When the Miami Dolphins convene after this season to begin prioritizing their personnel needs for 2018, the man whose unit was addressed most aggressively this year — defensive coordinator Matt Burke — will be asking to fill multiple positions that were already addressed last year.
And one position Burke wants to fill wasn’t even considered a developing team need until now.
Burke wants his defense to add a safety and a linebacker. The team believes it needs those.
The defensive end (pass rusher) spot is always a position the club will look to upgrade if the right player falls to the right slot.
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But the unconventional desire Burke is hopeful the defense can address is a linebacker or safety type player that can play strong against the run in the tackle box as well as cover tight ends because of his extreme agility, speed and ball skills.
Burke wants a hybrid.
He wants a defensive hybrid to match up with big, fast tight ends he considers emerging offensive hybrids but also be a tackle machine against the run.
“I think that’s sort of a task for us is finding similar hybrid defenders that can do those type of things, whether it’s safeties or linebackers, that we feel can cover those guys,” Burke said Thursday. “I think that’s just sort of an ongoing movement.”
So, yeah, the Dolphins want a young, cheap Kam Chancellor clone in the offseason. Or maybe a Deone Bucannon type.
Burke sees a movement coming in which defensive coordinators search for answers to how to deal with the playmaking tight ends. He understands the Dolphins need to be in on this movement because for several years the Dolphins have struggled against such players as Jared Cook and Rob Gronkowski who are too fast for linebackers and typically too big for safeties.
“Again, I was in Cincinnati with [Tyler] Eifert and he was a challenge for people and obviously in our division with Gronk and even this week with Charles Clay, who has done it for a long time and those type of things,” Burke said. “I think that’s just the way the league is going and we have to be able to address those issues in terms of those matchups and those type of athletes that are more and more becoming involved in offenses.”
So the Dolphins will be looking for that player who will be either a linebacker or safety but is really that hybrid.
The Dolphins signed T.J. McDonald to a long-term contract prior to the start of the season because they thought him a candidate to fill that hybrid position if asked. But because McDonald served an eight-game suspension to start the season, was new to the Miami defense and was rusty when he returned, the team hasn’t been able to maximize him in any sort of hybrid role.
Also the Dolphins are dealing with injuries at safety, with Nate Allen out for the season and Michael Thomas missing much of the past few weeks and sometimes playing with a significant knee injury.
So there have been no safeties to use if McDonald is taken out of his regular position.
That may be something that the Dolphins try next year.
“He has obviously got a skillset that fits like that type of role,” Burke said. “Obviously, he’s a bigger safety. Again, the issue you get into is if you have small safeties and you put them down [on the line of scrimmage] and maybe they’re too small in the run game or if you have linebackers that can’t run with tight ends, that’s just sort of the contrast.
“He definitely has a skillset that we feel like we can utilize.”
But as the Dolphins see it, if McDonald becomes that hybrid player that is half linebacker and half safety, then the team needs a full-fledged safety on the back end in nickel situations.
And if McDonald remains at safety in the nickel, the team still needs to add a backup linebacker that can run like a safety — a player that can cover sideline to sideline and stay with tight ends.
This emerging offseason need is one that the personnel department must add to an already expansive wish list that is dominated by the offense.
On offense the Dolphins will be searching for offensive line help.
The Dolphins will be searching for tight ends.
The Dolphins will be searching for offensive linemen.
The Dolphins will add a running back that can complement Kenyan Drake.
The Dolphins need a quarterback — at the very least one that will serve as backup to Ryan Tannehill.
Add to that the safety and linebacker needs and the picture that is emerging of the looming offseason is that the Miami Dolphins personnel department has a lot of work to do.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero