DAVIE—This part of the year might be too boring for Dolphins coach Adam Gase, a competition addict, but he’s found a sparring partner in new defensive coordinator Matt Burke.
While they are charged with working together to outline a plan for practice every day, there’s been a limit on that cooperation the last few weeks. As they try to up the intensity between the players, they’ve developed an engaging rivalry between themselves. Gase, a former offensive coordinator, and Burke have been coming into facility smarting from plays where they got outwitted by the other.
“I hate to say he kind of got me today a couple times,” Burke said after an Organized Team Activity practice last week. “We had a couple of two-minute drills where he beat me, so I’m a little disappointed.”
The antagonism doesn’t escalate to screaming at each other or any real division between the two men, both of whom are around 40, but they’ll happily taunt each other during practice. It’s usually something along the lines of, “you better change up your calls,” or little jabs at press conferences. “It’s more subtle,” Gase said.
Burke’s likely been getting the better of those exchanges lately since it sounds like the defense was superior during OTAs. Gase complained that his responsibility to oversee all three phases led to some leaks that helped Burke too much.
“Sometimes I feel like I give them too much and tell them too many things that we’re doing, and he takes advantage of me,” Gase said, grinning. “That’s what happens when you get a Dartmouth guy. He learned our stuff very quickly.”
Some of that is necessary. Against an actual opponent, for example, the Dolphins would go in with a scouting report and strategy for the opponent, so sending Burke without any idea what the offense is running wouldn’t be an accurate simulation. They usually set a “theme” for the practice, too, so each side has an idea of the scenarios they’ll be drilling.
Within those ground rules, Gase and Burke try to create an environment that feels as close to real competition as possible, and that seems to play well with the team.
“It at least focuses our players, and we can treat that day as though we’re preparing for a game,” Gase said. “That’s why we do it that way… I think it’s like how our players are. You want your side of the ball to win.”
Especially at the end. Late in Thursday’s practice, they set up an all-or-nothing scenario with the offense going for the win in the red zone. Burke’s defense came up with the stop, and Gase dropped to the turf to do pushups with the offense.
The coordinator-coach relationship between these two is off to a good start—they bonded last year as well, when Burke was the linebackers coach under Vance Joseph—and they’ll need good cohesion as they work out big decisions over the next few months.
This is Burke’s first time as a coordinator, and that comes with added responsibility. He’ll have more input on personnel moves than ever.
General manager Chris Grier has already been checking in regularly to get opinions on how the defensive players are stacking up as he runs through hypothetical cuts and acquisitions. When Grier, Gase and vice president Mike Tannenbaum hunker down to finalize the roster at the end of the preseason, Burke will have a (limited) say in that process for the first time.
“If you have all of the coaches in the room, everyone is sort of trying to fight for their own guys and push for this,” Burke said. “Usually it’s sort of pared down to the coordinators, where I’m the voice of the defense… I’ve been more involved in those conversations.”
Based on how they’ve interacted this offseason, Gase and Burke should work well together in that facet of the job. Count on them getting into some spirited conversations as they argue over how to allocate the personnel, but it sounds like both of will be able to handle whatever the other throws at them during those debates.
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