Consider the New England Patriots. One of the things that makes their defense so formidable is that opposing teams can never be sure what they’re facing. Is there a blitz? Why are there are so many defensive backs? Are the linebackers blitzing or in coverage? It’s through reputation alone that they’re considered good, even when they’re objectively bad. They put together personnel groupings that throw offenses for a loop, make them think twice about what they should do. The versatility of their players is a big part of what makes that defense tick.
And that’s exactly what head coach Brian Flores is stressing as he installs his defense.
“I would say first and foremost, it’s in the kicking game for really anyone on the team. If you make plays in the kicking game, you make a name for yourself in the kicking game here in this organization, that means a lot to me. If guys want to impress me, do it in the kicking game.” Flores said on Wednesday. “That’s where I started in college, that’s how I got on the field at Boston College. That’s how I broke into coaching in the National Football League from working with guys like Brad Seeley and then Scott O’Brien.
“It’s a very important phase of the game to me, so if a guy wants to impress on this team, do it there, carve out a role there, and then if you’re at the game for the kicking game, we’ll find something for you to do offensively or defensively. The players know that. I think everyone in the league should know that. That’s a spot where you can definitely carve out a role, and then, that’s how your reps increase. If you do a good job in the kicking game, you get more offensive or defensive snaps. If you do a good job with those snaps, we’ll give you more, and that’s how guys evolve and grow in this profession.”
Already, training camp has consisted of players lining up where they normally wouldn’t. Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick are getting linebacker snaps. Bobby McCain is turning himself into a safety. Defensive linemen are lining up out wide, inside, and everywhere in-between.
Is Miami running a 4-3, or a 3-4? Maybe a 4-2-5?
“I don’t even know what that is.” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said on Thursday. “People ask us, (and we) say, ‘I don’t know.’ You look out there, we can be 1-10 if you want us to be. We’ll figure out something. If it works, we’ll do it.”
So nothing is off the books when it comes to what the defense will do on any given play. Matchups decide who’s on the field at any given moment. The more players adapt to what’s thrown at them, the more they will get to play. Even if they don’t project to start over someone else.
Of course, this puts a mental strain on the players. They have to overcome it.
“It’s not more so the attacking defenses that I’ve been in, in the 4-3 systems that I’ve been accustomed to.” said veteran DT Akeem Spence. “In this defense, you’ve got to really learn a lot. It’s more so learning about more spots than positions and learning a new technique and what Coach Flores wants and Patrick Graham want and trying to go out and execute and compete.”
“It’s all about discipline. The biggest thing is everybody’s got – I mean, the coaches are going to put you in the best position to make plays, and I think that’s the biggest thing I keep in mind.” said pass rusher Charles Harris. “The number count isn’t the most important thing. When that game ends and you’re winning, that’s all that really matters. Like I’ve said before, one of the biggest things that we’ve got, one of the quotes that we’ve got coming is ‘get over yourselves.’ If I’m not getting that many plays, it might not be a week. We might have different schemes for different teams and stuff like that. You really don’t know.”
The Dolphins’ first preseason game draws ever closer, and after Saturday’s faux scrimmage, things are only going to ramp up from here. But more importantly, everyone will get a chance to see what this team can do in real action. True, it’s only the preseason. But considering what the expectations are for this team, how they do against other teams evaluating their depth will be telling.