Dion Jordan and How the Versatile Defensive Lineman Will Boost Miami's Defense

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 04:  Linebacker Cameron Wake #91 of the Miami Dolphins hits Quarterback Carson Plamer #3 of the Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  Miami defeated the Raiders 34-14. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Leo linebacker. Jack of all trades. Defensive end. Elephant.

The Dolphins drafted Dion Jordan with obvious intent to boost their pass rush. But what about their more subtle pursuits involving the former Duck?

Jordan has been penciled in as the starting right defensive end for Miami, a likely truth come September. There is so much more he can do for this defense. Yahoo's Doug Farrar struggles to come up with an NFL comparison, but he draws from former San Francisco Pro Bowler Julian Peterson and Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks:

Peterson signed a large free-agent deal with the Seahawks in 2006 and amassed 19.5 sacks for them over the next two seasons. In their defense, he would come down to an end/LEO role, frequently with his hand on the ground. I also see some similarities to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, one of my all-time favorite players. Hendricks was the ultimate position-versatile guy in his era, and he used his freakish wingspan to destroy quarterbacks and block a lot of kicks.

Jordan has the potential to do all these things, and more. What we haven't seen is what he'll do with the extra weight and leverage work -- not to mention what will happen when he gets with an NFL strength program and gets a measure of scheme-specificity with his new team.

That is some hefty company, even if the comparisons aren't perfect.

Some offenses have gotten far ahead of defenses in the NFL these days. Whether it's New England's frenetic napalm or the rise of the read-option, defenses must evolve lest they be pounded into dust.

Miami's defense wasn't bad last year. It ranked seventh in total points allowed and gave up the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns in the league.

It did, however, allow the seventh-most passing yards, and the secondary has been much maligned over the years.

The Dolphins have gone through some turnover in that secondary, signing Brent Grimes while allowing Sean Smith to walk and drafting three defensive backs. But a great defensive front always makes a secondary look better.

Miami's front seven could ultimately turn this unit into an elite one. Here are a few ways Kevin Coyle can utilize his personnel, including his fancy new elephant.

Traditional Look

Miami switched to a 4-3 base defense prior to the 2012 season. Cameron Wake was moved from outside linebacker to left defensive end, and players who may have been better-suited for a 3-4 were shunted into new roles.

Wake has thrived in his new role, maintaining his vise grip on the league's "best pass-rusher" label. He did, after all, lap the league in total quarterback pressures last season.

Here, Jordan will likely rotate in at right defensive end. At this point, given his limited snap counts in college and other uses for him on defense, it might be a 50-50 split between him and others like Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon and even Koa Misi, at times.

There is nothing crazy about this look.

It also allows for flexibility on the interior—Paul Soliai is a big, run-stuffing defensive tackle who can rotate with a better pass-rusher on the inside like Odrick. Even Vernon could get looks inside, having bulked up to 270 pounds.

The 3-4 Wrinkle

Just because Kevin Coyle's defense is a 4-3 base doesn't mean he won't show 3-4 looks. After all, much of the same or similar personnel is in place for the scheme.

Several things can be accomplished by morphing to a 3-4 look during a game. For starters, Paul Soliai is a better nose tackle than he is playing in the 3-technique. Moving him over the center allows him to play two-gap technique, for which he is better suited.

Odrick, too, is a better five-technique defensive end than he is on the outside.

More to the point, this would allow Jordan to stand up rather than plant his hand on the ground. Many scouts and evaluators thought he would be better suited as an outside linebacker at the next level.

Of course, putting Jordan at outside linebacker of any sort frees him up to operate in space more so than it might at defensive end. He could easily rush the passer from that spot or drop into coverage.

The 3-4 look would be effective against the run, but athleticism on the outside will account for passing situations.

Flexing Flexibility

The beauty of having a 6'6", 250-pound monster with 4.6 speed and fluid hips is the ability to utilize him all over the field. In many ways, he is a prototypical "elephant" linebacker.

Jordan lined up at defensive back with Oregon on many occasions, sometimes draping receivers in man coverage down the field. The Dolphins can use him in space, at which time they can utilize their shiny new linebackers to rush the passer instead.

Miami didn't simply jettison Kevin Burnett to get younger at the position—Philip Wheeler is one of the best blitzing linebackers in the league. The same can be said about Dannell Ellerbe.

In fact, Ellerbe had the highest pass-rush productivity at inside linebacker while Wheeler had the second-highest at 4-3 outside linebacker last season, per Pro Football Focus.

Coyle is building an attacking defense, and part of his design is flexibility.

The defense highlighted above is still a simple 4-3 under defense, with the linebackers shifted to the strong side. Depending on the personnel used in this formation, that could mean Wake and Jordan coming from the same side, a frightening prospect for the offensive line and quarterback.

Unpredictability is the key here. Will Jordan blow up the right side of the line? Or will he drop back to cover the tight end or into zone? That could mean Ellerbe and/or Wheeler blitzing from the middle or the weak side.

Making offenses aware of potential blitzers without knowing what is coming will lead to confusion along the offensive line at times. At others, quarterbacks might be goaded into poor decisions.

The flexibility afforded the defense will also help counter the rise of the read-option. Opposing offenses will have a more difficult time creating mismatches when Dion Jordan can be trusted to cover a wide receiver or blitz the quarterback.

The Hybrid

Hybrid fronts are increasing in popularity these days.

In reality, running a 4-3 under/over "combo' with 2-gap principles is simply extension of the flexibility Coyle has at his disposal.

The Patriots have run this sort of defense in recent years. Chris Brown of Smart Football fame does a much better job of explaining it than I could:

In the traditional 4-3, there are two basic fronts: over and under. In Belichick's hybrid 4-3 "over," Wilfork is responsible for controlling (that is, destroying) the center and thus the gaps to either side of him. To Wilfork's left, the defense functions just like a regular 1-gap 4-3 scheme, with the other defensive tackle attacking the gap between guard and tackle and the defensive end covering the tight end. The strong-side linebacker aligns to this side, and there will often be further run support, either from a safety or a cornerback. To the other side, however, it's all 3-4.

By combining these techniques into one defense, Belichick achieves what seems most important to him these days — versatility. He's able to plug different guys into different spots while knowing he has Wilfork anchoring the middle. As NFL offenses have become more and more spread, Belichick's defenses have become more versatile. With one or two players 2-gapping on a given play, the outside linebackers in particular are free to blitz, drop into coverage, and attack running backs all over the field.

In Miami's combo, Soliai would have the tall task of being Coyle's Wilfork.

Coyle has the personnel to run such a look, with athletic outside linebackers capable of handling a variety of duties.

Drafting Jordan has opened up all sorts of possibilities, but he must live up to his potential. Part of the reason his draft stock was so high was upside; he is not quite the polished pass-rusher some of his peers were heading into the draft.

He can indeed be a jack of all trades defensively, so long as Dolphins fans prepare for the possibility he might be the master of none.


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