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Maybe the term "genius" is overstating it a bit. But new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan comes to Miami with a proven track record and as one of the most respected defensive minds in the game. Many fans believe that Brandon Marshall - or perhaps Karlos Dansby - was the biggest addition to the Dolphins this offseason. But that's just not the truth.
The truth is Mike Nolan will prove to be the most valuable pick-up not only of this offseason but of this regime's entire time in Miami.
I'm crazy, right? Maybe a little. But look at the facts.
Just last year, Nolan took a defense that finished 29th in 2008 and transformed it into the league's 7th ranked defense - surrendering nearly 60 yards and 8 points fewer per game. And he did that in the midst of converting a 4-3 defense into a 3-4. He also had to break in eight new starters on defense, including two former Dolphins (Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill - as well as Vonnie Holliday, who started three games in Denver). Not bad.
But that wasn't the first time he led a defensive turnaround in his first year with a new team. Back in 2000, Nolan took over a Jets defense that finished 21st in the league in total defense in 1999, allowing 336 yards per game. But in Nolan's lone season as Jets defensive coordinator, the Jets finished as the 10th ranked defense, trimming 35 yards from their yards allowed per game average.
Back in 1993, the New York Giants hired Nolan to be their defensive coordinator. He had no previous experience as a coordinator and came from Denver where he spent six seasons as a special teams and then linebackers coach. Nolan became the youngest defensive coordinator in the league at the time - just 35 years of age. And all he did was instantly transform the Giants defense - a major reason why the Giants went 11-5 that season and made the playoffs for the first time since Bill Parcells left following the 1990 season. In '92, the Giants were 18th in the league in total defense and 26th in points allowed. But in year one under Nolan, the Giants finished the season ranked 5th in total defense (shaving 23 yards per game) and 1st in points allowed (shaving over 10 points per game off of their previous season's average).
So what should we expect from Nolan and his defense? I asked John Bena from MHR to share some thoughts on Nolan back in January when the Dolphins originally signed the defensive coordinator. John wrote:
Dolphins fans are going to be very happy with Mike Nolan. His defense more closely resembles the Parcells' 3-4, than the iteration that Bill Belichick now runs - more attacking, more blitzing, more man-coverage. I got the opportunity to watch Nolan work with his defense during Training Camp last season, and let me tell you, any impression you have of the guy from his days in San Francisco, forget them. Mike Nolan was always moving, constantly engaged in the drill, constantly TEACHING. That was the most impressive thing to me, watching him teach his players. Nolan is a great communicator, and he knows defenses.
So what is Nolan's style? He attacks - and that is what excites me most. He doesn't let the opposing offense dictate what his defense will do. Instead he makes the opposing offense adjust.
If you have some time, I highly recommend checking out Barry Jackson's latest article that has a lot of good info on Nolan, what others around the league think of him, and the style of defense he likes to play. In a nut shell, Nolan believes in man coverage from his corners and blitzing from his linebackers - even from his inside linebackers (I'm looking at you, Karlos Dansby).
Phil Simms sums it up best, telling Jackson the following:
"One prominent offensive coordinator of a playoff team told me last season, 'If Mike Nolan was the defensive coordinator here, we would win the Super Bowl.' He's so well thought of around the league.''