Renewed DE Charles Harris ready to shine for Miami Dolphins

Charles Harris feels ready to max out his second season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Charles Harris feels like a new man heading into his second season with the Dolphins, and it’s clear just by looking at his face that something is different.

After being selected No. 22 in last year’s draft, the transition to the NFL left Harris dazed at times. He had gone from being one of the biggest defensive stars in the SEC to a backup for the Dolphins, he wasn’t getting many sacks, he was unprepared for the financial windfall, work sometimes felt like drudgery and he was struggling to adapt to life on his own in a new environment.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact impact all of those factors had on Harris, but he was often downcast in the locker room after practice. He kept to himself mostly as he fought his way through what he now describes as “a dark place.” An offseason of prayer and reflection led to a renewed enthusiasm for Harris, and the change in his demeanor seems to have more to do with his personal life than anything football-related.

“Now I’m cool,” he said. “I understand that everything that happened the way it was, it was for the better of me and my family and everything like that. I understand that everything I do on the field and off the field affects everybody around me.

“I’ve got me a community down here being in Florida, being away from home, and that was a big thing. Now I have a community, I’ve got friends, I have everything I need to get to the top.”

Harris played all 16 games last season, but started just twice because he was behind Cameron Wake and Andre Branch. He played 47.5 percent of the defensive snaps and posted two sacks.

While no defensive end goes into the season targeting two sacks as an ambitious goal, he was satisfied with how he played. So were the Dolphins, who have several next-level statistics that indicate he was a strong presence as a pass rusher despite not racking up sacks.

There was still a constant feeling of confusion, and that often led him to treat football like merely a job. “I was just checking boxes every day; I came in, punched in, punched out,” he said. A lot of jobs are like that, but the NFL isn’t one of them. It takes a deeper commitment, especially for someone like Harris who aspires to be an elite defensive end, and his offseason soul-searching prompted a different approach to football.

“I feel like I just got better mentally, spiritually and things like that,” said Harris, who is a Christian. “Being able to take care of my family, get stuff done off the field and understanding grace and stuff like that. I’m better mentally. (That) is going to transition everything else.”

As for the direct effect that had on him football-wise, Harris said it motivated him to use his abilities to honor God: “This year it’s like I love it. I love it because I understand what it means to work. This is my work and use it as my worship.”

There’s an increased comfort level that comes experience, too. Not that he ever had trouble learning the playbook as a rookie, but he’s got a better handle on every aspect of the job now compared to a year ago.

“It’s less of a burden, for real,” he said. “It’s just free. Just playing free.”

With his mind in a better place on and off the field, Harris is heading into an amorphous opportunity this season.

The Dolphins are set on Wake and new trade acquisition Robert Quinn as their starting defensive ends, but the coaches have said multiple times the second wave of Branch and Harris will get ample snaps. The goal is spread playing time more evenly now that the team believes it has four starting-caliber defensive ends, plus veteran William Hayes and anyone else who emerges during the preseason.

That’s part of why Harris was undeterred by the team trading for Quinn, rather than simply let him battle Branch for a starting job. As accomplished as Wake and Quinn are — they’ve combined for seven Pro Bowl selections and 154.5 career sacks — Harris believes he’ll get enough chances if he shows he deserves them.

“Light is always going to shine,” he said. “I feel like you can’t contain nobody. You can’t keep anybody off the field. It’s the coaches that make sure … the best players are out there. That’s something they handle. I’m going to take it every single day and work as hard as I can, and we’ll see on game day.”

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NFL national anthem policy: Kenny Stills, Robert Quinn want free speech

Kenny Stills wants the NFL to have no policy on the national anthem. (AP)

DAVIE — The simplest and most ideal solution Kenny Stills is offering amid the NFL’s national anthem policy debate is to get rid of it altogether.

The league and the NFLPA are discussing revisions to the rules the owners enacted in March, and the mandate for players to stand or stay out of sight is on hold for now. The two Dolphins players who have demonstrated in the past, Stills and defensive end Robert Quinn, are waiting for that resolution until they decide how they’ll handle the anthem this season.

But if they had a say, it’d be an easy choice.

