Miami Dolphins OTA wrap-up: What we know, what’s left to settle

The Dolphins still have questions, but they’re upbeat after OTA work. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—The Dolphins’ three weeks of voluntary-but-not-really Organized Team Activities are finished and they’ll get a quick three-day minicamp next week before going on hiatus.

The team got 10 practices in over the past two weeks, and there was a much different mindset for those sessions than a year ago. There were minimal introductions since most of the key players are returnees, and most of the teaching regarding Miami’s offensive and defensive schemes were simply updating the team on minor tweaks.

The attitude was different, too. There’s no more talk about changing the culture. It’s been done. The organization is operating cohesively, and last year’s performance elevated the expectations from merely making the playoffs to doing some damage in them.

“I’m definitely sick and tired of making it to the playoffs and not going further, and I think everybody feels that particular way,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “It’s a good feeling to feel that guys weren’t satisfied with where we were at. It’s exciting, for my vantage point, to see hunger.”

Despite the great accomplishment of rallying from a 1-4 start to make the postseason at 10-6, there was a sense of emptiness because it could’ve been better had Miami not been missing so many guys. No one feels that more than quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill put together the best stretch of his five-year career with 1,723 yards, 13 touchdowns against five interceptions and a 100.1 passer rating in eight games before being knocked out for the season with a sprained left knee. The Dolphins went 7-1 in that span.

Fortunately for the team, Tannehill didn’t need surgery this offseason, and his ligaments healed quickly enough for him to be full-go for OTAs. Not only was he out there for every practice, he looked agile with the knee brace. There’s not a ton to be discerned about any player in OTAs, but that signals big progress.

“He looks fantastic,” backup quarterback Matt Moore said. “He looks like nothing happened. Again, I’m not a doctor and I have no idea the entire issue, but he looks great. So he’s moving forward like normal.”

Is DeVante Parker ready to live up to his draft position? (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

As for those surrounding Tannehill, Miami kept intact a group of skill players it thinks can be one of the best in the league. There’s talk about trying to get Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi at least 350 carries this season, coaches are once again hyping the possibility of a breakout year for DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills is trending upwardly.

Then there’s Jarvis Landry, hands-down the best offensive player on this team. He can’t possibly be thrilled about the prospect of playing this season, the final one on his rookie deal, for $1.1 million while Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown enjoys a four-year, $68 million extension. Nonetheless, he showed up for every day of OTAs and gave every indication he will not hold out from minicamp, which runs Tuesday through Thursday, or training camp.

“I’m here,” Landry said. “I’m here to help my team. All that other stuff, it’ll come… I’m comfortable where I’m at.”

Not only did he help the organization avoid any headaches by skipping OTAs, he was exceptional on the field.

“The entire spring, he’s really done a great job with the consistency of the way he’s practiced,” coach Adam Gase said before pointing out that Thursday’s practice was one of his best. “He made the plays. He got himself open and made some tough catches. He was doing all the little tiny details that would make him to where if he was just a little bit open, he really did a good job of getting himself wide open.”

As much as the Dolphins rely on Landry, who had 1,100-plus yards each of the last two seasons, they brought in tight end Julius Thomas from Jacksonville to spread things out. Playmaking tight end was a glaring void in last year’s offense.

Julius Thomas hopes for a resurgence after two down years in Jacksonville. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

He put up big numbers (108 catches, 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns) in 2013 and ’14 with Gase as his offensive coordinator in Denver, then struggled through two dismal seasons with the Jaguars in which he totaled 76 catches, 736 yards and nine touchdowns in 21 games. The concern for Miami is it can’t know for sure which Thomas it’s getting.

Thomas, soon to be 29, says he feels healthy and still has prime years left in his body. He looked fine during OTAs, and the Dolphins have big plans for him.

“If Julius Thomas is healthy and we catch some breaks, he can be and has been a 10-touchdown guy,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “That’s a big number. He can be that.

“He’s a rare pro. He’s been huge in our locker room; he’s been huge in our meetings. Way beyond whatever he does on the football field, which I think will be big things if he can stay healthy, his presence has been enormous.”

