Vance Joseph has thought about this. He has considered the talent the Miami Dolphins have on defense. He has considered the opposition that defense will face in the AFC East. He has weighed all his options.
And now, even when he closes his eyes, the Dolphins’ new defensive coordinator can see his 2016 unit. Although it has never been on the field for a full contact practice much less a live game, this unit is already playing in Joseph’s head.
So what does it look like?
“It looks like a defense that’s playing on their own terms,” Joseph said recently as he sat in the lobby of the team’s practice facility. “I don’t want to be a defense that’s reacting to the offense. I want to play on our terms. That, in my opinion, is the way players want to play. They don’t want to read and react. They want to attack.
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“So in my opinion, we’re going to be an attack-style defense from every position — from the D-line, corners, safeties, linebackers. Every position.”
Joseph is a confident man. (You’ll be more convinced of that in a minute.) He is an alpha male who will challenge — no, has already challenged — players to raise a defense that allowed 389 points last year (19th in the NFL) to a unit that is respected if not feared.
That’s why he wants to attack.
“I think it’s better because you play faster and you dictate how games go,” Joseph said. “Now, that’s not going to guarantee you’re going to win every football game. But it will guarantee that you’ll cause havoc. And to be a great defense, you have to be able to cause havoc and turn the ball over and do those things.
“If you’re sitting back and waiting for something to happen, sometimes it’s not going to happen for you. And the better people you play, they’re not going to give you the ball. You have to take the ball away. In my opinion, players want to play fast. They want to play on their terms. Just being aggressive versus 2016 NFL offenses, it’s mostly a pass game, it’s mostly a one-back run game, so why not be aggressive?
“Your risk goes down when it’s one back in the game and three wide receivers. Protections are weaker, the run game gets softer. So why sit back and let them dink and dunk you? And now it’s second-and-4 and third-and-1 all the time? Instead of being a negative play or a turnover?”
Make no mistake, Joseph is going to gain a reputation for getting after opponents. But he will do that because he has thought about it, not because it sounds good or feeds ego.
Joseph also has thought about where his current defensive unit will excel and where it might be weak.
“We will be a pretty good rush team, in my opinion, with Cam [Wake] getting back to form,” Joseph said. “I think Mario Williams is motivated. I think [Ndamukong] Suh is going to play really well. Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell are going to play well. In my opinion, our front is going to be one of the best fronts in the league. That’s my vision for this defense.
“We’re going to allow those guys to rush and be aggressive. My vision for this defense is to have the most aggressive front in the league. And with those four or five guys, even with [Andre] Branch, he’s come here and been a really good surprise because he can rush. And he’s been a compliant guy. He’s worked hard. So we have five or six rushers. So we’re going to rush.”
This philosophy sounds good before it’s tested. But Joseph is a realist. He knows everything doesn’t always work as planned. So he has concerns.
“I worry about and I’m not sure about our depth,” Joseph said. “There’s a lot of teams concerned about depth. Our first 11 that go out on the field are going to be very, very competitive. Behind those guys, we’ve got a bunch of young guys who have to develop and we hope they can grow into being positive backups for us. So my concern is our depth.”
Joseph will turn 44 years old in September. He’s young, and if his first couple of seasons with the Dolphins go as he expects, he’ll be on the fast track to a head coaching job. But before that happens, he’s facing considerable challengers.
In the AFC East, Joseph will be matching wits against accomplished offensive coordinators Chan Gailey (New York), Greg Roman (Buffalo) and Josh McDaniels (New England) — who have a combined 22 NFL seasons as coordinators.
So how is this rookie defensive coordinator going to outsmart all that experience? Well, he starts by correcting me when I call him a rookie.
“I wouldn’t say outsmart and I wouldn’t say I’m a rookie,” Joseph said. “I’ve been in this league a long time as a secondary coach and that’s how you win games — from the secondary. And I’ve been pretty good for a long time. I’ve faced all those guys before.
“Really, when it comes down to it, players play. And scheme-wise, there’s so much film and information out there, nothing’s going to surprise you. Our players will be prepared to play. It won’t be about myself versus Chan Gailey or versus Josh. It’ll be player on player, who’s prepared to play that game that day. That’s my only concern.
“As far as experience, that doesn’t worry me.”
Told you he’s a confident man.