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“I’ll just say one thing: It’s called freedom of speech,” Quinn said when asked what should happen. “Simple as that. It’s freedom of speech.”

Stills agreed, saying, “Obviously I’d like to see there be no policy at all, and the guys have a choice to go out there and do what they want to, and we can support each other and the decisions we want to make.”

This was the first time Quinn and Stills have spoken to the media since the Dolphins drew national attention last week when an Associated Press report indicated they submitted documents listing suspension as a possible penalty to for violating the anthem rules.

The team later said it hasn’t made a decision on the policy yet, and the NFL and the union are continuing to discuss a potential resolution. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he’s waiting until something comes down from the league, but can’t envision a player being suspended over the national anthem.

The impasse didn’t stop Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from declaring that his players will be required to stand for the anthem and won’t have the option of remaining out of sight.

“I wouldn’t expect anything different,” Stills said of Jones.

Quinn and Stills said there hasn’t been much dialogue with management about the issue and their attention is centered on preparing for the upcoming season. The Dolphins opened training camp today and play their first preseason game Aug. 9 at home against Tampa Bay.

Stills has worked frequently with owner Stephen Ross in social justice efforts and appears to have had a good relationship with him during his four years playing for the Dolphins. He hasn’t spoken much with Ross about the national anthem issue since last season.

Quinn, who came in on a trade with the Rams this offseason, said he’s never discussed it with Ross.

“No one brought it up,” Quinn said. “Until we have a discussion, that’s just where it is right now. If the topic comes up, then it comes up. But right now, I’ll hold my opinion to myself and try to do my best to make this football team better.”

While Stills kneeled the last two seasons, Quinn raised a fist during the anthem last year. The NFL’s no-kneeling policy did not specifically address an action like Quinn’s, though it could be covered under the requirement to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”

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NFL national anthem policy: Adam Gase doesn’t envision suspensions

Dolphins players Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas wait in the tunnel during the anthem before an October 2017 game. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — As the NFL’s national anthem policy remains uncertain, Dolphins coach Adam Gase can’t foresee any player missing games as a punishment for violating whatever rule the league implements.

Gase, whose team came under fire recently when a report indicated it might suspend players who kneel or demonstrate during the anthem, said today that outcome seems unrealistic.

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“If anybody knew actual rules in the NFL, good luck suspending somebody,” he said. “It takes about 5,000 things before anybody can get suspended by a club.”

He added, “I’m just telling you, other incidents that have happened in the past, it’s harder to suspend guys than what anybody realizes.”

Protests during the anthem have been an issue since 2016, Gase’s first year as head coach of the Dolphins. Since then, the team’s response has been all over the place. There was a stretch last season in which players were required to stay in the locker room if they weren’t going to stand, but that policy was pulled back.

It’s been a similarly turbulent ride for the NFL, which believed it finally solved the problem by laying down rules in March that required players to stand or stay off the field. It put that policy on hold after the NFLPA filed a grievance this month, and the league and players union agreed to continue trying to find a solution that suits both sides.

That takes the issue out of Gase’s hands for the moment. He doesn’t have to answer questions about a policy that currently isn’t in place.

“I just kinda wait and see what we’re told by the NFL and NFLPA, what’s going on as far as their conversations go,” he said. “I wait until we actually start games. It seems like things change a lot.”

The Dolphins have two key players who have demonstrated in the past. Wide receiver Kenny Stills kneeled during the anthem the last two seasons, and new defensive end Robert Quinn raised a first last year while with the Rams.

Neither player has indicated their plans for the upcoming season, but both spoke today in favor of players having the freedom to express themselves.

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Five problems the Miami Dolphins need to solve in training camp

Kenyan Drake needs to be a Pro Bowl-caliber running back this season. (Getty Images)

As much as Dolphins coach Adam Gase loves his roster, he’s repeatedly painted it as a work in progress. There’s still plenty to figure out personnel-wise, and that process kicks into high gear when training camp opens Thursday morning.