It has to be. The Dolphins have many question marks at the position if they lose their bet on Thomas.

Not all the news out of OTAs was positive for the Dolphins, though. The largest concern is that Mike Pouncey has been on the sideline because of another hip issue, and the team is actively preparing for life without him in the upcoming season.

Miami hopes to have Pouncey available for all 16 games and will minimize his offseason and preseason work to make that happen. However, the staff is rotating four guards at center to develop a viable contingency plan if he’s not. Current starting left guard Ted Larsen, rookie Isaac Asiata, Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen are all getting snaps in place of Pouncey.

“We’ve got a pool of guys there that I think we’re going to end up being pretty darn deep,” Christensen said. “We’ll have more experience and more depth than last year.”

Then there’s the defense, which needed substantial renovations after finishing 24th in the NFL in yards allowed and giving up the biggest single-season rushing total in franchise history.

Up front, the Dolphins will roll with the same four they had most of last season and hope Jordan Phillips means it when he says he’s sick of being an underachiever. They also added noted run stopper Williams Hayes, who can play end or tackle, and drafted pass rusher Charles Harris at No. 22 overall.

Harris is here to be a key backup this season and take over as a starter down the road. It should help him that he won’t be asked to step immediately into a starting role, but he might not need that cushion. He looks athletic enough to play right away, and the staff has been impressed by his capacity so far.

“The biggest thing with Charles is his work rate,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “We’re working him and he’s responding. For him to practice at the tempo that he practices at and with the workload we’re putting a lot on him—he’s going and going and going… Until we put pads on, nobody is getting overly excited about anything, but just to know that’s the foundation to what he’s doing—his work ethic is through the roof.”

Burke is still mixing and matching linebackers at different positions, but it appears Kiko Alonso, Lawrence Timmons and second-round pick Raekwon McMillan will enter training camp as the top three options.

All of them will practice inside and outside, and the Dolphins are keeping quiet about any long-term plans in that regard. Burke said he probably won’t finalize their main positions until preseason games begin.

At the back end, Miami felt really good about its secondary for 2017 before losing safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to a likely career-ending neck injury. The team still has quality cornerbacks in Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard, plus Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones, but needs another safety to emerge.

T.J. McDonald is talented, but he presents a complicated situation for Miami. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

That’s a complicated situation at the moment. Free agent signee Nate Allen, who hasn’t been a regular starter since 2014, will compete with Michael Thomas and others, but T.J. McDonald looms as a major challenger. The problem with McDonald is that he’ll miss the first half of the year because of a league suspension. He’ll get a full slate of reps until the season begins, but can’t practice after Sept. 2.

“I’m treating every day right now like a game for me,” McDonald said. “I’m just going out there, giving it my all and trying to take it all in and make sure that when my name is called, I’ll be ready to go.”

There’s a ton to sort out before the opener, which is a big reason teams take this part of the calendar so seriously.

While the last three weeks were a broad overview of what Miami plans to do this season, the upcoming minicamp will be a deeper, more specific set of meetings and practices. It’ll be the first real chance to see where the Dolphins stand for this season, and OTAs gave them a good idea of who’s ready for that kind of work.

[Charles Harris, Cameron Wake navigate complicated dynamics of their situation]

[A look at Raekwon McMillan’s introduction to playing with Kiko Alonso]

[William Hayes immediately becomes the most interesting man in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Dolphins rookie Charles Harris impresses with more than athleticism

Charles Harris has made a big impression so far. (AP)

DAVIE—Dolphins rookie Charles Harris is a beast. He was a freakish athlete at defensive end while playing for Missouri and he’s got an impressive 6-foot-3, 253-pound frame. Anyone can see that.

The more interesting, and less known, upside to Harris is his approach. Miami’s coaching staff is already seeing a player capable of handling the NFL demands on and off the field.

