Here is just a sampling of the running backs the Dolphins will face in 2017:
LeSean McCoy (twice). Devonta Freeman. DeMarco Murray. Adrian Peterson.
And, oh yeah, this Sunday: Melvin Gordon, who was 3 yards shy of 1,000 for the Chargers a year ago.
So there’s no easing into the season for a run defense that allowed the third-most yards (2,247) and highest yards-per-carry average (4.8) in the NFL a season ago.
“You guys haven’t let any one forget about it,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke told reporters here this week, “so the awareness level is pretty high. We’ve been emphasizing it.”
Here’s why Burke is optimistic it will indeed improve in 2017:
▪ Technique and communication have improved in the Dolphins’ second year in this Wide 9 scheme.
▪ And the Dolphins spent a lot of money on addressing this very problem.
They traded for run-stopping lineman William Hayes. The signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons to a two-year, $12 million contract.
Sadly, Raekwon McMillan, Miami’s second-round draft pick, is out for the season with a knee injury. He would have been a factor.
“I think those guys will help, but also being able to key in on your responsibility over the last six weeks or 12 weeks or however long you want to consider it to be,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Those are the things that are going to make you or break you. It’s put up or shut up.”
Wake, now entering his ninth season, has been on really good run defense and really bad run defenses.
He’s been on teams with a ton of talent. And he’s been on teams that have been limited.
Where does this roster stack up?
“It’s always on paper, on paper, on paper,” Wake said. “On paper has never won a football game. It’s always the players, it’s always the plays. Until you’re out there with live bullets, all of that, OTAs and paper and who did what last year or the year before, really it doesn’t matter because they don’t care how many Pro Bowls you went to, they don’t care how many interceptions you had, they’re trying to beat you right now.
“Are you going to play today to the best of your ability and help the team win? And if you’re not, then you’re going to be on the bad side of things. Again, all the talent and all the coaching staff and all the facilities in the world aren’t going to win a game; you’ve got to go out there and do your job. That’s to be seen, but I am confident in my guys and I’m confident in this roster.”
Wake was asked: Is this the most talented roster you’ve been a part of?
“I guess it would probably one of the most experienced groups I’ve ever played with,” Wake said. “It’s definitely up there as far as talent level. I’m in here going through my years … they’re all kind of one big mush. It’s definitely up there, but I’ve been on some really talented teams and, obviously, we haven’t had success in the past.”
Wake rightly pointed out that last year was the first time he made the playoffs. But that didn’t necessarily make it the most talented Dolphins roster since 2009.
“It was the most successful,” Wake said. “Are those two correlated in football? Probably not the same as other sports as far as All-Star roster and winning the big show, but I think here, it’s team, not necessarily talent. Talent obviously helps, of course, but I think that team is going to get farther than a bunch of Pro Bowlers that aren’t together.”
Every year is unique. And no season has quite been like this one — which is remarkable, considering it hasn’t even started yet.
When the Dolphins kick off at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, they’ll become the last NFL team to play a game. Hurricane Irma ruined their opening week.
“It’s long overdue,” Wake said. “Anxious, excited. I’m actually looking forward to going out and seeing what we’re made of, really. We’ve done a lot of hard work in the offseason, and now it’s time to put it under the lights. I know I can speak for most of the guys that we’re excited and we’re ready.”
Time will tell if the Dolphins’ run defense is ready as well.