How did Kiko Alonso play in 2017?
It depends on which Dolphins coach you ask.
Adam Gase defended Alonso's seemingly spotty pass coverage at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February, saying with an edge:
"Do you know who was supposed to cover who? Was it a safeties issue? Was it him? Was it man-to-man coverage? … Everybody is going to have some issues every once in a while, but I don't think it was as bad as everybody kind of portrayed it."
Fast-forward three months and Frank Bush, Alonso's position coach, had a different take on Miami's highest-paid linebacker.
"I was expecting a lot more from him," Bush said. "I’m sure he was expecting a lot more from me. He did what we thought he should do. He can play better. He can play better in coverage. Some of his tackling was suspect. We’re working on all of those things, but I think he will be better. He came off a hand injury last year. No excuses, but coming off a hand, he didn’t do as well as we’d thought he would do early. He’ll come around."
While there was plenty of blame to go around on Miami's defense last year, Alonso had a couple of high-profile breakdowns that contributed to the Dolphins allowing the second-most passing yards to tight ends, behind only Oakland.
The six teams who allowed the most yards against tight ends (Raiders, Dolphins, Broncos, Redskins, Giants, Texans) went a combined 31-65 and all missed the playoffs.
No surprise, then, that the Dolphins spent considerable draft resources on fixing the problem. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jerome Baker, their first and third-round picks, are fast, versatile and able to cover tight ends.
That should free up Alonso to do what he does best:
"Just got to let him go," Bush said. "The one thing he will do is run and hit, and we’ve got to put him in position to do that."
Alonso, now entering his sixth NFL season and third with the Dolphins, did not have much to say about his 2017 campaign when asked about it by a reporter Wednesday. And he had little more to say when asked why 2018 will be better for him.
"Every time I go out there, just give everything I’ve got," Alsonso said of his goals for the coming season.
When Alonso is healthy and used properly, he is a really good player. Just two years ago he had 115 tackles and two interceptions, including one returned for a game-winning touchdown. That convinced the Dolphins to lock him down long-term with a four-year, $29 million contract.
But he was asked to do too much last year with Raekwon McMillan out for the season, Lawrence Timmons underwhelming and Rey Maualuga cut midway through the season.
He seems to have more help this time around, with McMillan back healthy from knee surgery and Baker added to the fold.
Alonso will remain an outside linebacker, but the Dolphins downplay the difference between weak-side and strong-side in their scheme. But assuming their younger guys can hold up in coverage, Alonso will be allowed to attack.
“We had a lot of things going on last year, but no excuses," Bush said. "We didn’t get the job done. We’ve got to be better than we were last year. We’ve go to get on the grind and get a little bit better every day. Last year’s last year. That’s gone. We’ve got to try to be the best group we can be this year."