“The biggest thing is his work rate,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “He’s nonstop. Every snap, he’s going. We’re working him hard and he’s responding. The athleticism is obvious, but for him to practice at the tempo we have him at and the workload… that’s been pleasant to see.”

Harris, 22, is doing everything he can to get himself in position to take snaps away from starting defensive ends Cameron Wake and Andre Branch, and this is a good start. He arrived as the No. 22 pick overall and already looks capable of being a factor this season.

[Charles Harris, Cameron Wake navigate complicated dynamics of their situation]

[A look at Raekwon McMillan’s introduction to playing with Kiko Alonso]

[William Hayes immediately becomes the most interesting man in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room]

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Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s latest updates

Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke is setting up for his first season in charge. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE–The majority of the Dolphins‘ offseason moves have been to upgrade their defense after a rough year in 2016, and the man charged with overseeing those improvements is first-year defensive coordinator Matt Burke.

Burke, formerly the linebackers coach, has promised minor changes from what the team ran under Vance Joseph last season, and the players have credited him for maintaining stability. Here are Burke’s updates after today’s OTA practice:

— Miami still hasn’t solidified which spots the linebackers will play. Burke expects to firm that up in training camp.

— Defensive end William Hayes is working at defensive tackle, but Burke doesn’t see him becoming a full-time back-up there. The Dolphins are counting on their two draft picks to step into the Nos. 3 and 4 d-tackle spots.

— Burke has been wowed as much by Charles Harris’ approach as his athleticism. He said he’s grasping the scheme quickly and has a relentless work ethic.

— Bobby McCain remains the leader for the nickel corner spot. Burke said he’s had a great spring and has been “holding his own” while covering Jarvis Landry most of the time.

— Burke has taken on a greater role in terms of personnel since becoming defensive coordinator in January. He hasn’t had to make any big decisions yet, but general manager Chris Grier has been consulting him periodically.

[Charles Harris, Cameron Wake navigate complicated dynamics of their situation]

[A look at Raekwon McMillan’s introduction to playing with Kiko Alonso]

[William Hayes immediately becomes the most interesting man in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Latest updates from Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke

Matt Burke is in his first few months as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. (AP)

DAVIE–Matt Burke is in his first few months as the Dolphins‘ defensive coordinator, and today was his first time speaking to the media since the day he got the job in January.

Burke steps into the job after working as the linebackers coach under Vance Joseph last year. He was the obvious successor when Joseph became head coach of the Broncos, coach Adam Gase said, because it maintains continuity in scheme and terminology.

Here’s what Burke said about how he plans to run the defense this year:
Continue reading “Latest updates from Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke”

Dolphins had Matt Burke lined up behind Vance Joseph all along

Gase (right) made plans for Burke (left) to be the defensive coordinator more than a year ago. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

PHOENIX—The Dolphins’ recent move of promoting linebackers coach Matt Burke to defensive coordinator was a decision they arrived at about a year in advance.

When Miami brought in defensive backs coach Vance Joseph from Cincinnati to be the defensive coordinator, the hope was that Burke would come along with him to eventually succeed Joseph. That might explain why Burke was willing to make a lateral move by taking the same position with the Dolphins.

Joseph was hired as the Broncos’ new head coach Jan. 11, and Miami bumped Burke up to coordinator the next day.

“We were really anticipating Vance leaving after one year,” said coach Adam Gase, who acknowledged that people might not believe that. “That was the thought process. We wanted to have a guy that was ready to be the next guy.”

Gase recounted one of his initial conversations with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in which Ross said part of the job would be to create an environment that enticed other teams to pursue Miami’s coaches. That began with hiring someone like Joseph, who was already viewed as a head-coaching candidate, and continued with constantly being prepared to make replacements.

Giving Burke the job was also important to Gase because he values stability. He has spoken multiple times about the need to retain players long term so they maintain continuity, which he believes will make a big difference on the field. That also applies to the coaching staff.

“How many times have you seen an offensive head coach who starts coordinators and now it’s 4-3, now it’s 3-4, now it’s this, now the terminology changes?” Gase said. “We wanted to create a situation where our players didn’t feel like we were always changing terminology and schemes. We weren’t changing our whole philosophy on defense.

