Miami Dolphins first-year defensive coordinator Matt Burke has been a linebacker coach for some time so he’s been in situations where guys line up at the same spot every week, guys change up every week, or guys occasionally move depending on the opponent or situation.
So ask him which Miami Dolphins linebacker is going to play where in 2017 and you’re not going to get a definitive answer.
All the possibilities are open at this stage. All of them!
“Personally I believe and I think the organization believes, it’s important to have multi-talented players,” Burke said Saturday during his first press conference as defensive coordinator. “Everyone talks about what New England does with tight ends and running backs that are receivers and all sort of things. So I think one of our philosophies is the same. It’s having guys that are interchangeable, that can play multiple positions, that can match up in different areas week to week.
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“So we’re taking all those guys. I know the question is asked about Kiko [Alonso] and Lawrence [Timmons] and now Raekwon [McMillan] and we need, and you guys saw what happened to our linebacker depth last year. We had a plan going into Week 1 and Koa Misi by Week 3 is not playing. And Jelani Jenkins is in and out and all this stuff so.
“Our plan for all those guys is to literally cross train them. And to try to get the most and find out what the best fit is and honestly it may be week to week. I don’t know. It may be this week Raekwon fits better for us in this position and Lawrence is out here. Or maybe there’s a better option to match Kiko up with somebody we feel good about.”
That would be a first for the Dolphins. Not even during Nick Saban’s time (and he knew defense) or under Dom Capers or Mike Nolan did the Dolphins consider moving linebackers in and out of position week to week.
Players, my experience tells me, simply don’t love moving around so much. It takes a special kind of player to embrace the idea because they have to be able to avoid confusion.
Last year, for example, with Burke as the linebacker coach, the Dolphins resisted moving Alonso outside and inserting Mike Hull in the middle late in the year so as to not knock Alonso for a loop.
Those considerations are not an issue now, apparently.
“I look at them as linebackers,” Burke said. “I mean honestly. I don’t look at like say Kiko. I don’t look at him and say he’s an insde linebacker or outside linebacker. For the way we play our defense, we play with three off the ball guys. Again, like week to week there’s different challenges of the SAM’s going to match up with this guy one time or the inside linebacker is going to be asked to do this. I know everyone’s on to Raekwon, early it was about Kiko. Where are we going to play Kiko?
“Kiko is a good football player. And we’re going to utilize his skillset, the same thing Adam’s always talked about: We’re going to put our players in the best position to be successful and to help us win. So I don’t like look at any of them specifically as inside linebackers, outside linebackers. I think they all have diverse skillsets and we’re going to utilize them week to week the best way possible to help us win.”
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen was very upbeat about his entire offense. I mean, extremely upbeat which is obviously the way to go this time of year. Set the bar high. Hope and pray someone jumps over it.
On DeVante Parker: “We’re kind of seeing what we were hoping to see, which is a healthy DeVante Parker. He is running probably better than I’ve seen him run since I’ve been here. He’s a hungry DeVante Parker. He’s been around more than last year, he’s practicing hard, he’s kind of cued in, zeroed in, I guess is our word. He’s zeroed in. So we are seeing what we wanted to see out of him.
“We need him to be a big-play, No. 1 receiver. That’s what he has the potential to be. That’s what he has to be. And to play at a high level, week after week after week in a consistent manner. Not easy to do but he he has the skills to do it, which not many guys do have. And now he’s applying himself.
“I really think that his lifestyle for lack of a better word, but his routine is better. Sometimes those young guys as they come into this thing, it takes them a while to fall into the routine of what it takes to put your body in position, in shape, sleep, all of the above, practicing, to be able to make it through a 16-game season.”
Remember, Adam Gase talked about DeVante Parker at the Indianapolis Combine and his words were misunderstood to mean Parker had to get better because he was something of a disappointment. Indeed, the coach was thinking Parker had straightened his issues of preparation out.
That thought in February combined to Christensen’s words today suggest Parker has been on the right track for months. And that is obvious leading the Dolphins to think a big season is on the horizon.
“I really think he’ll have a great year, a big year, a gigantic year,” Christensen said. “And that would be huge. That takes a ton of pressure off. It helps with everything. It helps the quarterback position. It helps your running game. Everything. If you get chunks of yardage and you have a big-play guy ... those are important chunks. It’s hard to go four-yards and a cloud of dust.”
Christensen is expecting big thing from Julius Thomas.
“People ask what can he add, in Denver he added 10, 12 touchdowns,” Christensen said. “He’s going to add way more than touchdowns. The guy’s a pro. He knows coach Gase. He’s familiar with the system.”
How do the Dolphins know they’ll get the Denver Julius Thomas, who scored 24 TD in a two-year span, as opposed to the Jacksonville Julius Thomas, who scored nine TDs in two years?
“There’s no guarantee on any of them,” Christensen said. “But it’s on film. I’ve seen it. Also, hearing Peyton [Manning] talking about him and what he meant to the offense. And Gase knows him inside out. Gase knows exactly what he’s getting and knows how to use him -- used him extremely well out there in Denver.”
Ding, ding, ding!
That’s the key.
The Jaguars had no clue how to handle Thomas the past two years. Their use of him often included taking him off the field when the Jaguars were in the red zone.
The Dolphins will not be doing that.
On Laremy Tunsil, who is making the move from starting left guard to starting left tackle this year: “It’s his natural position. I think it will be a much quicker learn from last year at this time ... His comfort level going into it will be really good, really high.”
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On Jay Ajayi, who carried the ball 260 times last year and gained 1,272 yards in a breakout year: “ I’m not sold on the depth the Dolphins have at running back behind Jay Ajayi.
More accurately, I understand the team has bodies. But if Ajayi goes down, who on the roster is Miami’s new bellcow runner?
Undrafted Michigan rookie De’Veon Smith?
Christensen isn’t as concerned as I am about it.
“We really think that room could be the deepest room of them all,” he said. “With Damien and Kenyan and now we have the young guys in here that we brought in last year on the practice squad and now we brought in the Michigan running back. We have a deep room.
“And I think they can relieve each other at times. Jay is working hard at being a three-down back. His receiving skills are 200 percent better than a year ago today.”
Christensen said Williams and Drake can play all downs. Me? I see them more as change-of-pace guys. Christensen said I was an idiot.
(Fine, he didn’t say I was an idiot. But he probably thought it).
“I think that can be one of the deepest position groups of them all,” Christensen said, while perhaps thinking Salguero is an idiot. “I think he’s in 50 percent better shape than he was a year ago ... I think you’ll see him make a big jump ... There’s no question in my mind you guys will see Jay Ajayi is a better football player than he was last year.”