“Both win,” Joseph told me. “And I’ve been a 3-4 guy most of my career. But when you come to a place like this and see the defensive personnel you’ve got, and, in my opinion, it’s not broken, you can’t all of a sudden go to 34 where you have to re-draft to a defense. That takes time. That takes too much time.
“And I don’t want to be a guy who as a coordinator, I’m a 34 guy with 43 personnel driven team. I’m not going to say, ‘Well, let’s change it,’ and set us back two or three years. That’s not smart in my opinion. That’s not coordinating. If this team had 34 personnel, we’d be a 34 defense. I can do both. For me, it’s not a big deal to be a 34 or 43 defense, it’s just numbers. It would be a shame to come to a place that’s close to being good on defense and then flip it, then you’re three years away again. I didn’t want to do that.”
Then there’s this from VJ
“Absolutely,” he said. “Because in spurts last year, you could see they put up good stats against good people. But in spurts they also didn’t look very good. But it wasn’t because of effort or I wouldn’t say even scheme. I don’t know what it was. You watch the film and they did some really good things last year. A couple of games it got out of whack. But between Cam and those guys, you have good, solid NFL players here. So we’re capable of playing good defense. And I expect we’ll play good defense.”
OK, so I’m going to get the 800 LB gorilla in the room out of the way right now, because you know my feelings on one Mr. Suh, but heading into free agency and the draft, besides having your defensive centerpiece who happens to be a 4-3 DT, what else about our defense mandated that we’re a 4-3 defense? I’ll tell you, nothing. We began to fill in our roster before the draft with a bunch of 4-3 DE’s, adding to what we already had in Cam Wake, who we obviously believe is going to be a force with the contract extension.
Let’s look at the timeline . . .
We cut DE Quinton Coples 2/16. Not that Coples is a franchise player, but at 6’5″ 290, ideal for playing 3-4 DE. Coples, still on his rookie contract was due $1.75M this season, and was a $3M cap hit. We signed on 3/8, DE Mario Williams, who last year was miscast as an OLB in the 3-4 defense, and is better suited as a 4-3 DE. We then on 3/9 make the trade for CB Byron Maxwell, and LB Kiko Alonso, for the price of moving back just 5 spots in the 1st RD, from #8 to #13. A very good trade if the 2 aforementioned players play well and start for the Dolphins this season. VJ got his big CB, but Alonso is clearly a 4-3 MLB or OLB, not a 3-4. The reason I point this out, is because VJ determined what kind of personnel we acquired, so in essence, him saying we had 4-3 personnel was really saying Suh is a 4-3 DT, and we’re going to build around that. I’m not going to hide my feelings on that, you know where I stand, and hopefully, it works out.
After the trade for Maxwell and Alonso, we continued to sign 4-3 DE’s, starting on 3/17 with DE Andre Branch (6’5″ 265). We then re-signed LB Spencer Paysinger, who is a special teams and depth player. On 4/5, we signed the just waived by the Browns CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5’9″ 195). On 4/18, we signed DT Chris Jones (6’1″ 295), waived by the New England Patriots. Ekpre-Olomu not the prototypical CB VJ likes, but Chris Jones, fits the smaller, quicker, penetrating type of 4-3 DT he prefers.
Then came the draft, and despite the fact many of us, not of all of us expected some help for the defense, the only major defensive pick was 2nd RD CB Xavien Howard (6’0″ 201). In the 6th RD, we picked up hybrid (CB/S) Jordan Lucas (6’0″ 201), again, prototypical size for what VJ is looking for, bigger cornerbacks. The rest of the draft, 6 picks in total, went towards the offense. I’ll talk about that next week, but for now, let’s stay focused on the defense.
So, pre-draft free agency came and went, and the actual draft is over too, so the only thing left now is post-draft free agency, where any player signed does NOT count against next years compensatory pick entitlement. It appears that our first target is DE Jason Jones (6’5″ 272). Once again, adding veterans to our D-line. We will not be relying on younger players in our d-line rotation, that much is clear. On the back end of the defense, that’s a different story, but it’s clear our D-line rotation will be veteran, sprinkled in with some youth. There is no official depth chart right now, but this is how I see it.
Base 4-3 defense
RE – Andre Branch 6’5″ 265
DT – Earl Mitchell 6’3″ 310
DT – Ndamukong Suh 6’4″ 320
LE – Mario Williams 6’6″ 292
WLB – Jelani Jenkins 6’0″ 243
MLB – Kiko Alonso 6’3″ 238
SLB – Koa Misi 6’3″ 255
LCB – Byron Maxwell 6’1″ 207
RCB – Xavien Howard 6’0″ 201
RS – Reshad Jones 6’1″ 218
LS – Isa Abdul-Quddus 6’1″ 201
RE – Mario Williams
DT – Jordan Phillips/Chris Jones
DT – Ndamukong Suh
LE – Cam Wake
LB – Jelani Jenkins
LB – Kiko Alonso
LCB – Byron Maxwell
RCB – Xavien Howard
NB – Bobby McCain
S – Reshad Jones
S – Isa Abdul-Quddus
I could see Chris Jones in the nickel package as a DT, but for now, I’m going to give the edge to Phillips. I could also see Neville Hewitt being a nickel LB, so that’s possible too.
I know it sounds like I don’t approve of the way we went about creating our defense, mostly because we built it around a DT who will earn over $100M when his contract is finished. While I didn’t agree with the move, he’s here, and he’s one of the best players in the NFL, but I think he can be better than he was for us last season, and I think he’ll need to be if we’re going to contend for the playoffs. As I mentioned, we have a strong veteran presence on our defense, but there is a young man who none of us are counting on, but if he comes in with the right attitude, continues to work hard, and then the kicker, actually gets reinstated by Goodell and the NFL, Dion Jordan be a factor for us. We all hope that’s the case
As far as the linebackers and secondary, it’s going to be very interesting to see if the gambles paid off with the trade for Maxwell and the draft choice of Xavien Howard, or possibly the emergence of Tony Lippett. Will Isa be the safety we’ve been looking for to complement Reshad Jones? Was Kiko Alonso the missing cog that takes our LB corps to a higher level? If the answers to both of those questions is yes, the Dolphins should be an exciting team to watch this year, especially with what we’ve done with the offense. Stay tuned next week when I discuss the offense.