“We knew we were gonna hire guys like (Joseph) that could possibly leave. Matt was able to step in, guys know him, guys respect him. We’re not bringing in somebody off the street; we’re promoting one of our own guys… Now it’s about, who’s the next guy if two or three years down the road Matt leaves? We’re always looking for that contingency plan. Not to say Matt’s gonna call it exactly the way V.J. does. What he leans on might be different than what V.J. did, but the terminology’s not changing. A lot of the things are staying the same.”

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Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke gets big endorsements

Cameron Wake likes the Dolphins' possibilities under Matt Burke. (Getty Images)
Cameron Wake likes the Dolphins’ possibilities under Matt Burke. (Getty Images)

LAKE BUENA VISTA—Matt Burke might not be as wild as his beard suggests.

Burke became the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator two weeks ago when the Broncos hired Vance Joseph as their head coach, and the new job is a culmination of 15 years as a college and pro assistant. His path took him through Tennessee, Detroit and Cincinnati before arriving in Miami, and some of his former players are here for the Pro Bowl.
Continue reading “Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke gets big endorsements”

Miami Dolphins’ fiery Matt Burke: The (Jim) Schwartz will always be with me

Matt Burke (right), the coaching the Detroit Lions' linebackers, consults with coach Jim Schwartz during a game against Arizona in 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Matt Burke (right), the coaching the Detroit Lions’ linebackers, consults with coach Jim Schwartz during a game against Arizona in 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

On the day of his biggest promotion, Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke hesitated to rattle off all the coaches who have had an influence on his career, but there was one he had to credit.

Former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz offered Burke a foot in the NFL door about the time Burke’s father began giving up on the idea that his son would try law school or med school. Schwartz first recommended Burke for an administrative assistant on the Tennessee Titans in 2004, when Schwartz was defensive coordinator. Word was that Burke impressed coach Jeff Fisher so much a job was immediately offered.

[Click here to learn more about Burke.]

A handful of years later, Burke joined Schwartz’s Lions staff as linebackers coach, a role he filled from 2009-13.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jim Schwartz,” Burke said Thursday upon being named by Adam Gase to replace Vance Joseph. “ … I’ve spent 10 years with him and think the world of him.”

As Lions coach, the fiery Schwartz was a magnet for network cameras, which zeroed in on him whenever things went wrong. Asked if it’s safe to describe himself as fiery, too, Burke said, “Probably. I like to think I bring a certain level of energy and fire to this game.”

Only time will tell if Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi will have competition when it comes to staring down players who mess up. For now, just know the Schwartz will be with Burke on the sidelines.

“I don’t know if I’m going to steal his patented fist pump or anything like that but I’ll probably cuss a little bit more than he did on the sidelines,” Burke said. “I hope the guys are ready for that.”

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[Gase, Tannenbaum, Grier growing into formidable personnel team]

[Get to know Matt Burke, the man who could be Dolphins new DC]

Ex-linebackers coach Matt Burke named Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator

Former linebackers coach Matt Burke was named the Miami Dolphins' new defensive coordinator today. (Photo courtesy of @MiamiDolphins on Twitter)
Former linebackers coach Matt Burke was named the Miami Dolphins’ new defensive coordinator today. (Photo courtesy of @MiamiDolphins on Twitter)

The man in charge of making sure the Dolphins’ opponents don’t go anywhere next season isn’t one to stay put.

Matt Burke was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator Thursday, the same day the Denver Broncos were introducing Burke’s predecessor, Vance Joseph, as their head coach.

It also marked the one-year anniversary of Burke being hired by the Dolphins.

[Click here to learn more about Burke.]

[Burke brings fire like ex-Lions coach Schwartz.]

Burke, 40, has never been a coordinator at any level but brings more than fire to the coaching staff. He’s one of the few (if any?) coaches in the NFL who can directly relate to players what it’s like to come face to face with a lion, scale Mount Kilimanjaro or teach youth in Uganda how to play that strange game Americans call football.

