The opinions of the Miami Dolphins 2010 draft class are all over the spectrum. Some are giving it a grade of A while others give it an F. Its possible that we’ll see instant positive results from this class in 2010, but it may be a few seasons, if ever, that we see any results.
One thing I think we as fans should look at is just how the players will fit in on our roster. In order to do this, it would help to take a crash course in Mike Nolan’s defensive schemes.What this post is going to attempt here is a look at players on our roster, including the draftees, and the positions they could fill in Nolan’s schemes. These schemes and packages are based on what he did in Denver last season, not just with personnel, but in alignments as well. I’m going to hit the highlights from the article in the link as reference. I apologize if it’s a little nerdy, but I simplified it as much as I could.
Let me begin by saying I’m not an NFL insider and do not have some special football knowledge. This is based off of information I gleaned from an article posted in the link. Its not an exhaustive study of Nolan’s defense by any means, but it’s a good foundation for the average football fan. The article is somewhat long, but it’s a very interesting read.
What this post is going to attempt here is a look at players on our roster, including the draftees, and the positions they could fill in Nolan’s schemes. These schemes and packages are based on what he did in Denver last season, not just with personnel, but in alignments as well. I’m going to hit the highlights from the article in the link as reference. I apologize if it’s a little nerdy, but I simplified it as much as I could. Go in depth after the jump.
Nolan runs a hybrid 3-4 defensive system. The base system is a 3-4, but Nolan will shift alignments to confuse the offense and create mismatches. The D will have a 2-4 look at times, with a 3-3 or 4-3 look at times as well. Using a hybrid like this will not limit a team’s use of personnel that staying in the base package would. Nolan is very good at maximizing personnel and letting them play to their strengths. His hybrid defense accommodates that maximization. Even with the various schemes, Nolan rarely uses a dime package and fielded more than 5 DBs only 3% of the time last season. This is due to the emphasis Nolan places on linebackers, which is probably why we drafted as many as we did. Nolan uses the base 3-4 most of the time. Last season, Nolan used the hybrid 2-4 package about 30% of the time. Based on the personnel available to him, he’ll vary the schemes to get the right players in the right spot. To keep it simple, we’ll look at the front 7 only with this since the secondary is fairly self-explanatory.
In order to achieve a proper assessment, I think it would be useful to have a diagram to follow. Below is a simple diagram of the base 3-4 and a hybrid 4-3/2-4 system. The linebacker positions will be assigned a number based on a chart given below. You’ll see why later.
Base 3-4 Alignment
ILB (2) ILB (3)
WOLB(1) SOLB (4)
RE NT LE
2-4 Nickel Alignment
ILB (6) ILB (7)
WOLB (5) SOLB (8)
4-3 Hybrid Alignment
WOLB MLB SOLB
RE DT DT LE
Defensive Line:Nolan has 2 true defensive lineman on the field at all times. Last season, Miami fielded a scheme with only one true DL. Nolan will not do this at all. Two true D-linemen will be on the field for all of the snaps. Having a versatile 3 down lineman is probably why we didn’t target 2 down NTs like Cody or Williams.
Versatility is why I believe this team was high on drafting Odrick. He will play the 3-4 DE or the hybrid DT. Odrick is the prototypical 5-technique. He’s a solid fit at 3-4 DE. But he’s also a good gap penetrator and is disruptive from the interior line. Odrick is a 3 down player in our defense. Starks is going to be playing the NT position and Langford will most likely play the other DE position in the 3-4. In the hybrid package, it would seem that Odrick and Starks would get the interior spots, with Langford and McDaniel as the subs.
This is where Nolan really excels. He runs a very aggressive blitzing defense. I think it would surprise many fans to know that Pasqualoni’s OLBs last season were more aggressive in pass rushing than Nolan’s OLBs. Porter rushed the passer 83% of the time as opposed to Dumervil’s 70%. However, Nolan’s ILBs take up the slack. Nolan’s ILBs blitzed 36% of passing downs as opposed to Pasqualoni’s 14%. Given this information, having a dynamic pass rushing ILB is just as important as the OLB counterpart.
