General manager Jeff Ireland made the point very clear this offseason: The Dolphins want a coaching staff that develops young players; someone who would take his draft picks and mold them into solid pros.
Nine months into Joe Philbin’s tenure, this staff has displayed an ability to help young players improve – starting with Ryan Tannehill, but extending well beyond that. Players deserve lots of the credit, but cornerback Nolan Carroll said this coaching staff is the primary reason for their accelerated growth.
“Each day, they’re teaching us something new,” Carroll said. “We’ve had the coaches in our ears so many times telling us what to look for, helping us with our technique. Now it’s just a reaction. We’re no longer thinking [too much] on the field. … And anytime you have a new set of eyes coaching us, you learn something else.”
Offensively, Philbin said he has had limited involvement in Tannehill’s day-to-day development. Tannehill has been mentored primarily by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and Sherman’s son-in-law, assistant quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. With the quarterbacks, “it’s Mike on the field and Zac in the film room,” third-string quarterback Pat Devlin said.
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Sherman is proud of the results: “We’ve done a good job developing our talent,” he said. “It’s evident by the fact that throughout minicamp, preseason and [organized team activities] we were going with multiple groups trying to get as many reps as we can.
“It helped the development of Ryan, to be able to maximize his time on the field by having extra reps for him and to bring him along. I don’t think he would be near to where he is right now if we hadn’t gone that direction.”
Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin and third-year right guard John Jerry also have improved steadily under offensive line coach Jim Turner, who — like Sherman and Taylor — coached at Texas A&M last season. Turner had 20 years coaching experience, but none in the NFL.
Turner has taught Martin “tons of things to help my transition to the right side go smoother,” Martin said.
Mike Pouncey, who has become one of the NFL’s top centers in his second season, likes that this staff runs practice plays until they’re done correctly.
“This staff is hard on everybody; doesn’t matter who you are,” Pouncey said. “They won’t sugarcoat.”
And Pouncey said players were bound to improve more this past offseason than in 2011, when offseason practices were wiped out by the lockout.
But Sherman is still demanding more from himself, especially with tight end Charles Clay, whose production has fallen off in his second year. Part of that “is on me,” Sherman said.
The Dolphins also want more development from rookies Michael Egnew and Lamar Miller, and second-year back Daniel Thomas, among others.
On defense, several players in their first four seasons have clearly improved, including cornerbacks Sean Smith and Carroll, safeties Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons and linebacker Koa Misi.
What has helped, Smith said, is that the coaches have fostered a “positive environment” and “preach staying disciplined in fundamentals throughout the game.”
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Smith is his unit’s most improved player; his 51.7 completion percentage against ranks among the league leaders among starting cornerbacks. Jones and Clemons are ranked third and 22nd, respectively, among 73 safeties in Pro Football Focus’ ratings.
Former Purdue defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo coaches the defensive backs, but Coyle — praised for his work as Bengals’ defensive backs coach the past nine years – offers them “pointers,” Smith said.
Rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon also has improved, partly because defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, who was retained by Philbin from the previous staff, has worked with him on developing pass rush moves.
“Kacy does as good a job as anybody in the league,” Coyle said, predicting Vernon “will be an impact guy from here on out.” Vernon said: “I’ve learned so much since leaving UM – using my hands way more now.”
Philbin hired several assistants with considerable NFL coaching experience (including Sherman, Coyle and linebackers coach George Edwards), but also eight without any, including Turner, Taylor, Anarumo and receivers coach Ken O’Keefe, Iowa’s former offensive coordinator.
“I knew when I was putting a staff together I wanted a good balance,” Philbin said Friday. “Since I coached at virtually every level of football, and watched a lot of high school coaches over 19 years as a college recruiter, I felt coaching is coaching.”
Carroll said: “The thing with college coaches is whatever they’re dealt, they have to work with. They’re always asking us for feedback.”
For this staff, player development can’t be overstated.
“In the NFL, the most important thing you can do is develop talent,” Sherman said. “The teams that are able to develop talent are the teams that are going to be rising instead of falling at the end of the year because they can fit in when injury occurs.”