Miami Defensive Backs Poised for a Great Season

It took three preseason games, but the Miami Dolphins finally showed some life and gave fans a preview of what could be a special 2018 season. There are still holes in this team, but the good is starting to displace the bad. In a world full of negativity, it's time for the Dolphins to lean on their strengths and cover up the ugly. The offense will come later as the focus falls squarely on the Miami defense.

The team is prepping for some serious leaning on what may become a spectacular unit, the defensive backfield. Only last season, media and fans alike berated the defensive back's obvious ineptitude. All of that has changed with the drafting of Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitz is one of the most unique players ever to don a Miami Dolphin uniform.

While metaphors spring from the keyboard with relative ease when writing about Fitzpartick, it's best to explain him in Dolphin terms. Minkah has the instincts and study habits of Zach Thomas, the body of Reshad Jones and the coverage ability of Sam Madison. Fitzpatrick may go down as one of the best draft picks in Miami Dolphin history.

Since the retirement of Zach Thomas, a continuous gaping hole has resided in the middle of the Dolphins defense. Zach had the ability to sniff out the offense's intention and place himself in the right place at the right time. By combining great instincts with insatiable study habits, Zach knew the play, many times before the snap. Placing Minkah Fitzpatrick in that hallowed stratosphere is very high praise indeed.

Since Thomas retired, offenses have morphed into a high tempo, run pass option (RPO) style that Miami has never adjusted to, until now. Safeties Reshad Jones and TJ MacDonald are both excellent players, Jones is pro bowl caliber and MacDonald can add a legitimate eighth body to the box.

Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain are both very good corners. Howard is rounding into form as the best cover guy on the Miami Dolphins, and he is not afraid to stick his nose in on run support. McCain is a small feisty corner in the vein of a young Brent Grimes, who can make plays in spite of his diminutive stature.

This represents the best defensive backfield the Miami Dolphins have presented to opposing offenses in many years. It will become the backbone of this team in an interesting philosophical shift from big money defensive tackles to a well-paid complete defensive backfield unit.

For all of his greatness, Ndamukong Suh could not stop dinky passes throw right behind him. He carried three players into the path of least resistance, while the ball was going the other direction. From the vantage point behind the line of scrimmage, savvy play makers like the Miami DBs can root out these plays without getting caught in the wash.

Moving from the spectacular to the good, Miami's defensive line is going to benefit greatly from the improvement in the DBs behind them. The term "coverage sack" will take on a whole new meaning. Cam Wake and Robert Quinn present two very accomplished and polished pass rushers with some interesting options to spell them. Those near misses by Wake we have come to lament over the years will turn into game changing sacks when coverage adds an extra second to the pass rush.

The defensive tackles will be okay and really, they don't need to be much better. As briefly mention earlier, the philosophy of having a monster in the middle of the defense proved a flawed tenant. It's foolish to dismiss the greatness of Ndamukong Suh, but clearly his impact was not worth the huge chunk of the salary cap he represented. The entire starting defensive backfield is cheaper than Suh...

Akeem Spence, Jordan Phillips, Devon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are a hardy bunch of O-line eaters that can rotate continuously. None of them is in the Suh category, but they don't need to be, they only need to be good for the players beside and behind them to thrive. If the defensive tackles can hold their own, the entire defense will shine around them. It's a dirty job, but the pay is good.

Bringing us once again to the weak-link of the Miami Dolphin defense, the linebackers. To this point, the only linebacker with any historical data is the notoriously inconsistent Kiko Alonso. The tale of Raekwon McMillan's lost rookie season is not worth rehashing, leaving the question of whether he can actually play in the NFL. The pre-season has not been an indicator of greatness. Jerome Baker is a rookie 3rd round pick who has shown signs of being a decent draft pick, but again there is no historical data.

The linebacker corps is very thin behind these players with only Chase Allen playing to NFL standards. Here lies the Miami Dolphin defense's wild card, will the LBs round into form sooner rather than later? Will they round into form at all? The center of the defense has looked soft in the preseason with yards coming in huge chunks. Two runs have already eclipsed 60 yards. As Adam Gase is fond of saying, "we need to clean this up,” or another agonizing season awaits the Miami linebackers.

Health will play a big role in Miami's resurgence as a dominant defense. The depth in all units behind the defensive line is thin at best. The Dolphins have a chance to be great, if the rookie linebackers (McMillan is a rookie) round into form, the defensive backs gel as a unit and those two gifted pass rushers can defy age by having monster seasons.

From this point of view, losing Suh will have a greater positive impact than many suspect. The philosophical switch from inside-out to outside-in, will begin paying dividends in the name of Minkah Fitzpatrick.

As an outlying thought, if the Miami Dolphins played the NFL draft with the intention of making sure Fitzpatrick fell to them, it was magnificent!