DAVIE — Every conversation about the Dolphins’ offseason seems to steer back to the return of Ryan Tannehill. Adam Gase has brought it up constantly, and a healthy Tannehill should make a difference.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke feels similarly about Raekwon McMillan, who was all set to be the starting middle linebacker last year before tearing his ACL in the preseason. Getting him on the field is should be more helpful than any linebacker move Miami could’ve made in free agency this year.
“If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us,” Burke said today.
McMillan was the 54th overall pick in 2017, the seventh linebacker selected, and was impressive upon arrival. He had 102 tackles in his final year at Ohio State and turned pro at age 20.
Burke said he and linebackers coach Frank Bush were recently reviewing the practice film from training camp and saw a player that was on the cusp of taking hold of his role.
McMillan has not been on the field since the injury, but much like Tannehill, he’s remained involved in meetings and film sessions to stay up to date on what the defense is doing. The Dolphins have not specified exactly what he’ll be doing when Organized Team Activities begin May 22, but his rehabilitation is going well.
“We really felt like he was just starting to take that step when we got him going before he got injured,” Burke said. “We had high hopes for him last year. Nothing he’s done since then has discouraged that. He’s been really in-tune, been really sharp. He’s got all the leadership skills and things that we look for, especially at that position.
“He’s worked his (butt) off to get better. He’s rehabbed. He’s in here every day. He hasn’t shown any limitations so far, which has been encouraging. Hopefully he’s a big piece for us. I’m encouraged by him and I’m excited to see him get some work.”
The team has already made clear McMillan will be the starting middle linebacker this season, leaving Kiko Alonso to play on the outside. The position as a whole is one of the biggest question marks for Miami this year, so the defense has almost as much at stake in McMillan’s return as the offense does with Tannehill.
DAVIE — Highlights of Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s chat with the media on Saturday:
On replacing Ndamukong Suh: “Organizations have to make decisions on certain things. … That’s part of the business.” Says he’s excited about DLs anyway. Expectation is to roll in four DTs.
On S Minkah Fitzpatrick: “That’s going to be up to him, how much he absorbs and takes on.” Says he seems to be a big-picture thinker and student of the game. “My initial impression is he has the ability to absorb a lot.”
On LB Jerome Baker, third-round pick: Speed was first thing that stood out.
On LB Raekwon McMillan: “If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, it’s a huge acquisition for us.” Said watching tape of his practices last summer, coaches were reminded of how he looked ready to take that step as a starter. Adds that McMillan has “worked his ass off.”
On the vision for the three safeties (Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald): “It’s always good to have different weapons. We’re going to put the best 11 players on the field, maybe week to week, play to play.”
Burke confirms there may be some three-safety alignments this year.
With three safeties: “It’s all about matchups. Whether it’s on tight ends or backs, or having a bigger body.” Maybe Fitzpatrick can be a first-down nickel back. “The more players you get that are multi-dimensional, that have different skillsets,” the more you can do to stop offenses.
On DE Robert Quinn: When possibility of trading for him was brought up, Burke thought it was a joke at first. Burke says he has been high on Quinn even when he was coming out of college. “I’m real excited to see what he can do for us.”
MIAMI GARDENS–A sick feeling permeated the Dolphins’ locker room on New Year’s Day as players cleaned up the clutter from a 6-10 season. It’d been in the back of some of their minds over the previous few weeks when they’d blown key games to squander their shot at the playoffs, and it hit hard knowing there was no longer anything they could do to fight it.
For many veterans, it was a familiar scene. Reshad Jones, a safety who’s been with the organization since 2010 and never appeared in a postseason game, looked around disgustedly.
“I think we’ve got the right guys in this locker room,” he said. “I’m not sure what we need to change but something has to change. I can’t put one finger on it right now.”
Personnel moves are surely coming, but coach Adam Gase’s began his attempt to cure Miami’s mediocrity by overhauling his staff. He’s preparing for the upcoming season with new position coaches at 5 of 8 spots, as well as some other additions, and a retooled power structure.
Several underperforming position groups will have new supervisors when they hit the field for Organized Team Activities this spring: offensive line, running backs, wide receivers, defensive line and defensive backs.
“Sometimes change is good,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “We definitely needed a little change, whether it was through the coaches or whatever it might have been, so if this is the first step they felt like we needed, then we’re all in.”
Christensen has almost 40 years of experience in coaching and agreed to be Gase’s offensive coordinator knowing that title wouldn’t come with much, if any, authority since the head coach would still be calling plays and managing every detail. He was a vital advisor, but as he put it, “It’s his show, and I’m just dancing in it.”
It won’t be that way with Loggains at all. Gase won’t let go of play calling, of course, but he brought in a 37-year-old peer and is willing to delegate some aspects of the offense.
The offensive line has been a major concern during Gase’s two-year run, and it was a mess last season with the forced resignation of Chris Foerster. The Dolphins brought in Dave DeGuglielmo as an emergency option mid-season, Gase settled on Jeremiah Washburn last month as a permanent solution.
Washburn was the assistant o-line coach in 2016 and left to take the same job in Chicago last season. Miami is keeping Chris Kuper on as his assistant.
It’s likely no new coach faces more critical decisions than Washburn, who comes in without a starting five in place. With right tackle Ja’Wuan James possibly on his way out, Washburn has to figure out where to play guard/tackle Jesse Davis, whether guard Ted Larsen works better on the left or right side and how to get more out of left tackle Laremy Tunsil after a disappointing season.
Gase fired running backs coach Danny Barrett and replaced him with Eric Studesville, who he worked with in Denver. Studesville also holds the title of Run Game Coordinator. At receiver, he promoted longtime Dolphins staffer Ben Johnson from assistant position coach to the head job, and former receivers coach Shawn Jefferson is now the Assistant Head Coach.
Gase retained tight ends coach Shane Day despite that position being a debacle each of the last two seasons and kept quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree. Hardegree was responsible for most of Miami’s red zone scheming last season.
Defensively, the Dolphins shelled out the fourth-highest amount of money for a defensive line in the league and finished 26th in sacks. Kris Kocurek, Ndamukong Suh’s first NFL position coach, came in from the Lions to see if he can do what Terrell Williams couldn’t. Kocurek also coached in Detroit with Matt Burke, who is staying on as defensive coordinator.
Burke and Gase also made a change in the secondary after the team finished middle of the pack in passing yards allowed and in the bottom third of the NFL in opponent completion percentage and passer rating. The Dolphins intercepted nine passes out of 528 attempts against them last year.
There’s a sense that the talent isn’t the issue, and that must’ve been Gase’s thinking when he fired defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Tony Oden, who was freed up by the head-coaching change in Detroit, has already made a strong impression on the players.
“Coach Oden’s a really good coach, great guy,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “I met with him a couple times… He knows what he’s doing. We’re happy to have him. We’re excited to get started.”
At linebacker, another position of concern, the team is sticking with position coach Frank Bush and assistant Charlie Bullen.
All the new faces will make it a much different atmosphere for the Dolphins when they get back to football over the next few months, but it’s not just a shakeup for the sake of doing something. Gase obviously believes he’ll be more comfortable and effective in this setup, and ultimately his job is the one that’s at risk if the plan doesn’t work.
“I definitely trust what Coach Gase and everybody is doing,” McDonald said. “We’re gonna ride with it and buy in.”
The Dolphins’ reworking of their coaching staff continued with an apparent agreement to hire Kris Kocurek to run the defensive line. It’s a significant addition in large part because of his history with Ndamukong Suh.
Kocurek, 39, was Detroit’s defensive line coach from 2009 through last year and had Suh for the first five seasons of his career. Suh was all-pro in three of those, a distinction he hasn’t earned with the Dolphins.
There’s also a connection between Kocurek and Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who was the Lions’ linebackers coach from 2009 through ’13.
The Dolphins have not announced the new hire or any of their other staff changes, but Kocurek’s wife revealed on Facebook that he is taking the job.
“Kris and I are now ready for our next journey,” she wrote. “We are excited to announce and proud (to) say that Kris will now be the Defensive Line Coach of the Miami Dolphins … Look out Florida (here) we come. This is an amazing opportunity for our little family!”
Kocurek replaces Terrell Williams, who was let go last week as part of coach Adam Gase’s ongoing overhaul of the staff. He will be replacing at least five assistants heading into the 2018 season.
On offense, Gase bumped Clyde Christensen in favor of Dowell Loggains. It’s unknown yet whether Christensen will stay on staff in a reduced role. Running backs coach Danny Barrett is also gone, and there’s been a vacancy on the offensive line since October because of Chris Foerster’s situation.
Defensively, the team fired longtime secondary coach Lou Anarumo on Sunday, a day after letting Williams go.
