Priority No.1 for the Dolphins is determining who will coach their defense in 2015.
But once that is settled — and as of Friday, Kevin Coyle remained in place as Miami’s defensive coordinator — it’s on to Priority No. 2.
How to fix the defense.
And more specifically, what can Dion Jordan do to help the cause?
Now two full years into his pro career, Jordan remains an enigma. Is the former No.3 overall pick a defensive end? Is he a linebacker? Maybe both?
“I’m a defensive end, and I’m going to continue to do whatever they need me to do, whether it’s covering a special-teams kick or blocking on a specials-teams return or blocking a guy,” Jordan said earlier this week. “I’m going to continue to do that.”
Problem is, if he remains at defensive end, he’s going to run into the same problem in Year3 as he did in the first two: Will he come close to being an every-down player?
Because, barring an unforeseen development, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon will still be ahead of him on the depth chart. Both are under contract for the 2015 season.
Perhaps that’s why the Dolphins experimented with Jordan at strong-side linebacker late in the 2014 season. It might have been an audition.
Jordan made his first career start at strong-side linebacker in Sunday’s season finale. He recorded three tackles and two quarterback hurries — but with the all-to-familiar caveat: in limited usage.
Jordan was on the field for just 22 of the Dolphins’ 62 defensive snaps. That was not the exception, but the rule in 2014. His usage rate was 34.1 percent — making him the team’s fourth option at defensive end, behind even Derrick Shelby.
That also made Jordan the least-used healthy player selected in the top 10 of the 2013 draft. Only Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper (seventh overall) and Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (ninth) played less, and they missed significant time because of injury.
Put simply, the Dolphins need a better return on their investment. So moving Jordan to linebacker makes a lot of sense.
First, he has played it before. Jordan was a full-time 4-3 linebacker in college.
Plus, the Dolphins’ linebackers again underachieved this past year, and starting strong-side linebacker Philip Wheeler became persona non grata after calling out the coaching staff following the team’s loss to Green Bay.
“The nice thing about [Jordan] is we can put him at a linebacker, and he can drop in coverage, or we can put him at linebacker, and he can rush,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said recently. “They have to figure out how they can count him, so to speak, in terms of their identification system offensive. I think that’s one advantage of having him out there is it creates a little bit of indecision, and sometimes he can play man-to-man, he can play zone, he can rush the quarterback. I think his versatility and flexibility is a big advantage for us defensively.”
Some worry that Jordan might simply outgrow the position. He put on a fair amount of weight between his first and second seasons, and another jump in size might sap some of his speed.
Neither he nor Philbin seemed too concerned about that scenario.
“I’m going to continue to work, just as far as my strength aspect and being well on my feet,” Jordan said. “Being able to run and cover guys. When I’m called, it’s got to be something I can do. It happened this year, it happened last year. I’m a football player. I’m not going to limit myself to just one specific role or position.”
Before breaking for the offseason, Dolphins coaches told Jordan to stay healthy. Perhaps left unsaid: Stay out of trouble, too. He missed the first six games of the 2014 season after failing two drug tests. A third positive would keep him out even longer.
Despite all that, he believes he made strides in his second year — even if the statistics suggest otherwise.
“I made a lot of progress, especially seeing I missed the time that I did,” Jordan said. “I feel like I made a lot of progress. I stepped in and assumed numerous roles in the team.”