For Karlos Dansby, moving to middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense has left him “feeling like a kid in a candy store.”
For Cameron Wake, shifting from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end feels as comfortable as sliding into an old pair of slippers - “it’s like going back to my roots” – because that’s the position he played when he became a pass-rushing menace in the Canadian Football League.
For the two highest-paid and most accomplished members of the Dolphins’ defense, training camp – which entered day two Saturday - isn’t quite so mundane because of the challenges of switching positions and learning new coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system.
The transition is greater for Dansby than Wake, because Dansby has never played middle linebacker in a 4-3. Wake not only played as a 4-3 end in the CFL, but reminded reporters that he played with his hand on the ground about half the time for the Dolphins last season.
For Dansby, the position switch is “a huge adjustment, a very big difference,” he said Friday. “New techniques, everything is brand new. It feels good to get out there and soak it up.”
Dansby, 30, has been an asset in his two seasons here: 95 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles in 2010 and 103 tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in 2011. But he hasn’t made quite as many impact plays here as he produced during his best years in Arizona.
He’s eager to see the personal impact of moving from an inside linebacker in a 3-4 to the middle in a 4-3. The biggest difference, he said, will be playing the run.
“It’s being able to read certain keys,” he explained. “You have to see the guards, tackles, running backs. You have to see it all in a 4-3 being in the middle. I’ve got enough height [at 6-4].
“It’s a perfect scheme for me. It gives me the opportunity to be versatile. Play the run fast. Get back in pass coverage.”Dansby reported overweight to camp after last year’s lockout, but dropped from 270 pounds to 248 by the end of the season and reported Thursday at “247, 248.”
The weight loss improved his mobility, and that will help him in pass coverage; he allowed 35 of 52 passes thrown against him to be completed last season, for an average of 11 yards per reception.
Dansby weighs only six pounds more than the listed playing weight of retired former Dolphins star Zach Thomas, who held down the middle linebacker position for 12 years here, until 2007. But Dansby is five inches taller than Thomas.
“I have watched Zach’s tape and he’s on my to-do list to get in contact with,” Dansby said.
He also has studied tapes of London Fletcher, Jon Beason and Brian Urlacher – “guys that played natural 4-3 middle linebacker. You’ve got to see what they do well and emulate it.”
CBS-4 sportscaster and former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper said Dansby’s position switch should be seamless.
“To me, he’s better suited as a 4-3 linebacker than a 3-4 guy,” Bokamper said. “It gives him the opportunity to make more plays.”
The shift in defenses, to a 4-3 base, means Wake will be playing a natural end spot full-time for the first time since 2008, when he parlayed a 23-sack season with the British Columbia Lions into an opportunity with the Dolphins.
His 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons resulted in a multiyear extension from the Dolphins this past offseason – a deal that will pay him $17 million guaranteed.
“I enjoy putting my hand on the ground,” he said of his new role. “Being able to have that versatility, I’m all for it. I want to be a jack of all trades.”
Though his sacks declined from 14 to 8.5 last season, a deeper analysis reveals this:
• Wake drew 13 holding penalties last season, six more than any other NFL player.
• Pro Football Focus rated him the league’s 16th best player for 2011, and first among 28 qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers. He also was second against the run, displayed huge growth in an area that was considered a shortcoming when he entered the league.
• His 80.5 combined sacks, hits and hurries were second most among all defensive players for 2011, and his 52 quarterback hurries were the league’s most – eight ahead of second-place DeMarcus Ware.
The difference for Wake in 2011, compared with 2010, is that a far lower percentage of his hurries resulted in sacks.
• Wake went out in pass coverage 53 times last season, something that won’t happen in his new defensive end role.
Wake, 30, said he faced more double teams last season, as teams focused more on stopping him.
In Miami’s new 4-3 base, “you’ve got two big boys in there who can hold their own,” Wake said of tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. “It gives the two guys on the outside [Wake and Jared Odrick] a little more [opportunity] to go get it.”