Kocurek, who played defensive tackle for two seasons with the Titans before starting his coaching career, is charged with turning around one of the NFL’s most overpriced defensive lines. Miami had the fourth-most expensive defensive line in the league last year, and it finished 26th in sacks.
Another key element of Kocurek’s new position will be developing 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris at defensive end. Harris played mostly off the bench last year and had a productive rookie season.
As part of Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase’s ongoing renovation of his staff following a 6-10 season, the team is not bringing back veteran defensive line coach Terrell Williams.
Williams was let go today, a league source confirmed, making him the fourth assistant coach from last season who won’t be back next year. Gase already replaced offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen with Dowell Loggains, brought in Jeremiah Washburn as the new offensive line coach and fired running backs coach Danny Barrett.
Veterans Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh had excellent seasons, and Andre Branch’s frustrating year can be attributed mostly to injuries. Beyond that, the Dolphins need to develop several younger players like defensive end Charles Harris.
Williams was hired before Gase took the job in January 2016 and stayed on through the arrival of defensive coordinators Vance Joseph and Matt Burke. This is the first change on Burke’s staff after a season in which the defense was 29th in points allowed, 19th in yards per pass attempt and 17th in yards per rush.
Prior to his three years with the Dolphins, Williams coached in college and the pros since 1998.
DAVIE—The idea of Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips aspiring toward the distinction of being one of the elites at his position would’ve sounded absurd a year ago. Even he admits that wouldn’t have been believable.
But Phillips set out to change the book on him this season and made some headway. Starting late in the preseason, he showed Miami coaches he was serious about growing into a mainstay and fought off impressive rookie Davon Godchaux for the starting job. He fought through injuries and put together a satisfying year that showed promise heading toward next season.
“I felt like I accomplished what I was trying to do,” Phillips said. “I had a better year, still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but showed improvement and that’s all you can ask for.”
Adam Gase and defensive coordinator both gave him good reviews late in the season, his third since Miami took him in the second round of the 2015 draft.
The first two years were marked by underachievement, which has been the story on Phillips dating back to his time at Oklahoma. He was determined to maintain his effort this season and grow into a true pro.
“It’s just disappointing the way that I came into the league,” he said. “I’m just trying to change the views from you guys’ perspective to everybody around. I want to be a great player. I want to be an elite player. I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve gotta do to get there.”
Phillips had 16 tackles, two sacks and five quarterback hits this year. He missed three games, but played at least 48 percent of the defensive snaps eight times.
The upcoming season will be the last on his rookie deal, setting him up to reach an extension with the Dolphins this offseason or hit unrestricted free agency in March 2019. Phillips didn’t say whether he intends to pursue an extension.
He carries a modest $1.4 million salary cap hit for next season, which is good for Miami considering Ndamukong Suh is currently set to count for $26.1 million.
MIAMI GARDENS—Everybody had something better to do once this drab afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium finally ended.
The Bills go on to their first playoff appearance since 1999 after beating Miami 22-16 in a listless regular-season finale. For the Dolphins players, and everyone else at the game, at least there was the glow of New Year’s Eve to look forward to once they got out.
With Miami’s season now done at 6-10, here are five quick takeaways from a game—and a year—that was tough to watch:
1. Jay Cutler will be missed.
Not missed in the sense that anyone will be sad he left, just in the way that he won’t be here anymore. His time with the Dolphins, and perhaps as an NFL quarterback, ended fittingly with him throwing his final pass straight into the hands of Buffalo cornerback E.J. Gaines. Graciously, Gaines dropped it and allowed Smokin’ Jay to exit with a final line of 1 for 2 with six yards before David Fales replaced him.
It’s not fair to retroactively question a move that was logical at the time, but this just didn’t work out like the Dolphins or many covering them thought. Cutler’s one season ends with him in the bottom 10 in interceptions and passer rating. Miami needs to get much better and much younger at quarterback behind returning starter Ryan Tannehill.
2. Cameron Wake gets it done—again.
Remember that not-so-career-ending injury Cameron Wake suffered in 2015? He seems fine. Wake got a sack in the second quarter, making this his fifth double-digit year at 10.5. Only a dozen players have pulled that off at age 35 or older.
This guy is truly an all-time great and will rival Jason Taylor as the most fearsome pass rusher in franchise history if he sticks around long enough. The question is how much more of this he’s willing to endure. Last year’s 10-6 season with a brief playoff appearance was the best the Dolphins have done in his time here, and it had to have been vexing to play in another meaningless season finale today.
