AC In The AM: Much To Do In Burke’s First Season

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(AC in the AM will appear during the offseason as events warrant. You can also follow AC in the AM by twitter @acohenfins.)

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Matt Burke has an interesting/imposing challenge as a first-year defensive coordinator with so many new parts arriving through the draft and free agency and, at the same time, trying to fix a rushing defense that Burke was quick to point out “statistically can’t get much worse” than it was a season ago.

Don’t, though, for a minute think that Burke isn’t up to the challenge. This is his 14th season coaching in the NFL so he has seen just about everything by now. You can tell by listening to him talk how determined he is to get this right. You can hear in the words of Adam Gase the unyielding confidence he has in his new defensive coordinator.

Burke shares many of the same philosophies as Vance Joseph, who turned his one season as defensive coordinator here into a head-coaching job with the Broncos.

“We spent two years together before we came here,” said Burke, who coached the Dolphins’ linebackers last season. “We took a lot from each other.”

But Burke also has his own ideas, his own way of doing things, and his own philosophy of how to help this defense rid itself of many of the problems it experienced a season ago.

“I’m trying to streamline some things a little bit, kind of get good at what we do and let guys play fast,” he said. “Schematically, it will be pretty similar.”

Between the five defensive players selected in the draft and players such as defensive end William Hayes, linebacker Lawrence Timmons and safeties Nate Allen and T.J. McDonald added in free agency, it is conceivable that this unit could have as many as four or five new starters.

Indeed, Burke has a lot on his plate. Might say it’s overflowing. “We had issues on every level of defense that we have to address, tackling being the foremost one,” he said.

But based on what I have learned about Matt Burke, based on the impressions he has made and the previous successes he has enjoyed, I like his chances of being the right person at the right time for this defense.

Some other thoughts and opinions with rookie camp now over and with my notebook overflowing with quotes from Adam Gase, each of the seven draft picks and the three coordinators:

Ryan Tannehill’s health no longer seems to be an issue. The knee injury he suffered about five months ago has completely healed and there is no sign of any lasting effects. “You can tell he wasn’t real happy about getting hurt last year,” Gase said. “I like the way he’s working right now.” Can there be better news than that?

• The message from Gase to the rookies? It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how you got here. This is an equal opportunity team. Show you can play and there will be a spot for you on this roster. It is clear that message resonated with each player.

• The Dolphins are going to be very careful with center Mike Pouncey, limiting his practice time when needed in order to assure that his surgically repaired hip remains strong. From what I hear, there is real optimism that Pouncey can bounce back with a healthy season. “Our goal is to make sure he plays every game plus more,” said Gase.

• By the end of the first day of rookie camp, five of the seven draft picks were already signed. Whenever I hear this, I always think back to the way it used to be and how negotiations with draft picks were usually a long, drawn-out and often very contentious process. Now with a more structured rookie wage scale, it has changed all that and the benefits are obvious.

• Talk all you want about the influx of new players on defense, but nothing in my opinion will have a bigger impact than the return of a healthy safety Reshad Jones.

• How determined to improve is second-year kick returner Jakeem Grant? He recently paid for punter Matt Darr to fly to Texas so he could work on his punt returns. “That says a lot about him,” said Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi.

• Speaking of Grant, Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen expects a bigger package of offensive plays for Grant this season, including more time lined up on the outside. “He’s a scary guy one-on-one,” Christensen said.

• After two up-and-down, injury-hampered seasons, this will be an important year for wide receiver DeVante Parker, a former No. 1 pick, and early indications are that he is embracing this challenge. “He’s running better now than I’ve seen him run since I’ve been here,” said Christensen. “We need him to be a big play No. 1 receiver. I really think he’ll have a gigantic year for us.” Wouldn’t that help this offense?

• Christensen, by the way, spent some time talking to former pupil Peyton Manning this offseason about tight end Julius Thomas, who played with Manning in Denver and is now with the Dolphins. His takeaway from Manning? “His (Thomas) figure-it-out factor was very high,” Christensen said. “He asks all the right questions.”

• The biggest improvement you could see from running back Jay Ajayi this season has nothing to do with running the ball. “Ajayi’s receiving skills are 200 percent better than they were a year ago today,” said Christensen. Imagine the possibilities.

• Can a seventh-round pick make this team? Even at a position loaded with talent, rookie wide receiver Isaiah Ford is quick to point out, “you can’t judge work ethic and you can’t judge heart and those are the two things I pride myself in.” Seems like he’s got his priorities in order.

• That the Dolphins picked up the fifth-year option on tackle Ja’Wuan James is more about what he could do in the future than what he has done in the past. “I don’t think we’re even close to where his ceiling is,” said Gase.

• Finally I liked the response from Rizzi when he was asked which of the draft choices he has earmarked for special teams work. “Got my eye on the entire rookie class,” he said. And with Rizzi, you wouldn’t expect anything less.

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