“I tend to take a pretty big trip outside the country every year and go hiking mountains or go backpacking around the world somewhere,” Burke said. “It’s kind of my reset before a season gets going.”

Burke brings more than an adventurous spirit to the defensive room. He was valedictorian of his high school class in Massachusetts, has a psychology degree from Dartmouth and a master’s in education from Boston College.

“I have somewhat of an academic background,” he said.

He had everything coach Adam Gase was looking for when he knew he had to replace Joseph. Gase described Burke as someone who “knows this defense inside and out.

“I really felt like we had two defensive coordinators on that side of the ball,” Gase said. “We were very fortunate to be able to get him. He had plenty of opportunities to go other places and decided to come coach linebackers for us and was critical for our success this past season.”

Both Gase and Burke stressed the advantage of continuity for the players after having to learn entirely new offensive and defensive systems when the staff arrived a year ago.

“They’ll have an idea what we’re looking to do,” Gase said.

Burke described his defensive philosophy in almost identical terms to Joseph’s.

“We want to be an attacking defense,” Burke said. “It’s sort of what we started to try to build here this past season. Be aggressive.”

But Burke said he wants the scheme to fit the players, not the other way around, so he’s unsure the best fit for linebacker Kiko Alonso — inside or out.

“Obviously we see him as an important piece of the future,” Burke said.

Alonso led the Dolphins with 115 tackles, but the defense, plagued by injuries, finished 29th in total yards allowed, 15th against the pass and 30th against the run.

“The way you keep points off the board are by getting stops,” Burke said. “So turnovers, third-down stops, red-zone stops” will be his priority.

Burke said he expects the Dolphins to hire a linebackers coach to take his place.

How was Matt Moore cleared so quickly? UM’s expert explains

[Will Laremy Tunsil be moved to left tackle in 2017?]

[Gase, Tannenbaum, Grier growing into formidable personnel team]

[Get to know Matt Burke, the man who could be Dolphins new DC]

Get to know Matt Burke, potential Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator

Matt Burke (right), the coaching the Detroit Lions' linebackers, consults with coach Jim Schwartz during a game against Arizona in 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Matt Burke (right), the coaching the Detroit Lions’ linebackers, consults with coach Jim Schwartz during a game against Arizona in 2013. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Some things to know about Matt Burke, the Miami Dolphins’ linebackers coach who will receive strong consideration to replace defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who became Denver Broncos coach Wednesday:

  • Burke, 40, just finished his first season with the Dolphins after being hired Jan. 12, 2016 (three days after Adam Gase was hired).
  • This would be his first job as a coordinator on any level.
  • He has been a linebackers coach for eight seasons in the NFL, previously with Cincinnati (2014-15) and Detroit (2009-13). He also was with the Tennessee Titans for five years as administrative assistant (2004-05) and defensive assistant/quality control coach (2006-08).
  • On the college level, Burke has coached at Harvard (2003), Boston College (2002-03) and Maine’s  Bridgton Academy (1998-99).
  • Burke is a native of Hudson, Mass.
  • He was a three-sport standout and valedictorian of the Class of 1994 at Hudson High.
  • He played safety at Dartmouth and was on the undefeated Ivy League team of 1996. He has a degree in psychology from Dartmouth and a master’s in education from Boston College.
  • He did not play in the NFL.
  • The 2015 Bengals ranked second in the NFL in scoring (17.4 points per game) and forced 28 turnovers.
  • The 2016 Dolphins ranked 29th in total defense, 30th in run defense and 15th against the pass. Their top linebacker was Kiko Alonso, who led the team with 115 tackles. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, presumed starters when the season began, missed major portions of the season with injuries.
  • “Matt has done a good job as far as getting those guys ready,” Gase said in November. “Whoever’s available … He has had a couple situations where we’ve gone into some games where we’re one guy away from really having some issues in a game. Those guys have toughed out some things that a lot of position groups would be frustrated with and a lot of coaches would struggle with.”
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