After dismal showings on defense the past few years, it is not a secret that the Miami Dolphins hope to improve in that area this coming season.
The vast majority of picks in the NFL draft were spent on the defensive side of the ball, and two other offseason moves, signing linebacker Lawrence Timmons and trading for defensive end William Hayes, were geared towards improving a defense that finished the 2016 season ranked an abysmal 29th overall and 30th against the run.
So what went wrong?
Well, in a nutshell, everything. But we’ll let defensive coordinator Matt Burke sum it up.
"Besides poor tackling and injuries?” Burke smirks. “There's just a lot of stuff. That's part of it. I always tell the players this: You give up a 30-yard run … in a game. It's never one person or even one sort of spot. A d-lineman doesn't hold an edge, and a linebacker misses a fit, and then a safety misses a tackle. It's complex.”
Burke continued, “We played some good running backs last year. We played some good running offenses. Sometimes, schematically, we dictated that we needed to really pay attention to the passing game more. It's just week to week. It's varied. No one obviously wants to not have a good run defense. It's not something you go into a game saying. But it's hard to really pinpoint. We're addressing a lot of issues, I think."
When asked about the problems on defense last season, defensive stalwart Ndamukong Suh explained that while he and his defensive linemen take some of the blame, he too feels that there was a learning curve last season that hindered progress.
“I think it starts with us upfront, without question, especially with how the defense is set up,” says Suh. “From the first year, obviously there was a learning adjustment: timing and plays and figuring out how we all wanted to fit in. And then last year, I think we understood where we needed to be, but it just came down to execution.”
This year, the key will be consistency, as the Dolphins defensive scheme is largely the same as last year, as Burke moved from linebackers coach into the defensive coordinator position.
“I think as we move forward, especially coming into these OTAs in particular, and obviously having the same, similar defense,” said Suh. “(Burke is) somebody that this will be my sixth year with him - four years in Detroit and obviously, last year (in Miami). I think there's going to be consistency there. I think it'll be easier for guys to understand where they need to be, where they need to fit, the techniques needed to become obviously a lot more sound, and then execution."
As Offseason Team Activities (OTA) approach, Suh says the time for self-scouting comes to a head and now the focus will be on those areas where the team and individuals need to improve.
“I haven't finished my self-scout,” says Suh. “I've looked at it from my perspective. The coaches have looked at it as well. But it's time now to really just get an opportunity to watch it together and look at some different pieces. The self-scout continues to go on, as well as finding ways to improve.”
It’s especially refreshing to hear Suh talk about how frustrating it was for him to end the season the way the Dolphins did. Yes, they improved to 10-6 and made the playoffs, ending the regular season with nine wins in the final eleven games.
But two lopsided losses to end the season left a bitter taste in Suh’s mouth, and hopefully the rest of the team has the same attitude as Suh as the upcoming offseason workouts approach.
"For me personally, I'm definitely sick and tired of making it to the playoffs and not going further,” said Suh. “And I think everybody feels that particular way. Having a good conversation with the head man, with my time away and my time here, it's a good feeling to feel that guys weren't satisfied with where we were at. It's exciting from my vantage point to see hunger still, because that was not okay the way we finished, especially the last two games of our season."
And Suh will continue to be the quiet leader of this defense.
“I'm supposed to be the anchor, and I plan to be the anchor and continue to be that way.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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