Miami Dolphins: new DC Matt Burke is calculated, cerebral and very, very smart

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke (beard) talks with Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Koa Misi at Dolphins training facility. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In listening to his players, it makes perfect sense first-year Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke attended Dartmouth College and coached at Boston College and Harvard.

If the Dolphins defense doesn’t make strides in 2017, it won’t be because Burke isn’t really, really intelligent.

“Calculated,” Dolphins defensive back Michael Thomas says.

“Cerebral,” Dolphins defensive back Byron Maxwell says.

“Very, very smart,” Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh says.

Burke was Miami’s linebacker coach last season, as well as essentially coordinator-in-waiting. The Dolphins heavily recruited Burke because they felt former coordinator Vance Joseph would quickly become a head coach.

And they were right.

Soon enough we’ll all see if Burke’s promotion to defensive coordinator was correct.

The Dolphins have only had six organized team activity practices with Burke at the helm. Judging by a few long-distance observation, it seems Burke has a calm demeanor but also a hands-on approach and the respect of the players.

“Matt is very smooth,” cornerback Maxwell said. “Very calm, I would say. He’s a very smart guy. Cerebral. Just basically, that’s him. Under those situations where you might panic, I’m expecting him to be very calm and get the calls to us so we can play ball.”

The Dolphins are going to operate a similar defense in 2017, with some tweaks.

As outlined in a previous Daily Dolphin blog:

• Burke plans to “streamline” some things in order to allow the players to play faster.

• Burke wants his players to prepare to play more positions; hence versatility and flexibility will be stressed.

Thomas said Burke is an excellent teacher.

“He loves to make sure guys understand the why, in even more detail than what we did last year,” Thomas said. “You know exactly why he’s calling certain calls and why we’re practicing it. I think it’s helping guys understand the defense a little bit better. It’s helping guys play a little bit faster.”

Cornerback Bobby McCain and safety Michael Thomas are already advocating for first-year defensive coordinator Matt Burke. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

One of the newest Dolphins, linebacker Lawrence Timmons, has a positive early impression.

“I like his energy,” Timmons said. “(He’s a) humble guy, very nice. It makes me feel good, very welcoming. We’re just getting to know each other. It’s just OTAs right now so we’re taking it day by day.”

The Dolphin who knows Burke the longest is Suh.

“He’s without question prepared,” Suh said of Burke’s promotion. “I think he had a heavy hand into what our defense was last year. You saw a lot of success in some areas; but I think he’s going to put his own particular twist on it.”

The educated guess is that Miami’s defensive will be more aggressive — and bring more and varied pressures — in 2017.

Maxwell suggested it will be hard to tell how Burke and Joseph are different until game day.

“Well, similarities, they’re going to be running the same defense,” Maxwell said. “The differences, I couldn’t tell you right now. I think it’s going to come with play calling, to be honest with you. They’re varied just because they’re different. Different minds want to do different things.”

Burke was Kiko Alonso’s position coach last season. Alonso describes him as a competitor.

“He’s a guy that you love to play for because he’s going to give it his all,” Alonso said. “You can just tell day-in and day-out he’s giving it his all and he puts his heart and soul into it. Being behind a guy like that, it’s just something that guys notice and it just makes us play harder.”

Miami’s defense finished 29th in the league in total defense and 31st in the NFL in rush defense last season.

With that in mind, what have been Burke’s points of emphasis at the start of his first camp?

“Just play with effort,” defensive back Bobby McCain said. “Play with effort. Play with attitude. Do your job like you’re supposed to do. Do your job and like I said, if everybody’s doing their job and everybody’s doing their responsibility, plays will come to you.”

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