3. Quarterbacks treat Miami’s defense like a scout team. The one thing that gives the Dolphins fits is pretty much any quarterback with a functioning arm.
A blend of all 16 passing performances against this team in 2017 would add up to a Pro Bowl selection. Coming into the finale, Miami was among the 12 worst teams in the league in opponent completion percentage (63.9), passer rating (94.3), passing touchdowns (25), interceptions (nine) and sacks (26). In 10 of 15 games, the opposing quarterback had a higher passer rating than he put up against the rest of the league.
Tyrod Taylor, in particular, loved facing the Dolphins this year. After lighting them up at New Era Field two weeks earlier, he went 19 of 27 for 204 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions today. Two of his top seven games of the year were against Miami.
4. Adam Gase did a great job last season. This year, he was just OK. The Dolphins lost their starting quarterback in training camp and saw 14 other guys go on Injured Reserve over the course of the season, not counting two others who were placed on similar lists that ruled them out for the season. He had old, flawed quarterbacks in Matt Moore and Jay Cutler. He had an uncharacteristically loaded strenuous schedule. And at the end of all that, he went 6-10.
That’s about where any realistic person would’ve expected this to end up. Gase didn’t do any better or any worse than what was reasonable. He was average. Last year, when a million things went wrong and the team was 1-4, he was excellent and steered them to a playoff berth. He’s in no danger whatsoever at the moment, but next year will be tense if the team doesn’t take a step forward.
5. Both Dolphins coordinators should keep their job. That’s not the easiest argument to make when the Dolphins finish in the bottom quarter of the NFL in points scored and points allowed. But Clyde Christensen and Matt Burke should get another season.
In Christensen’s case, by his own description, he’s essentially an advisor to Gase. He’s a calming influence and a sounding board for the man who calls all the plays. Gase needs that. A veteran coach’s presence is essential for him this early in his head-coaching career. As for Burke, he’s an up-and-comer in the profession and one season as a defensive coordinator isn’t enough to come to a verdict on him. He’s smart and he’ll get this fixed with some personnel changes and maybe some moves among the position coaches on his staff.
DAVIE–The Dolphins‘ defense has flipped back and forth all season, looking at times like it’s one of the best in the league and at other times like a liability.
After holding Denver and New England in check over back-to-back weeks, the Dolphins struggled early in their 24-16 loss to the Bills. Buffalo had 328 yards, converted 7 of 15 third downs and scored touchdowns on 3 of 4 trips to the red zone.
Here are defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s thoughts heading into this week’s game at Kansas City:
–The Dolphins rank 28th in the NFL in sacks. “I think our guys have been disruptive,” Burke said. “It’s disappointing for sure… Lately, we’ve missed some opportunities.”
–Miami is sixth in third-down defense. “We spend a lot of time on it,” Burke said. “We weren’t very good last week, but big-picture-wise we have been… We do a lot of different things.” Burke said Gase told him the defense would be difficult to prepare for on third downs because of how much he mixes it up.
–Burke is disappointed that the red zone numbers and takeaways aren’t good, particularly because he’s stressed it so much in practices all offseason and season. Miami’s 15 takeaways rank 25th in the NFL.
–Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips seems to be having the best season of his Dolphins’ career. “I think he’s found his way a little bit,” Burke said. “He’s more of an energy guy and more into it. And part of that comes with being reliable. You can’t be an energy guy if you’re not consistent.”
DAVIE—Matt Burke was the linebackers coach for the Lions when they played in a game at Philadelphia that was so snowy the players could barely see downfield. When he finally got off the field at the end of that frigid afternoon, he turned one of his fellow coaches and said of the nearly unplayable field conditions, “Man, that’s never gonna happen again.”
Things that always happen again, though, and they did last week at Buffalo. The Bills and Colts plodded through heavy snow and temperatures in the low 30s to a 13-7 Buffalo victory in overtime, and the Dolphins might encounter similar weather at New Era Field on Sunday.
If that’s the case, it’ll certainly change the entire makeup of a game both teams desperately need in the playoff chase. The Bills are currently the No. 6 seed at 7-6, and the Dolphins are one game behind them.
The current forecast calls for up to 3 inches of snow Friday, another 3 inches Saturday, followed by a high temperature of 33 degrees with 10 percent chance of precipitation Sunday, per Weather.com. There is snow projected for early next week as well.