As Gase approaches the start of a critical third season with Miami, here are five problems he has to solve over the next few weeks:

1. They need a backup quarterback.
It’s fine for the Dolphins to be optimistic about Ryan Tannehill’s knee, and there appears to be good cause for that, but they know better than to assume he’ll make it through all 16 games. They actually came out and said that in January, which made it perplexing that they did not secure a proven backup in the offseason. Gase says he’s supremely confidence in David Fales and/or Brock Osweiler as the backup — he seems to favor Fales — but both of them come with question marks.

2. Their linebacker corps must improve.
As a former linebackers coach, defensive coordinator Matt Burke must have been exasperated by how underwhelming the Dolphins were at that position last year. They’ve got a good start with Raekwon McMillan in the middle and Kiko Alonso on the outside, assuming they stay healthy, but there’s no certainty beyond those two. Stephone Anthony’s had an up-and-down career, Mike Hull and Chase Allen haven’t proven themselves as NFL starters, and it might take a while for draft picks Jerome Baker and Quentin Poling to materialize into contributors.

3. Kenyan Drake has to establish himself as a top weapon.
The Dolphins’ collection of skill players has a lot of good talent, but is there a great one among them? Drake’s speed and versatility, combined with Gase’s inventiveness, gives him a chance to stand out. When he took over as pretty much the only healthy running back available late last season, he closed the year with a league-best 444 yards (4.9 per carry) over the final five games. He also caught 17 passes for 150 yards during that span. But the jump from there to becoming a premier weapon is a big one, and it’ll take more than just physical ability.

4. There’s a big vacancy at kicker.
Kicker and punter are positions that fans (and teams, for that matter) sometimes take for granted, and that could hurt the Dolphins this season. They regret losing Cody Parkey in free agency and now move forward with seventh-rounder Jason Sanders competing against undrafted local product Greg Joseph. Neither seems to have an edge after their first three months in the organization, so training camp decide it.

5. Defensive end has to be an absolute strength.
The Dolphins’ salary cap ledger makes one thing undeniably clear: They value pass rushers above all else. It’s fine to spend big at that position, but they have to get results there. Robert Quinn and Andre Branch are the two biggest salary cap hits on the roster this year, combining for $21.4 million, and Cameron Wake is fifth at $9.6 million. Those three are eating up about 17 percent of Miami’s total spending, according to Spotrac. With a first line of Quinn and Wake followed by a second wave of Branch and Charles Harris, Miami needs to be in the top 10 in sacks this year.

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Dolphins DE Cameron Wake saw ‘missed opportunities’ for sacks in 2017

Cameron Wake isn’t fixated on sack statistics, but he knows the Dolphins’ numbers should be better. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — One of the Dolphins’ biggest problems last season was that they were in the top 10 in defensive line spending and the bottom 10 in sacks.

That’s not Cameron Wake’s fault. He had another double-digit year (his third straight healthy season doing so) with 10.5, but the rest of the team had just 19.5. Only five teams had fewer than Miami’s 30 sacks last season (25.5 from the defensive line), and that’s part of why opposing quarterbacks lit up the Dolphins on a weekly basis.

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“There were a lot of missed opportunities sometimes,” Wake said this week. “I’m not a sack counter. I think you guys know that about me. I honestly couldn’t even tell you where we ranked. I know as a defense and as a team, we didn’t get to where we should’ve.”

The Dolphins were counting mainly on the starting duo of Wake and Branch, which combined for 17 sacks the year before, as well as a significant contribution from first-round pick Charles Harris.

Branch, fresh off signing a three-year, $24 million contract, had three sacks in the first four games before injuries derailed his season. He was hurt most of the year and finished with 4.5 in 14 games.

Harris had a lot of close calls in the backfield, but managed just two sacks.

“If you look at the guys we had and our expectations, we weren’t there,” Wake said. “If we were to have success as a team… I just want to get everybody on the same page as far as winning the game on Sunday and us reaching our potential.

“Obviously potential to be at the top of the sack numbers should be there, but I think that comes with all of the other pieces of the puzzle, whether it’s stopping the run, third-down numbers, some things offenses are going to do or not do. All of that ties into what you get to do as far as getting to the quarterback.”

