Dolphins brace for tough schedule
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins, who face four of the NFL's top quarterbacks in the next month, figured it would be wise to come up with something fast.
So defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle created a package named "speed."
The scheme gets ends Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan into the game together, which gives the Dolphins a formidable pass rush and considerable flexibility. Miami unveiled the alignment in Sunday's season-opening win at Cleveland, and Coyle said it will be used more in the weeks to come.
"We can do a lot of things with those guys on the field," Coyle said. "We had a lot of fast guys on the field with that particular group. We can cover with those guys because they are all athletic; you might have seen Dion dropping into coverage a few times. We just scratched the surface with that."
The speed package is one of many schemes designed to take advantage of the depth and versatility in Miami's defensive front seven, which is the strength of the team. But the group will be sorely tested by the upcoming schedule, beginning Sunday when the Dolphins face Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Then come Matt Ryan and Atlanta, Drew Brees at New Orleans, and Joe Flacco and Baltimore.
If the Dolphins are still above .500 when that stretch ends, they'll be well-positioned for a run at only their second playoff berth since 2001.
"We aren't going to get a whole lot of sleep here over the next month," Coyle said with a laugh.
The goal is to make sure opposing offensive coordinators don't get much sleep, either. Video of the Dolphins' defensive performance at Cleveland might do the job.
Miami had six sacks, made three interceptions and allowed Cleveland to convert only one of 14 third downs. A swarming defense made life miserable for Brandon Weeden, and the Dolphins will need the same sort of pressure against more proven QBs in the weeks to come.
"We hit the quarterback a bunch of times Sunday," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "Any time you can do that, it will put the halt on a lot of offensive attacks."
The performance was just what Coyle and coach Joe Philbin envisioned from their front seven, starting with strong performances by the ends. Pro Bowler Wake had 2½ sacks, Vernon applied constant pressure from the other side, and first-round draft pick Jordan came off the bench to earn his first NFL sack.
"Our defensive ends are among the most athletic guys there may be in the league," Coyle said. "They aren't the biggest guys, but they are very strong and play with great leverage."
While they controlled the flanks, Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks dominated inside while rotating at the two tackle spots, and new linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler gave Miami more speed and blitzing options at their positions.
Coyle can use a wide variety of personnel combinations -- for example, Odrick might line up at any of the four spots on the line. That makes the Dolphins even more difficult to block.
"We kept some cards in our back pocket throughout the preseason," Wake said. "But when we started this offseason, we looked at our room and we knew we had a lot of guys that can do a lot of things pretty well, not just always line up and do the same thing. We have guys who can stand up, drop, rush the middle, rush the outside.
"All the guys have athletic ability to do a lot of things, and keeping the offense guessing will help our whole team."
Such versatility can keep Coyle guessing, too. He said his options are so appealing it's sometimes tough to choose.
"Did you ever go to Baskin-Robbins?" he asked with a laugh. "Is it a tough call when you are looking at all the different flavors and you want to pick one but you can only have one? Yes."
DT Starks said he regretted making an obscene gesture toward the Dolphins' bench during Sunday's game. He said was joking with teammates and didn't get fined for the gesture. Starks denied being unhappy with his role or contract situation. ... Rookie cornerback Will Davis (toe) and third-string quarterback Pat Devlin (ankle) returned Tuesday after missing practice last week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Seahawks' Lynch plans holdout over contract
- 49ers' Smith: I've stayed sober since Sept.
- NFL suspends Ravens RB Rice for 2 games
- Romo says his best football is yet to come