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Friday, June 11, 2010
Miami's ballhawks on hunt for loose balls


DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins' defense isn't fooling around.

While it might look like they're clowning in team workouts, they most certainly aren't.

Vontae Davis
Cornerback Vontae Davis' pick-six from 2009 is the type of aggressive play Mike Nolan is trying to cultivate.
There's a reason Dolphins defenders are pouncing on incomplete downfield passes like fumbles. They're scooping up the dead balls and dashing the other direction, looking to lateral on their way toward the opposite end zone.

"It started out a little bit frustrating because an incomplete pass, you figure the play's dead," Dolphins receiver Greg Camarillo said with a laugh. "Here these guys are, taking off with the ball, and we have to go chase them down."

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has instituted the "every ball is in play" philosophy to instill a more aggressive mentality. Nolan's approach follows the principle that dictates you practice how you want to play.

"We're so used to going and getting that ball when it's on the ground," said Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell, "I wouldn't be surprised if we're in a game on Sunday, the pass is incomplete and somebody's picking it up.

"That's how hungry we are for the football. We're in that mindset."

The approach seemed to work for Nolan last year, his lone season running the Denver Broncos' defense. The Broncos were tied for fifth with 13 fumble recoveries and tied for 13th in interceptions with 17.

The year before Nolan arrived, the Broncos ranked 26th in fumble recoveries with seven and second-to-last in interceptions with six.

In two years under defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, the Dolphins were decent in 2008, then slipped seriously.

They had six fumble recoveries last year, one more than the dead-last Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins tied for 16th in interceptions with 15.

"It's ballhawking," Bell said. "We just have the attitude of attacking. We're not going to let the offense dictate to us. We're going to dictate some things to those guys. We're going to make them change, according to what we do.

"We just want to be offensive in our approach. When that ball's on the ground or in the air, we want it."

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan instituted a similarly aggressive approach in training camp last year, instructing his defenders on the proper way to lateral on an interception or fumble return.

"When it works, it's great," Ryan explained of his laterals last summer. "When it doesn't work you kind of look like a fool because you're giving the ball back. We don't want to be reckless with it, but we do want to be aggressive."

That risky approach was something former Jets coach Eric Mangini never would have stood for. Ryan said Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome wasn't a fan of that aggressive mindset when Ryan replaced Nolan as defensive coordinator there.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano admitted it took him a while to get used to jumping on incomplete passes in practices.

"You play some of these defenses in this league that are really good and you make a mistake," Sparano said, "and the next thing you know they're turning it over into points against you. Our defense is starting to develop that mentality."