Miami’s disappointing defensive line play led to major changes this offseason. The team cut Suh, absorbing the biggest dead salary cap hit in league history, and traded for former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn. The plan this year is to balance snaps at defensive end among a first unit of Wake and Quinn and a second unit of Branch and Harris.

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Dolphins DE Cameron Wake: Robert Quinn ‘a bear’ for opposing offenses

The combination of Quinn and Wake should be scary. (Los Angeles Times)

DAVIE — Cameron Wake didn’t complain about the Dolphins’ existing group of defensive ends, but he was happy to hear they were trading for former all-pro Robert Quinn this offseason.

Wake hasn’t had a running mate of this caliber since Olivier Vernon in 2013, so this sounds pretty good to him.

“Pleasantly pleased,” Wake said of his reaction to the Quinn acquisition. “I can’t say I knew him personally before now, but knew of him. Obviously watched his body of work. Tremendous, tremendous football player. I can say he’s a great man and a great teammate. I’m actually smiles all around for that acquisition, for sure.”

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Wake, 36, is coming off his second-straight double-digit sack season. He had 10.5 last year, but the rest of the team combined for just 19.5. The total of 30 put Miami sixth-worst in the NFL.

Quinn is three years removed from being an elite pass rusher for the Rams, but the Dolphins are optimistic he can get back to that level. He’s only 28, and they believe two of the factors working against him the last few seasons (health and scheme) aren’t an issue anymore.

Quinn put up an incredible 19-sack season in 2013 and followed with 10.5 the year after. Over the next three seasons, he missed 16 games and managed just 17.5 sacks.

Now that he’s healthy again and playing a more comfortable role as a conventional defensive end, rather than working at outside linebacker like he did in Los Angeles, Quinn has been wowing coaches and teammates during offseason practices.

“It’s probably a combination of (genetics), hard work, flexibility and just that wisdom of where the quarterback is going to be,” Wake said. “(There are) things that he’s probably repeated and done through repetition 10 million times throughout his career. It’s one of those things where it’s looking across, I see it and I know for an offensive lineman, that’s a bear. I’m going to enjoy watching it on Sundays. I’m sure you guys will, too.”

Quinn and Wake are projected to be Miami’s starting defensive ends, with Charles Harris and Andre Branch coming in the second “wave” as the team looks to balance out playing time among its linemen.

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Mentoring Dolphins DE Charles Harris incredibly rewarding for Cameron Wake

Charles Harris is Cameron Wake’s protege. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

DAVIE — No one from the Dolphins had to ask Cameron Wake to take on a teaching role when they drafted defensive end Charles Harris last year. Not threatened by the team spending a first-round pick on someone at his position, Wake was eager to be a mentor if that’s what Harris wanted.

It’s hard to come up with a better role model for Harris than Wake, who is going into his 10th season and seems as dangerous as ever at age 36. It helps that he’s willing to take that on and do everything he can to help.

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“I probably enjoy that (almost) as much as playing football,” Wake said. “There’s so much that you gain playing this game and being in the locker room and just going through life as an NFL player that no teacher can teach you, no pamphlet, no seminar. Most coaches don’t understand and don’t know.

“You’d have to have been in the mix. A lot of the lessons I learned early on in my career were from guys who played 10-plus years in the league and said, ‘Listen, this is how you get to the quarterback. This is what to look for on Sunday. This is what to look for off the field. Don’t do this. This is how you’re going to get that second contract.’

“To me, I want to see everybody win. I want you to make the most money, get the most sacks.”

Wake hasn’t decided what he’ll do when he retires, which could still be a long way off, but he’s mentioned his love of coaching a few times.

Harris came in as the No. 22 overall pick last year and played behind Wake and Andre Branch. He finished his rookie season with two sacks, two pass breakups and 19 tackles.

This year, he is currently slated to be a reserve again, but could get a bigger opportunity. The Dolphins appear to be going with Wake and Robert Quinn as their starting defensive ends, followed by Branch and Harris, but defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said the plan is to balance their snap counts in order to keep them as fresh as possible.

As Harris continues his progression, Wake will be there for him.