When Dolphins coach Adam Gase tried to watch the film of the game, it was difficult to make out jersey numbers and other details through the snowfall. Yard lines were barely visible in the second quarter.
“When you watch guys, I mean, just nobody’s going anywhere,” Gase said. “When I started watching the game it was like stoppage of play and it just kept building up and nobody was moving in it. The first time you saw a guy running out of the huddle, he’s taking huge strides.”
Here’s are some screencaps of the coaches’ film he attempted to parse:
When Gase was asked by the Buffalo media today what he got out of that footage, as well as it being an anomaly of a game, he replied, “Nothing.”
When he saw how difficult it was for players to even accelerate into a sprint in the snow, it got him thinking about what he’d have to do if Miami encounters that Sunday.
“I started thinking, ‘Wow. What would I be calling?’” Gase said. “I thought what both sides were doing, they had some good stuff. Indy had a couple really nice plays that used it to their advantage, and so did Buffalo. You have an idea of what you should do, but until you’re in that situation, you’re probably learning as the game goes on.”
What teams usually do is run the ball. The Colts and Bills combined to run on 97 of 136 plays (71 percent) and neither topped 92 yards passing. Buffalo completed 7 of 16 passes, and the Colts averaged a whopping 2.8 yards per pass play.
One guy who didn’t have much trouble in the conditions was LeSean McCoy, who chugged along for 156 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. That’s one reason Burke doesn’t think a heavy snowfall would be an advantage for his defense.
“I get it where on the surface it looks like a low-scoring game and all that,” Burke said. “One of the issues defensively is you’re reacting to what an offense is doing, and especially a guy like McCoy that’s got really good balance—that’s probably one of his better assets as an athlete—he knows where he’s cutting and how to make those moves. And as a defender, you’re reacting to that and it’s harder to keep your footing and do some of those things when the field conditions are like that.
“If you can get them behind the sticks, you saw they were running the ball every third down. It was third-and-10 and they were handing the ball off just because throwing was a little questionable. That’s great… but it’s more difficult defensively just because you’re reacting to what an offense is doing and that just slows you down, so your being sure on feet and stuff is going to slow you down even another step.”
McCoy’s big game in the snow gave Burke flashbacks, because that’s exactly what happened in 2013. The Eagles won 34-20, and McCoy ran over Detroit for 217 yards and two touchdowns on 29 rushes.
Burke took notes from a staff meeting the next day that was centered around brainstorming for future situations like that, but he never thought he’d need them. Turns out, he’ll be digging them up this week.
“I keep a lot of stuff,” he said, grinning. “I’m a pack rat.”
DAVIE–The Dolphins‘ defense looked much better last week, but then again most defenses look good against the Broncos.
Overall, Miami’s sitting 18th in yards allowed and 24th in opponent scoring. The team is two weeks removed from giving up three early touchdowns in a 35-17 loss at New England and gets another crack at the Patriots on Monday. With that matchup looming, here are some updates from defensive coordinator Matt Burke:
–Unprompted, Burke opened by praising wide receiver Kenny Stills. He said no offensive player is as engaged in the game when the defense is on the field, and he is constantly screaming and encouraging the defensive players from the sideline.
–With Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out, that obviously helps the Dolphins, but they still have weapons. “It creates uncertainty,” Burke said. “They’re always like this, but even more so now, you don’t know what they’re going to throw at you… Taking him off the field lessens some of the matchup issues, but it creates more uncertainty.”
–Regarding cornerback Bobby McCain, who was ejected for throwing a punch at Danny Amendola in the last game, Burke has emphasized him keeping his head and not getting bothered by small things after the play. He anticipates New England will test his composure again.
–The Dolphins called up defensive end Cameron Malveaux from the practice squad and he made his NFL debut last weekend. Burke said he’s very versatile as far as being able to play the run and has a similar skillset to William Hayes. “He had 30-35 snaps and did a really good job for us,” Burke said.
–Miami cornerback Xavien Howard has been better lately, and Burke thinks he’s had a better “emphasis on finishing plays” lately. He said he’s been playing coverage assignments all year and now seems to be taking the next step.
–Burke said they will not play cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (ankle) if he’s not able to be effective. When asked if an injured Tankersley would be a target for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Burke said, “Everyone’s a target for Brady.”
–Burke on Brady: “He’s one of the greatest players of all time. He’s going to make his plays. I don’t think anyone in the building expects him to go 0 for 25 with seven picks.”