For Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, life after Ndamukong Suh will feature not only some new personnel, but also a change in approach.
Suh played 877 snaps last season, seventh most among all NFL defensive tackles, but no longer will the Dolphins rely on one tackle to play nearly that much.
Instead, snaps will be shared fairly evenly among four players – a group that almost assuredly will include Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence and might include Vincent Taylor, as well.
Burke predicts that group will “surprise” people.
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“I have a lot of history with Suh; it's always hard to move on from guys,” Burke said Saturday of Suh's release and subsequent move to the Los Angeles Rams. “That’s part of the business. I’m excited about that room. We’ve got some young players with Jordan and Davon we’re expecting to make leaps. Akeem is a nice piece for us, especially with his history with [new Dolphins and former Lions defensive line coach] Kris Kocurek.
“It’s going to be open competition. In an ideal world, we play four tackles and rotate them through. The way we want to play and the style we want to play, we want to keep them fresh. We’re asking guys to play full speed and chase the ball and attack. It's hard to do that if you are asking them to play 80 or 60 snaps. Ideally, we'll have four guys we feel comfortable rolling through there and all getting equal reps. Whoever earns the starting spots earns the starting spots. ”
Beyond Phillips, Godchaux and Spence, the Dolphins also have Taylor, Gabe Wright and undrafted rookies Anthony Moten (UM) and Jamiyus Pittman.
“Vincent played some football for us, Gabe Wright got in at the end of the year,” Burke said. “It will be a good competition. Chris has done a good job connecting with those guys and getting things started. I'm looking forward to that [d-tackle] room. I think it’s going to be a surprise for people. It’s a valuable piece to have a guy [Suh] to perform at a high level to take those reps. Those are snaps we have to replace and we think we have a pretty good plan to do that.”
Burke addressed other issues:
▪ On third-round linebacker Jerome Baker: “We like his speed. That was the first thing that stood out. He ran well [at the Combine] in Indy. Talking to a lot of guys at Ohio State, they feel he’s even faster than what he tested at and put him in the category of guys that have come through there - the [Darron] Lees and [Ryan] Shaziers. We wanted to add speed to that room and he was one of the faster linebacker sin the draft and we felt good about getting him where we did.”
▪ On who might start at linebacker beyond Kiko Alonso and likely starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan: “In terms of a starter, all those guys have played for us – Stephone [Anthony] started for us, Chase [Allen] started for us, Mike Hull started for us. It’s an open spot right now.”
He spoke of having various packages to suit certain players, and potentially substantial rotation of personnel.
Burke said we are “hopefully projecting Raekwon” as a starter after he injured a knee in his first preseason snap last year.
“We feel good about putting him inside and letting him play ball there. If it works out the way we think it can and hopes it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us. We had high expectations for him last year coming into the draft, as a second-round pick.... We felt like he was starting to take that step before he got injured.
"We had high hopes for him last year. Nothing he’s done since then has discouraged that. Really in tuned, really sharp, has all the leadership skills we look for in that position. He has worked his [butt] off to get better. Hasn’t shown any limitations so far. Hopefully he’s a big piece for us. I'm encouraged by him.”
▪ On whether Minkah Fitzpatrick will focus on one role or multiple ones: "That's going to be up to him, how much he absorbs. He's a student of the game.
▪ He said GM Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase called him when the opportunity arose to trade for Robert Quinn from the Rams, and Burke thought it was a joke.
“Just watch him, just make sure,” Burke was told.
So Burke and Kocurek watched five or six games of Quinn's tape and “I said my answer is still 100 percent yes. Even going back to when he came out the draft, when I was in Detroit, he was a really good scheme fit for what we’re trying to do. He has rare ability to bend. It’s kind of freaky to watch sometimes, going through drill work. He’s one of the loosest, bendy athletes I’ve ever been around at the end position.
“He battled through injuries the last couple year but [in 2013] had 19 sacks in a season. He’s been great, been good worker, doesn’t say much, quiet guy, comes to work every day with a smile on his face. I know he feels comfortable being in a scheme that fits his skill set. I think that position is going to be an area of strength for us.”