Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Kevin Coyle taking steps to improve Dolphins’ defense

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, left, hands off the play during OTAs on Monday, June 1, 2015.
Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, left, hands off the play during OTAs on Monday, June 1, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Kevin Coyle didn’t seek treatment (although no one would blame him if he did) when his Dolphins defense collapsed late in three games and then in three more games at the end of the season.

Instead, perhaps without even realizing it, he got help through something of a multiple-step program.

First step as the Dolphins defense let apparent victories against Detroit, Green Bay and Denver, Coyle simply went through the pain.

“What did it do to me? It gave me major headaches,” the Dolphins defensive coordinator said Monday, his first public comments since the end of the 2014 season.

“Finishing is the name of the game. This league, the competition is so fierce, so close, the good teams find ways to win in critical situations. And we need to do that. We need to do that better than we’ve done over the past three years to get from being an 8-8 team to the upper echelon of the league. It’s making plays in crunch time.”

The Miami defense, however, didn’t quite make that improvement. Indeed, the unit that was solid the first two months of the season looked bad at the end.

It gave up 41 points to New England.

Then 35 points to Minnesota.

Then 37 points to the New York Jets in the season finale.

And when that was over, Coyle had to wait for news he was not being fired before he took the next step in his recovery: admitting there was a problem.

“I got to be honest with you, at the end of the season, I dwelled on it for a very long time,” Coyle said. “I was very disappointed in the way we finished.”

Next step?

Study the problems.

“I really wanted us as a staff to take a step back, to be as objective as we could be, and look at what we’ve done over a three-year period but particularly analyze what happened at the end of the season with a fine-tooth comb,” Coyle said. “We went through it play by play, exactly what happened — how we could have called the game better. How we could have made adjustments better. We’ve documented everything that went along the way.”

Coyle admits a portion of that documentation shines responsibility and, yes, blame, on the man universally responsible for the Miami defense. Himself.

So, taking responsibility, was a step he had to take.

“There were a number of things. We’ve looked at it. Our players have studied it,” Coyle said. “We’ve all taken ownership, starting with me right on down the line ...”

And now here it is, June 2015, and Coyle and the Dolphins defense are looking for a new beginning. For them, it is a new day.

“I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been going into a season,” Coyle said.

Coyle sees tangible reasons for feeling this way.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been a star, and now he’s Miami’s star. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler are gone, and second-year player Chris McCain offers good playmaking potential.

The starting cornerback job opposite Brent Grimes is wide open, according to Coyle, as are several others, but the candidates vying for the jobs, including Jamar Taylor, has so far been impressive.

“I’m confident each and every year as we go into it. ... We want to take it to a whole other level,” Coyle said. “We’ve looked at it. I think we can tighten things down. We plan to tighten things down. And I really want to do a good job of taking the players’ strengths and maximizing them as opposed to them fitting a system we’ve had over the years.

“We’ve done a lot of good things, but not enough. And this is a production league. We got to win. We have to play great on defense in order for that to happen.”

Perhaps that’s the final step.

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