The Miami Dolphins lost starting defensive end Cameron Wake in free agency this year as the veteran signed with the Tennessee Titans. The team is currently listening to trade offers for their other 2018 starting defensive end, Robert Quinn. With the Dolphins clearly in overhaul mode for the position group, one name suddenly jumps forward - Charles Harris.
The team’s 2017 first-round draft choice, Harris has played in 27 games over his first two seasons, starting three times. He has 38 career tackles with just three sacks and a fumble recovery. If the Dolphins need starting defensive ends on both sides of the line this year, Harris likely has to factor into that plan, which means it is time for him to take a huge step forward as he enters his third season.
“I’ve watched a lot of tape on all of our players. Charles, he’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got athleticism,” new Dolphins head coach Brian Flores told the media on Tuesday. “He plays hard and does a lot of things we like as a staff. When you talk about patience, I think he’s an interesting player on our team. I’m excited to see him on April 1st when the team reports. We’re going to spend a lot of time with him. We’re going to spend a lot of time with all of our players and try to develop them, work on their fundamentals and techniques and try to help them improve. That’s our goal as a coaching staff. We can talk about Charles Harris and he has a lot of physical attributes, but we’re going to try to develop everybody on this team, help them improve and help put the best product on this field. I’m excited to work with him. Honestly, I am.”
Flores, who comes to Miami this year as a first time head coach after serving as the New England Patriots’ linebackers coach and defensive play caller, seems to be ready to focus on Harris and get him up to his potential. “He can do a lot of things,” Flores continued. “He can rush, he can play in space a little bit, tackles fairly well. He does a lot of good things. I’m excited to work with him, just like I’m excited to work with a lot of players on our team.”
The Dolphins, under Flores, are expected to run a more hybrid defensive system, looking to play both a 4-3 front, with four defensive linemen and three linebackers, a 3-4, with three defensive linemen and four linebackers, and potentially exotic looks across the board - which could lend itself to Harris taking on a different role for the Dolphins.
“I’ve run multiple defenses with three linebackers on the field; so yeah, I do think we can get that done,” Flores said of playing with the team’s three starting linebackers Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan, and Kiko Alonso. “Like you said, those three – I assume you’re talking about Baker, Raekwon, Kiko – are three really good players. I’m excited to play with them. Obviously, (they have) different skillsets. I think defensively, you just have to put those guys in positions to do the things they do well. That’s the goal as a staff. Sometimes that means none of them are on the field. Sometimes it means one of them is on the field. Sometimes it means three or four or five guys are on the field. Only time will tell on that. They come into the building on April 1st. We’ll see how much they can do physically and how much they can handle mentally, how versatile they can be. Can you cover, do you tackle, do you blitz well? There’s a variety of things you can do defensively. We’ll try to put those guys in the best positions to do what they do well, always. That’s at every position. But yeah, as many good players … If you’re one of the best 11, you’re going to be on the field.”
Flores seems to like his top three linebackers, and Baker, McMillan, and Alonso should see plenty of playing time, especially if the staff is able to actually put them in “positions to do the things they do well.” The four or five linebackers on the field at the same time option could get interesting. Flores talks up Harris’ ability to play in space, and then talks about multiple linebacker sets. Could Harris find himself moving from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end to more of a stand-up pass-rushing linebacker? The main weakness Harris was said to have prior to being drafted was his run defense and not setting the edge well enough. If he is moved to a position like a rush linebacker where his primary role is simply to get after the quarterback, and it gives him to the space to operate, that could be a great move for Harris. He would likely still have to play as a 4-3 style defensive end, putting his hand in the dirt and worrying about setting the edge, but if the Dolphins can unleash his pass rush through standing him up sometimes, they might find the potential the landed Harris in Miami as a first-round pick.
Asked why he thinks Harris has not reached his potential already, Flores replied, “I think everyone’s timetable is a little bit different and there are a lot of factors in that. It could be 1,000 factors. I’ve seen it time and time again with just players that I’ve had. We can go over that list but that’s the reality of this league. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right and sometimes when the timing is right, you hit and you hit. We’re going to work with Charles just like we’re going to work with all the players on our team and try to improve their weaknesses and try to accentuate or accelerate their strengths. We’re going to do that on a day-to-day bases.”
Harris needs to improve heading into his third season, and it sounds like Flores is preparing himself and his coaching staff to make sure the defensive end reaches his potential. Could it mean moving Harris around and getting him into space to find ways to better reach opposing quarterbacks? Could it just be a matter of technique and playing time? Flores seems ready to try multiple things to get the most out of Harris - and the rest of the Dolphins’ roster.