“I needed it,” Jordan said. “I was definitely too light to be out there trying to go against some of those offensive tackles. For me mainly it wasn’t the weight, it was more just getting stronger. I said, I’m still young, I’m sure the weight will come, but this league, it’s a grown man’s league, so I gotta make sure I’m strong enough.
“It’s a huge difference, just as far as me being able to finish plays and get these guys off me. That’s the main thing.”
Jordan singled out Randy Starks as someone who helped him get stronger in the offseason. He also benefited for a while this spring from the tutelage of Jason Taylor during his stint as guest coach.
It all should add up to a stronger and wiser Jordan, and both he and Philbin insist he’s just as fast as ever.
It makes for interesting possibilities starting in late July when training camp opens.
Jordan certainly is excited about what’s in store.
“Hey, I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I put everything that happened last year in the past and I’m just working to continue to get better and continue to just better myself as a player and do whatever I need to do to get better.
“I feel like I already showed I have the will and the wants to go out there and do whatever it takes to win. Just see me out there and being more productive, helping these guys out on the defensive line.
“This year I had the opportunity to have an offseason to where I can take care of my body. It’s a different subject last year. I’m just trying to move forward and continue to try to better myself in a lot of areas.”