Two years ago, Matt Burke — the full-bearded, Dartmouth-educated football lifer — stood near the top of the world and looked down.
Burke has a high-stress job, so he blows off steam in the offseason by taking adventure vacations. Burke got ready for his first season with the Dolphins by going on safari in Botswana.
But that was tame compared to his 19,000-foot climb the year before. He tackled Mount Kilimanjaro — and was still back in time for training camp.
No reason to believe, then, that he can’t fix a Dolphins defense in one offseason.
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Burke will get that opportunity, as Adam Gase on Thursday quickly promoted the career assistant to defensive coordinator, replacing Vance Joseph, who’s now the head man in Denver.
“This is a high-performance, high stress business,” Burke said. The extreme excursions are “my way to get away form things.”
Gase has never let inexperience get in the way of opportunity. Both he and Joseph had never done the jobs they held last year before 2016, and Burke is the same way. He’s spent the past eight years coaching NFL linebackers. Now he’ll coach everyone on the defensive side of the ball.
“For me, this was an easy decision,” Gase said. “Matt knows this defense inside and out. ... I really feel like we had two defensive coordinators on that side of the ball [in 2016].”
Gase continued: “Players respect him immensely. They love the attitude and energy he brings to the game. These guys know they'll be able to come into every game prepared and ready to roll.”
And they’ll know the system. While there will be the inevitable offseason tweaks, Burke plans to largely run the system Joseph put in place last year. And that’s helpful not only to the players, but the men tasked with picking them. It’s hard to build a roster when you change who you are every year or so, but that won’t be the case in Miami.
“We want to be an attacking defense, what we started trying to build here,” Burke said. “Be aggressive. I know we said this before, but we want to tailor our scheme to our players. It's always better when you can play on the front foot as opposed to the back foot.”
When asked to assess the Dolphins’ defense in 2016, Burke focused on wins and losses, and not stats — which weren’t pretty for Miami. The team allowed 6,122 yards last year, the fourth-most in the NFL and the most ever surrendered by a Dolphins defense.
But the roster that starts 2017 will probably look little like the one that finished 2016. The Dolphins are expected to make significant upgrades this offseason, although Burke sees linebacker Kiko Alonso “as a core piece of the future.”
Those who know Burke say that players love and respond to him, and that he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy.
And one more thing: expect some fireworks on the sidelines.
“I like to think I bring a level of energy and fire to this team,” Burke said. “This game is based on emotion as much as anything.”
The climb begins now.