Miami Dolphins

Exploring the Dolphins’ plan on defense, courtesy of the Ivy Leaguer making the calls

What the Dolphins new defensive coordinator wants in his players

Patrick Graham, the Miami Dolphins new defensive coordinator, talks about what he wants in his players to be a championship team.
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Patrick Graham, the Miami Dolphins new defensive coordinator, talks about what he wants in his players to be a championship team.

Long before he worked for Bill Belichick, Patrick Graham loved secrets and subterfuge.

He’s a football coach only because chemical engineering classes at Yale were as hard as they sound.

Otherwise, he would probably be a spy. (Yes, insert joke here, Patriots haters.)

“If you go back and dig it up, there’s film of it,” Graham said. “My senior year of high school, I wanted to get a chemical engineering degree and go into the CIA.”

Graham continued: “That didn’t go too well. Had to switch it up. My dad told me, he said, ‘Listen, the change from engineering to sociology, make sure you’re not living here when you graduate.’ I said, ‘I think I’ll be OK, Dad.’”

Two decades later, Dad can rest easy. Graham is more than OK. In two years, if things go well with the Dolphins, he might be one of the league’s rising stars.

Graham will make the defensive calls for Brian Flores’ Dolphins this fall. The two men first met more than a decade ago as low-level staffers on the Patriots.

What he learned in New England? Multiplicity and unpredictability are key.

That’s why the Dolphins will use a 4-3 and a 3-4 defensive front this year.

“We’re going to do whatever coach Flores wants us to do that week, and what we’re going to try to do is try to teach the guys the concepts of the defense, what the coverage is, what the rush is whether we’re rushing three, four, five, six, doesn’t matter,” Graham said. “How we deploy those guys in different spots and the outside looking in, you guys see it. It’s going to look multiple. It is going to be multiple. Are we talking about 3-4, 4-3? It’s just going to be multiple.

“We’re going to do what we need to do that week and that game,” Graham continued. “We’re going to try to win that situation, whatever we’re trying to do. If it requires all 11 guys to be on their feet, it requires all 11 guys to be on their feet. If it requires all 11 to be down in a three-point stance, it’ll look weird, but we’ll do it, if we think that’s what it takes to win the game.”

Put another way, the Dolphins are going to install their variation of the Patriots’ defense, which Flores ran to perfection in the Super Bowl. New England held the high-flying Rams to three points — the fewest in Super Bowl history — and 260 yards en route to a sixth world championship.

“I don’t want to live in the past,” Graham, who coached the Packers’ linebackers in 2018, said of the game Flores called, “but it was beautiful.”

But not surprising. Graham has known Flores has game since they shared an office a decade ago.

Graham got his first NFL break in 2009 as a coaching assistant on Belichick’s staff. Flores was in his second season as a Patriots coach after spending four years in personnel.

They were assigned the same cramped room that felt a bit like a bus terminal. The printer for that side of the building was kept in their office, and foot traffic in and out was constant.

In those close, and often distracting quarters, a friendship blossomed. Graham, who at 40 is three years older than his new boss, could always count on getting the truth from Flores — which remains the case all these years later.

“Whether I was doing it right, whether I was doing it wrong, if I said it right, if I said it wrong, he would interject where needed to,” Graham said. “That’s what I value from him. He’s been an example for me in terms of consistency. If you ask me about Coach, he is selfless. All the stuff you talk about with the team, he is selfless. He puts the team first above all else.”

Graham has been long impressed by Flores’ presence and ability to listen.

And now reunited in Miami, Graham intends to execute whatever vision Flores has — even if that means changing the scheme every week.

“I hope all these hours of work and just trying to have an idea of how the offenses are trying to attack us and having my thought in line with Coach Flores and being ready,” he said. “It’s going to be from the preparation. That’s all I can tell you, I’m going to prepare to be ready and when the time comes, it comes. I’m going to be prepared to be ready. That’s how I know to be ready. Any other situation I’ve gotten ready for has been through preparation.”

Adam Beasley has covered the Dolphins for the Miami Herald since 2012, and has worked for the newspaper since 2006. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications and has written about sports professionally since 1996.

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