“Whatever you need, whether on the field, off the field, anything, I am completely open,” Wake said. “I want to share that wisdom because it’s not like I can go to other (jobs) and tell them, ‘This is how you do this pass rush,’ or, ‘This is how to work as an NFL player.’ I can only speak to a certain group who has the ability and who will be able to implement the things that I’m saying.

“It’s kind of that use it or lose it. I’m not going to take it with me and give it to anyone else. I’ve got to give it to the Charles Harrises of the world to hopefully apply the same way the Jason Taylors of the world (did) for me.”

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Miami Dolphins believe DE Charles Harris poised for big jump in 2018

Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris will get a bigger chance in 2018. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — There’s a striking difference between the way Charles Harris’ rookie year was viewed inside the Dolphins’ building and how it was seen by the public.

On the surface, it wasn’t great. Despite Cameron Wake pushing into his mid-30s and Andre Branch fighting injuries most of the season, Harris got just 47 percent of the defensive snaps and had two starts. The basic numbers — two sacks and 19 tackles — weren’t amazing either. People usually want more from a guy who was selected No. 22 overall.

But the organization saw a guy who came in with uncommon maturity for a rookie and did everything right. Harris immediately established himself as a worker, and that track record is why Miami has high expectations for him within its remodeled defensive line.

“He’s one of the guys I’m least worried about,” coach Adam Gase said.

There was production, too, just not the kind everyone readily recognizes. According to statistics the organization tracks, Harris was among the best on the team in causing opponents to commit holding penalties, batting down balls at the line of scrimmage and registering quarterback hurries.

This year’s depth chart would seem to present even less of an opportunity for Harris now that the Dolphins have traded for Robert Quinn, but the new philosophy of rotating defensive ends to keep them fresh could work in his favor.

Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek plans to “roll guys through” each game, and Harris said they’ve got names like Alpha and Bravo groups. The top line is certainly going to be Wake and Quinn, but Harris is in line for significant opportunities in the second wave.

“We’re just rolling,” Harris said. “In practice we’re going hard, we’re going fast. It’s just crazy. There isn’t any drop off.”

Kocurek, by the way, was quickly impressed by Harris when got on the field with him this spring. He said, “It’s hard to outwork Charles,” and it’s clear he’s serious about becoming a big-time pass rusher in the NFL.

There’s also the possibility that Harris could cut into Wake and Quinn’s playing time. Wake had double-digit sacks each of the last two seasons, but he’s 36. Quinn is a former all-pro, but injuries and other struggles limited him to 17.5 sacks in 32 games over the last three seasons.

At the NFL Combine in February, days before the Dolphins struck a deal with the Rams to land Quinn, Gase made clear he and the staff believe Harris was a contributor last year and expected him to compete for a starting job this season.

“It’s always interesting that first year when d-ends come in from college, that transition from play-action passes or the run game, then have to transition to a pass,” Gase said. “It’s not as easy as you think. When it’s third down, you can see that’s really where he’s more comfortable.

“The more football he plays, the better he’s going to get. I thought he had a pretty good year this year. He did a lot of good things and we’re excited about what he showed us.”

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Dolphins ‘thought it was a joke’ when presented with chance to trade for Robert Quinn

The Dolphins got defensive end Robert Quinn (94) for a fourth-round pick. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The sequence in which the Dolphins landed former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn literally unbelievable to the people at the center of it.

This was not a possibility the team had thought much about and it came as quite a surprise in February when the Rams offered him for the mere price of a fourth-round pick. Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who has enjoyed a fortuitous offseason, thought Adam Gase must have been messing with him when he called and said, “Take a look at Robert Quinn and let me know.”

Robert Quinn? Really?

Take a look at his film? Really?

“Yes, I’m good,” Burke replied. “Absolutely, 100 percent. I’m on board.”

Still, Gase insisted they do their due diligence anyway, so Burke went to freshly hired defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and told him they needed to watch Quinn’s film from last season to make sure there weren’t any red flags. It’d have to be a quick review because Mike Tannenbaum, Gase and Chris Grier didn’t want this opportunity to get away from them.

Much like his boss, Kocurek was slightly suspicious that this was some kind of prank. Not having worked there long, perhaps this was some kind of hazing. Maybe the next request would be for him to look over J.J. Watt’s film just for a laugh. The first words out of his mouth were, “Come on, now.”

