DOLPHINS TRAINING CAMP
Sparano-Nolan meeting results in new hybrid defense for Miami Dolphins
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano met with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in January. And, together, they came up with a new, more creative defensive syste
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BY JEFF DARLINGTONjdarlington@MiamiHerald.com
On a Sunday afternoon in January, soon after Dolphins coach Tony Sparano hired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the two decided to meet for a few hours to discuss the direction they would take a struggling defense in need of a considerable makeover.
``I brought lunch,'' Sparano said. ``And we were deep into dinner by the end of that thing.''
It's one of those meetings that might now trigger memories of another epic session in 2008 when Sparano met with offensive coordinator Dan Henning for what turned into an eight-hour discussion of football strategy.
By the end of this 2010 version, Sparano and Nolan left each other with a clear understanding. It hasn't been until now, as training camp kicks into gear, that anyone has seen a true glimpse of just how different this will be. And yes, it will be different.
``It's a hybrid defense,'' linebacker Cameron Wake said. ``We're excited about it. This is a defense that's going to be changing all the time, always attacking.''
No longer is Miami steering itself toward the pure 3-4 defense of the past two seasons. And although Sparano contends last season's unit employed more than just the strict 3-4 scheme, there's a belief among the players that they're about to get far more creative.
More attacking. More athletic. More diverse.
``We ran a straight-up stack, 1976 3-4 defense the last two years,'' linebacker Channing Crowder said. ``Put the guards on the linebackers and play ball -- our guys versus their guys. But what you have to remember, they get paid, too. They're NFL players, too.''
Strategy, several players contend, was lacking the past two seasons.
Crowder, the second-longest tenured player on the Dolphins' defense, said the latest system resembles the schemes used under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who led a defense in 2006 that ranked fourth overall in the NFL.
Although the personnel drastically has changed since then, the idea is the same: Find ways to put your players in positions to utilize their skills. That's not to say the Dolphins didn't attempt such strategies last year, but the scheme limited their ability to do so.
``For anyone who ever criticized [cornerback] Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, you've got to remember,'' Crowder said. ``The whole stadium knew it was man-to-man 65 or 70 percent of the time. Come on, man. We never ran Cover Two. We never ran anything where you'd have to react.''
Now, in the wake of several changes to the roster this offseason, Miami is set up for the type of hybrid, multiple-schemed defense that will provide plenty of different looks from plenty of different areas.
The combination of Karlos Dansby (an inside linebacker with an ability to get to the quarterback) and Randy Starks (a nose tackle with the athleticism to be disruptive inside) is prompting the Dolphins to install a defense that relies on more interior penetration.
``You can call it a hybrid 3-4 or a multiple 3-4,'' Nolan said. ``But the biggest key is, you go through the process and identify your guys. Whatever best suits them, that's what you go with.''
That's not something your daddy's 3-4 defense necessarily could do.
All of this might come as a slight surprise, considering Bill Parcells is the man responsible for using and teaching that tough-nosed 3-4 scheme for the past two decades. But keep in mind: Parcells' 3-4 was also reinvention -- a twist on the same scheme that initially introduced itself into the NFL in the 1970s.
MEETING OF MINDS
This, too, is a reinvention. Although it is easy to label the new defense a hybrid, it is not that simple. All of this brings us back to that meeting in January.
Nolan has spent years teaching and studying different defenses in several systems. Sparano, although familiar with a plethora of schemes, has been raised under the Parcells umbrella. So when they sat down together, it wasn't a debate about which defense was better -- it was an attempt at conversation and collaboration.
``He wanted to hear my philosophies, and I wanted to hear his so we could figure out just how we might be able to make this thing mesh,'' Sparano said.
Here they are, nearly eight months later, finally putting their plan into place. So far, the players are pleased with what they see.
Nolan knows nothing has been accomplished yet. That part, he will tell you, is a work in progress.
``Like I tell the guys, we'll all be happy if this things gets going,'' Nolan said. ``But if not, we'll be right back to where we were yesterday.''
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