Defensive pressure came in waves on the very first day of Dolphins training camp. The tide hasn’t receded since.
And while it seems like they’re always bringing an extra man — it would certainly help explain away the troubling breakdowns on the offensive line — the reality is new coordinator Vance Joseph is picking his spots.
But when Joseph does dial up the blitz, like he “absolutely” did the very first practice of the summer, it’s to great effect. It almost always results in a free runner reaching the quarterback.
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“We don't want to just be a blitz-happy team,” Joseph said. “We want to blitz with a purpose. Our philosophy is to win the snap count. First-and-10, we want to knock you back for a loss and put you behind the count so we can rush the passer. That's our philosophy, but we can't just do it recklessly. It's got to be calculated. It is, for the most part, right now.”
It’s hard to say how inclined Joseph will be to bring a fifth (or sixth) rusher because he’s never called a regular-season game before. He’s been a position coach his career entire career.
So let’s look to his recent past.
The previous defensive coordinator served under — Paul Guenther — helped create an aggressive double A-gap scheme when he worked with Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. Zimmer, now the head coach of the Vikings, brought the system with him to Minnesota. It’s hard to believe that Joseph won’t use at least some of those principles here in Miami.
Still, the idea that the Bengals were a wild, gambling team is misguided.
In 2014, Cincinnati was the just the 27th blitz-heavy team in the NFL, doing so only 21 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. That was in line with 2013, when the Bengals ranked 26th in blitz percentage (24.8).
By way of comparison, the Dolphins ranked 10th in 2014 (32.1 percent) and sixth in 2013 (36.2). The 2015 rankings are not currently available.
It’s a fool’s errand to glean too much schematically from last Friday’s preseason opener. Teams are loathe to tip their hands this early, plus the entire starting Dolphins defensive line got the night off.
That should change this Friday against the Cowboys. Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake can expect to play a series or two, Joseph said. “It’s time,” he added.
In an ideal world, the Dolphins will be able to generate enough pressure with their front four that they can mask deficiencies in their back end with double coverages.
Still, Joseph has sent an unmistakeable signal to his players: whether you’re a corner, safety or linebacker, be ready to attack.
“You start licking your chops,” Walt Aikens said of safety blitzes. “Be ready to go. A lot of times we're in coverage, reading the cue, but when he lets us go, we love that.”
▪ Joseph, on new cornerback Chris Culliver: “Obviously he's a six-foot corner that's played well in the past. Obviously, he's got some injuries that we have to work through, but healthy, he's a guy who can help us.”
▪ Joseph praised backup linebackers Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt, who have a clear edge over the injured Zach Vigil.