“(Burke) came into my office and … he thought it was a joke to begin with,” Kocurek said. “I kind of said the same thing when Coach Burke said he wanted to watch Robert on film.

“And then I figured out we were possibly going to get him. Obviously, I got excited about it. He’s been a guy that going all the way back to North Carolina that I’ve had my eye on. I liked him coming out of the draft.”

Kocurek and Burke went through five or six Rams games, and everything they saw validated their initial thoughts on Quinn.

It’s been three years since he was a Pro Bowler, but his overwhelming talent was still evident. Los Angeles was using him as more of an outside linebacker, and when Kocurek and Burke envisioned him moving back to a traditional defensive end role opposite Cameron Wake, they believed the perfect fix to their defensive line issues had landed in their laps.

Burke called Gase back and said, “Hey, my answer is still the same: 100 percent, yes.”

The deal got done during the NFL Combine — it couldn’t officially be processed until the start of the new league year mid-March — and everything fit perfectly on Miami’s end. The team had an extra fourth-round pick (No. 130) from trading Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia, so parting with this one (No. 111) wasn’t devastating.

It also set them up to revamp a defensive line that needed a fundamental change. After shelling out for the fourth-most expensive d-line in the NFL and finishing 26th in sacks, as well as 28th in opponent passer rating, the new plan is to go all-in on guys who make quarterbacks nervous. Quinn was the type of guy they hoped to get but didn’t think would be realistic.

With Quinn and Wake as the top two defensive ends, and two of the five costliest players on the roster, the Dolphins accepted an NFL-record $22.1 million dead money salary cap hit in order to release star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and eventually free up $17 million in space for this season.

Now they have Quinn and Wake, plus $10 million man Andre Branch and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris at defensive end and they’re putting far less of an investment into the tackle position.

The Dolphins weren’t the only ones stunned to see the Quinn trade materialize.

Quinn, who sounds like he had been hoping to get out of Los Angeles, had the bad luck of being without his phone when this all went down. He was searching all over for it when his brother pulled up the news on his own device.

Miami? Really?

“Well, let me go finish finding my phone and I’ll figure the rest of life out from there,” Quinn told his brother. “I was pretty much shocked, honestly.”

Once he got to Davie and got a taste of what his new team was like, he felt rejuvenated almost immediately. That’s a good thing for the Dolphins considering he’s still in what should be the prime of his career at age 28.

“You don’t realize you’re suffocating until you can’t breathe no more,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I can have a new breath of fresh air down here in Miami. It’s allowing me to clear my mind and have a fresh start.

“It’s a new beginning and new possibilities. I’m excited for this new start. Honestly, I think it was best for me and my family, and sometimes things work out funny, but they always work out for the best.”

Whether this really works out for the best depends on whether Quinn still has the talent to be one of the most fearsome edge rushers in football and whether Burke and Kocurek can facilitate this comeback.

After starting with two promising seasons, Quinn caught fire in 2013 with 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 57 tackles and a touchdown. He and Watt were the all-pro defensive ends that year.

Quinn followed with 10.5 sacks the next season, but declined after that. Thanks to injuries and other issues, he managed 17.5 sacks in 32 games over the next three years.

Kocurek believes he’s still the Quinn of 2013 and ’14, and the first step toward getting him back there is to reestablish him at his natural position.

“It’s just scheme,” he said. “He was asked to do something differently than he had done in the past, going from strictly a 4-3 type guy to being more of a stand-up, outside-linebacker-type. It’s not an easy transition sometimes.”

Then he added, “It’s not like he played bad.”

That’s true. It wasn’t perfect, but Quinn made the best his situation last season and stayed mostly healthy. He played all but one game, was on the field for 59 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps and had 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Even that level of production, which Quinn likely felt could’ve been better, would be welcomed. Other than Wake, no Dolphins player has had that many sacks in a season since Olivier Vernon in 2013.

The regular season is still well off in the distance, but the first few months of Quinn’s arrival have made the Dolphins even more optimistic than when his name first surfaced in their building. He could be the key to transforming their pass rush, and the early phase of this relationship has heightened that expectation.