Nolan likes to specialize the linebackers in his schemes. Below is a listing of the 8 linebacker spots based on the 2 main alignments. The numbers correspond with the positional chart above.
1. 3-4 WOLB – This job requires you to rush the passer about 70 percent of downs.
2. 3-4 WILB – A banger that can plug the run and rush the passer from ILB 1 out of 3 downs.
3. 3-4 SILB – A smart, athletic player that can rush 1 out of 4 downs from ILB and collect tackles.
4. 3-4 SOLB – Needs to be good in coverage and on the TE, only rushes 50 percent.
5. 2-4 WOLB – Optional to be a hand-on-ground guy, is the primary pressure guy on pass downs.
6. 2-4 WILB – Must be very smart, and good in coverage, backing up and keeping things in front.
7. 2-4 SILB – Must be athletic enough to run with players in coverage.
8. 2-4 SOLB – Must be a dynamic pass rusher and be able to do damage from an up position.
Now lets look at who on the Dolphins roster could fill these spots.
First of all, Karlos Dansby is a more crucial signing than most think. He is good in coverage, a good blitzer, but can fill multiple spots in this D. Dansby can easily fill spots 4 & 7. If he doesn’t want 4, he can also take 3 and Edds or Misi can take 4. Wake is practically a lock for 5 and potentially 1 if he improves as an overall OLB. Nolan let will most likely let Wake rush from a 3 point stance in passing situations. Dumervil played 80% of the snaps with his hand in the dirt. Wake was very effective in that stance, so it would seem likely that Wake will fill that role. Misi, if he starts, will most likely take 8, but could take 1 if Wake struggles. Merling could also play 8 if Nolan goes with more of a 4-3 look and the SOLB can put his hand on the ground. Crowder and Edds are interchangeable at the 2, 3, and 6 roles.
When switching to the 4-3 alignment, Dansby would most likely remain at MLB while Edds shiftes to SOLB and Misi would move up to WOLB. Charlie Anderson or Reggie Torbor may also play the WOLB in the 4-3.
To recap, we’ll look at our alignment charts and substitute the names for the numbers and see how it could look.
Base 3-4 Alignment
ILB (Crowder/Edds) ILB (Dansby/Crowder/Edds)
WOLB(Wake/Misi) SOLB (Misi/Dansby)
RE (Odrick) NT(Starks) LE(Langford/McDaniel)
2-4 Nickel Alignment
ILB (Crowder/Edds) ILB (Dansby)
WOLB (Wake) SOLB (Misi/Merling if 4-3)
Hybrid Alignment 4-3
WOLB (Misi/Anderson/Torbor) MLB (Dansby) SOLB (Edds)
RE (Wake) DT(Odrick) DT(Starks) LE(Merling)
Conclusion:If you look at what the Dolphins have done in the off-season, we’ve made our defense better with free agent signings and drafting. We sign the best FA linebacker that would fit our schemes. We took a scheme versatile defensive lineman in round one of the draft. We took a SOLB in round 2. We took a scheme versatile ILB in the fourth round that’s good in coverage.
We’ve enhanced the overall talent that Nolan can use and filled just about spot especially at LB. I know we are still building a winner. We aren’t finished building yet, and this is just another step. I hope this post has helped understand a little bit about Nolan’s schemes and alignments. I also hope that when you evaluate this draft, you’ll take these schemes into account and see why we drafted the players we did. Sparano has said from the beginning that its about the “right” 53 players not just the best 53 players. So look at the draftees in the light of how they fit into this roster, this scheme, and then evaluate them. I think it helps post-draft discussion when we have a little more info on things. So even if you don’t agree with the draft picks, I hope this post will give you some basis for discussing your points on who we should have drafted.