Barry Jackson

Dolphins are betting that scheme, coaching can overcome a lack of talent at defensive end

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Monday:

Anyone who looks at the Dolphins’ roster of defensive ends (Charles Harris, Jonathan Woodard, Tank Carradine, Nate Orchard) can reasonably ask:

How can the Dolphins win with a group of pass rushers who would be the fourth or fifth defensive ends on many rosters — or, in many cases, not on other teams at all?

And where is the pass rush going to come from, beyond (hopefully) Christian Wilkins and Jerome Baker and Harris and Vincent Taylor and Orchard and rookie Andrew Van Ginkel?

As we’ve reported, the Dolphins plan to play their defensive tackles — led by Wilkins and Davon Godchaux — as ends in a 3-4.

But the Dolphins’ confidence in being able to survive without NFL starting-caliber defensive ends extends beyond that.

One NFL official in contact with this Dolphins administration said these defensive coaches, led by head coach Brian Flores, believe varying schemes and keeping teams off balance with play-calling can help overcome marginal talent to an extent, and you don’t necessarily need big names to generate a pass rush.

“Defensive team production, not individual production, is the goal,” the NFL official explained. “This defense is bigger than the individual; everyone is asked to play a specific role. Their system doesn’t rely on individual achievement. They’re being asked to win together.”

And that means, in part, “doing exactly what you’re asked to do,” that official said.

It’s an embraceable approach in theory, but it’s not for everyone. You need to subjugate your ego and focus only to your responsibilities on a particular play, even if it means allowing someone else to make the play and get the glory, so to speak.

The Dolphins also believe that by changing coverages and giving teams different looks, that will also help them overcome a talent deficiency.

Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan said opponents are not going to be able to anticipate what the Dolphins will do defensively this season, and that will “for sure” be an advantage they haven’t always had in the past.

“Just the aspect that we can come in at any formation and put our best up and get the best 11 cats on the field and play any defense we want,” he said.

One of the tough positions to learn in this defense is the hybrid linebacker/end position that Charles Harris, AAF alum Tyrone Holmes and others are handling now.

Kyle Van Noy played a similar hybrid position very well for the Patriots in recent years. He had 92 tackles, including five for loss, and 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception last season.

Flores, as the Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator in 2018, said last December that Van Noy is “selfless, will do whatever we asked him to do…. Winning’s important to him. Those are things we covet here.”

And covet in Miami, too, where everyone has to do their jobs for this defense to have any chance to work.

Whether there’s another Van Noy on this roster is questionable. The Patriots (especially before Trey Flowers bolted to Detroit in March) clearly had far better front-seven talent than Miami does.

But it’s interesting that New England was able to rank highly in the most important defensive statistic last season (points allowed) while ranking among the worst in the league in sacks.

The Patriots were seventh in points allowed at 20.3 per game, and 30th in sacks with 30. Conversely, the Dolphins were 27th in points allowed per game at 27.1 but 29th in sacks at 31.

Before Flores’ one year running the defense, the Patriots had never ranked lower than 16th in sacks all decade. They were second in 2015 and seventh in 2017. So New England generally did pretty well getting to the quarterback, with last season the outlier. And it used the principles of a system now being installed by the Dolphins.

The difference is that New England had better defensive talent. Whether the Dolphins can field a competent defense with this weak group of defensive ends and edge rushers will be a fascinating litmus test. If they can, it will be one of the great defensive coaching jobs of the century.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Dolphins cornerback/safety Bobby McCain, said on his weekly WSVN-Fox 7 segment with Steve Shapiro on Sunday that“a very popular thing in the NFL is moving cornerbacks to safety to give your team the maximum athleticism in the secondary.

“The Dolphins have the potential to have four cornerbacks starting in their secondary: Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bobby McCain and whoever wins the other cornerback spot. If they play those guys, that’s going to be one of the most athletic coverage secondaries in the NFL.”

Rosenhaus, who doesn’t represent Reshad Jones and made clear he’s just giving an opinion, is among those who say “I don’t expect Reshad Jones to be with the Dolphins this year, me personally.”

A close associate of several Dolphins say the feedback has been that these coaches are more demanding and some players are liking it, but some aren’t adjusting as well as others. It’s an old-school mentality, to be sure.

The player feedback on Flores, both publicly and privately, has been very positive. His intensity is what resonates, Harris said.

“Every time he comes in, he’s on time, he’s intense,” Harris said.

And there’s this: Harris said “every day he gives you a takeaway on how he exemplifies himself as a man. He’s not just teaching us

football, but he’s teaching us life skills. I think that’s the biggest thing. Teaching guys about being mature and how every single practice

really does matter and how every day of your life matters.”

At this point, the Dolphins appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach with several players entering the final year of their contracts. That group includes running back Kenyan Drake and wide receiver Jakeem Grant. They are interested in moving on a contract extension for potential 2021 free agent offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Flores will attend the New England Patriots’ ring ceremony — and pick up his Super Bowl ring — at Patriots owner Bob Kraft’s Palm Beach County home on Thursday evening, hours after Dolphins players conclude mandatory minicamp and break for summer vacation.

Related stories from Miami Herald