“He’s been a good worker,” Burke said. “He doesn’t say much. He’s kind of a quiet guy. He just comes to work every day with a smile on his face and gets after it.

“I think he feels comfortable being in, hopefully, a scheme that fits his skillset. I’m really excited to see what he can do for us. I think that position is going to be an area of strength for us.”

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Dolphins defensive line will change its approach under Kris Kocurek

The defensive line will take a different approach under Kris Kocurek. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played an insane 84 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps last season, and they don’t want to see anyone doing that this year.

The new template for the renovated defensive line is to send players in “waves,” as position coach Kris Kocurek put it today. Miami believes it has enough talent to do that, and the collection of defensive ends and tackles will theoretically be better in smaller doses.

“Right now we don’t really have any depth chart set, but all I know is we’re looking for 8-10 guys,” said Kocurek, who was hired in January to replace Terrell Williams. “We’re gonna roll guys through games. We want to keep our guys fresh throughout four quarters and keep our guys fresh through 16 games… and try to keep snap counts down as much as we can and go as fast as we can and as hard as we can.”

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That’s a different approach than last year, but change should be a good thing in this case. The Dolphins didn’t get nearly the return they expected from the fourth-most expensive defensive line in the NFL.

Last season, at a cost of $36.1 million on the line, the team finished 26th in sacks at 30, with 25.5 of those coming from linemen. That works out to one every 19 pass plays, which is part of the reason the Dolphins were among the worst in the NFL in opponent passer rating and completion percentage.

They reallocated their spending to emphasize pass rushers and accepted a massive dead money hit to their salary cap in order to let Suh go and get out of some of what they owed him. The key pieces on this d-line are defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, each of whom has a 15-sack season on their résumé.

Wake is 36 and continues to make that number mostly irrelevant. He has 22 sacks over the last two seasons since coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Quinn is still considered to be in his prime at 28, but it’s been four years since he was considered elite at his position. He was an all-pro selection in 2013 with 19 sacks and followed up with 10.5 the next year, but managed a total of just 17.5 over the next three seasons in part due to injury. He had 8.5 last year to go with 32 tackles and two forced fumbles.

“It’s just scheme,” Kocurek said. “He was asked to do something differently than he had done in the past going from strictly a 4-3 type guy to being more of a stand-up outside linebacker type. It’s not an easy transition sometimes. It’s not like he played bad.”
Behind those two are a pair of enigmas: Andre Branch and Charles Harris.

Harris was the team’s first-round pick last year and played well as a backup, but had only two sacks. He graded out well overall and was among the team’s most disruptive players in some nuanced statistics like passes batted down, quarterback hurries and penalties drawn.

“Very serious about his craft,” Kocurek said of Harris. “Works extremely, extremely hard. It’s hard to outwork Charles. Wants to get better (and) strives to get better every single day.
“As a rookie, it’s always hard. As a defensive end coming in as a rookie, I thought he played well. Now we need to take that next step.”
Branch impressed the Dolphins in 2016 and earned a three-year, $24 million extension in the ensuing offseason, but was limited by injuries last season and didn’t produce like he wanted. If he’s healthy this year, he’ll be a valuable part of the line.

The Dolphins also have veteran William Hayes, who is particularly excellent as a run stopper, on their bench.

The interior is less of a priority, as indicated by the Dolphins’ spending. With an emphasis on creating a crew of top-level edge rushers, the team is willing to go young and cheap at defensive tackle.

One reason they think that’ll work is second-year player Davon Godchaux, who performed well enough last year to be a part-time starter and is expected to take over that spot permanently this year. Miami also has veterans Jordan Phillips and Akeem Spence, as well as second-year man Vincent Taylor.

If Kocurek can find at least eight really good weapons from among that group, he feels good about the defensive line making a resurgence in 2018.

“So far, I like the talent, but the talent’s gotta work,” he said. “That’s the thing these guys have been doing. Since Day One, they’ve bought into the work ethic that we’re looking for. They show up every day prepared and just make sure we get better one day at a time and maximize the abilities the best we can.”

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