Every room where Miami Dolphins defensive players meet at the team’s training facility is decorated with footballs. No, the footballs aren’t in glass cases and don’t recall great past performances. They actually are a reminder of past failure …
And a demand for change.
The Dolphins, you see, are emphasizing turnovers this year. And those footballs are in place so that when defensive players enter and leave the rooms, they punch at the balls, they try to snatch the balls, they try to strip the balls from their perch as if practicing how to treat ballcarriers this upcoming season.
The idea the players should be getting is the Dolphins are putting a premium on causing turnovers.
“We constantly look for better ways of teaching, from little things like that,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “We’ve got the footballs hanging from the walls in every defensive meeting room that they have to go in and when they walk in and out of the meeting rooms, they’re stripping and punching.
“It’s just a reminder.”
It reminds that last year the Dolphins were not nearly good enough at causing takeaways from opposing teams and were too generous in yielding turnovers. The team was minus-10 in takeaways, which means it had 10 more turnovers on offense and special teams than the defense and special teams took from opponents.
And that statistic, more than any other reason he can think of, is what coach Joe Philbin believes is the reason his team had a losing season.
“If you ask me why we were 7-9 last year, I would say minus-10,” Philbin said seriously. “That’s the starting point. That’s the starting point of everything. It’s the starting point of our offense, and it’s the starting point of our defense. I would say it is very, very important.”
If you haven’t yet figured out how much importance Philbin puts on the otherwise unsexy and often overlooked turnover statistic, consider that Miami made offseason personnel decisions based in part on the turnover margin.
Consider that cornerback Sean Smith, a big cornerback with big potential, was allowed to exit via free agency because he often got his hands on passes but rarely actually held on to those want-to-be interceptions.
The dropped interceptions were something of a theme during Smith’s time with the Dolphins and the club was so vexed by that, Miami didn’t even make Smith a contract offer after the season was over.
The club also jettisoned both linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett primarily because they simply didn’t turn the ball over for the team despite big reputations and paychecks that suggested they’d be making more game-defining plays.
Yes, Dansby and Burnett led the team in tackles – a combined 243 of them to be precise – but in all those opportunities around the football they also combined for zero fumble recoveries and only one forced fumble. And they did not manage even one interception between them despite being in the middle of all the action and in the game on practically every down.
Running back Reggie Bush, meanwhile, fumbled four times last year and was actually benched during a game for fumbling. Daniel Thomas, who had three fumbles, was similarly kept out of action for fumbling in another game.