Miami Dolphins

Fans, are you worried about the Dolphins’ pass rush? Not Patrick Graham and here’s why

Miami Dolphins defensive coach excited defense got first round draft pick

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is excited the defensive got the first round draft pick, May 9, 2019.
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Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is excited the defensive got the first round draft pick, May 9, 2019.

The numbers aren’t just discouraging.

They’re downright ugly.

The Dolphins had the fourth-fewest sacks in the league last year, getting to the quarterback a measly 31 times.

Of those 31 sacks, 12 1/2 were recorded by Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn — who now play for the Tennessee Titans and the Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

Jerome Baker’s three sacks in 2018 makes him the Dolphins’ top returning pass rusher — and he’s a linebacker.

So the Dolphins must have fortified that weakness through free agency and the draft, right?

Not really.

First-round pick Christian Wilkins is going to do a lot of things for the Dolphins on the defensive line. And the hope is he can create pressure up the middle as a rookie. But he is not an edge rusher.

And when Ziggy Ansah agreed to terms with the Seahawks overnight, the best remaining defensive end in free agency was off the board.

Yes, there’s still a chance the Dolphins sign Nick Perry — who played for Patrick Graham, Miami’s defensive coordinator, in 2018 — in the coming days, weeks and months.

But based on Graham’s comments Thursday, ahead of the team’s rookie minicamp, if the Dolphins don’t add anyone else, it’s no big deal.

“I’m a coach,” Graham said. “I feel like we got enough. I feel confident in our coaches to coach those guys to get things done, how we want to execute it, and I feel confident in our players understanding the concepts, understanding what we’re trying to get done and getting 11 guys on the same page. So I always feel there’s enough.”

Full disclosure: Graham also said he would feel like he and his son alone could take on an 11-man team in park football, so take those words with a grain of salt.

But the fact that the Dolphins have not signed anyone in free agency to set the edge other than Tank Carradine suggests others in team headquarters share Graham’s bravado.

Plus, Graham and his boss, Brian Flores, know that the Dolphins don’t need a 15-sack all-pro to generate the necessary pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham explains Thursday, May 9, 2019, why he likes that the team's first round draft pick was a defensive player.

Both came up through the Patriots coaching ranks, and New England has rarely had that type of star.

In past six seasons, a Patriots defender has ranked in the top 25 in sacks just twice. Chandler Jones tied for seventh with 11 1/2 in 2013 and ranked fifth in 2015 with 12 1/2.

And yet, New England collectively has ranked in the top half of the league in sacks in all but one of the past six seasons.

Expect a similar by-committee approach in Miami this fall.

“The pass rush is going to come from us game-planning it,” Graham said. “Just like anything we do on defense, we’re going to try to exploit the weaknesses of the offense.

“... The beauty of the pass rush, and I’ve always said this, it’s very fluid,” he continued. “Everything is very fluid. As you watch it and you try to get an understanding of it, you can take advantage of it in different ways, in different shapes, different forms, different people. It doesn’t always have to be the cookie-cutter idea people have of a 6-foot-5, 250-pound whatever, runs a 4.5. That doesn’t necessarily means that that’s going to automatically guarantee you pass rush success. To me, pass rush success is us game-planning it, the players executing it and us trying our best to affect the quarterback.”

Graham also echoed an argument used by the last coaching staff: That sack totals aren’t the best way to judge a defense. Rather, an effective pass rush affects the quarterback by clogging his throwing lanes and making him uncomfortable.

Graham added: “Some of our best pass-rush years I’ve coached, we didn’t have that many sacks. But I know the quarterback didn’t feel comfortable back there when we played.”

Still, it’s hard to see how the Dolphins will be consistently disruptive this year unless Charles Harris makes a huge leap forward. The Dolphins’ first-round pick in 2017 has just three sacks in his first two seasons. Harris played defensive end in Matt Burke’s Wide-9 defense, but is expected to see considerable snaps at outside linebacker in the 3-4.

“He’s a versatile player in our scheme I believe,” Graham said. “When you watch him, there’s a lot of traits that show up, whether it’s the speed, whether it’s the physicality that we cherish at those positions, whether it’s the edge or off the ball or inside. The different ways we plan on using people. He has a lot of the traits that we cherish for a defensive football player on the field.”

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