When you have lost your way, sometimes a simple reminder is all you need to get back on track.
Such was the hope Sunday for the Dolphins’ defensive line — gashed and pushed around in an exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers on Friday.
Miami’s trench warriors spent their first day back at practice engaged in group positive visualization, recalling how they were once a stout and tough group and can be that once again.
“We have a physical defense,” defensive end Jared Odrick insisted. “You’ve seen it last year.
“We talked about it all day [Sunday] at practice, how physical of a group we are up front,” he added. “It’s something we need to bring out of ourselves.”
With the regular season three weeks away, the sooner, the better.
Miami’s defense was supposed to be the group that carries the team this year, particularly if the Dolphins start a rookie quarterback. Instead, the starting D has been punched in the mouth on two occasions.
The Dolphins’ first-string defense has surrendered points in five of the six possessions in which it has been on the field — including four touchdowns. They didn’t come out ready to play in Friday’s loss at Carolina, surrendering plays in excess of 10 yards in three of the game’s first four snaps.
In all, the Dolphins, owners of the league’s third-rated run defense a year ago, gave up 146 yards on the ground and allowed Carolina to possess the ball for nearly 34 minutes. The Panthers had 295 yards of offense by halftime.
“If you watch the film, there were guys there to make the play, and we didn’t,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. “We had too many mental errors, we had too many missed tackles, stuff that beats you in football.”
For the second week in a row, Philbin called out his starting defense on its hustle (although he did so politely). When asked to name a positive from Friday’s loss, he praised his backups for their “energy and zip.” But he did so in a way to make clear his dissatisfaction with the effort of his starters.
To be fair, the defense on the field Friday was not Miami’s best 11. Far from it. Three starters — Cameron Wake (back injury), Karlos Dansby (knee) and Kevin Burnett (back) — didn’t suit up and are not guaranteed to play Friday against Atlanta.
Wake participated in Sunday’s light practice, although Dansby and Burnett did not. Dansby, who wore a knee brace Sunday, claims he feels “pretty good” — although he declined to elaborate on what is wrong with him, or how long he’ll be out.
But every day he and Burnett miss, the odds that Miami’s starting 11 will play together at some point in the preseason fade. Randy Starks, for one, didn’t sound particularly optimistic.
“We have to prepare as if they’re not going to be there for the start of the season,” said Starks, Miami’s starting defensive tackle.
“The season’s going to go on whether they’re with us or not,” he added. “We have to go out there, and whoever’s ready to take their spot will go out to play.”
So far, that has been Olivier Vernon at Wake’s defensive end spot, and Jason Trusnik and Gary Guyton at linebacker.
Trusnik and Guyton looked a step slow, particularly when the Panthers’ tight ends were targeted. Ben Hartsock, for one, was wide open on a seam route that set up the Panthers’ first touchdown.
Vernon, meanwhile, earned praise from Philbin for his high motor on defense and special teams.
As for Kevin Coyle, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, he was in no mood for compliments Sunday. Coyle told reporters that there is not one area of the defense he’s comfortable with yet, and while his unit practices well, it does not carry the same intensity over into the games.
“We’re not a defense that’s going to be loaded with superstars,” Coyle said. “We’re going to have a bunch of guys that do their job at a high, high level each and every day.”
Added Dansby: “We haven’t shown ourselves. We’ve got a lot to prove as a unit. We need to go out there and get the job done.”