Kevin Coyle survived last season’s defensive collapse but probably wouldn’t survive another one.
Not with owner Stephen Ross expecting a playoff run.
And certainly not after Ross spent more on Ndamukong Suh than anyone has on a defensive player in NFL history.
So, yes, another December defensive swoon would almost certainly mark the end of Coyle’s run as the Dolphins’ coordinator. He surely understands the stakes but chooses not to dwell on them.
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“Each and every year, pressure, as I think I’ve said before, is self-imposed, and as a coach you always put pressure on yourself,” Coyle said Wednesday. “You have high expectations. No one has higher expectations in this group than I do.”
And then Coyle listed those expectations, which indeed couldn’t be higher.
“I expect us to go out and have a great season,” Coyle said. “I expect us to be a dominant defense, and I believe we have the pieces that can do that.”
So far, his optimism has been justified. His defense has now strung together three consecutive punishing practice performances — led by Suh, the $114 million defensive tackle whom Coyle calls “Chief.”
The nickname is a reference to Boston Celtics great Robert Parish, a similarly stoic star who led by example, much like Suh does now.
Suh has been better than advertised in practice, and was again Wednesday morning. He regularly beat overmatched guard Billy Turner. On one play, Suh was in the backfield so quickly that he nearly intercepted the handoff from Ryan Tannehill to Lamar Miller.
“The thing about Suh that people don’t realize is he’s an elite player, but he’s got elite intelligence and his work ethic is elite, off the charts,” said Terrell Williams, the team’s new defensive line coach. “That’s what makes the guy great. That’s what makes the guy special. Not just great player, but elite intelligence, elite work ethic. I love the guy.”
Suh alone would give the right side of any offensive line fits. But when he’s paired with Cameron Wake, as has been the case this summer, it’s patently unfair. Turner and tackle Ja’Wuan James fight a losing battle every day.
Between them, Wake and Suh have 47 sacks since 2012. And although Coyle suggested Wake might move around some this season, they’re absolutely lethal as a tandem.
Other takeaways from Coyle’s first meeting with reporters of the summer:
▪ Third-year cornerback Jamar Taylor has been playing “his best football since he’s been here,” yet Coyle still wants to see more before deciding who will start at the spot opposite Brent Grimes.
Taylor got the vast majority of the snaps with the starters Wednesday, but Coyle is also intrigued by Brice McCain, a veteran nickel corner added in the offseason.
“Brice McCain is a tremendous athlete,” Coyle said. “He is quick as well as fast, and I don’t know if you guys can appreciate yet just how fast he is. He’s not a little quick guy. He has deep speed to run with anybody, and he’s got a real professional way about him. He competes every snap.”
▪ Who will start at middle linebacker? “It’s still up in the air,” Coyle said.
Koa Misi barely practiced Wednesday with what appears to be minor leg injury, giving coaches a close look at Kelvin Sheppard, Misi’s top competition. Coyle praised Sheppard’s leadership, and said that Misi is much improved over 2014.
“I think we’ve got a lot of depth in that group to be perfectly honest with you,” Coyle said of the linebackers. “Not a lot of flashy names, but I think we’ve got guys that have proven that they’re going to be quality players in this league, and I think the group overall is deeper than it’s been.”
▪ Coyle said defensive tackle Earl Mitchell “is playing the best he’s played since he’s been with us.”