Optimism about improved Dolphins defense comes with asterisk
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke plans to go diving in Bora Bora on summer vacation, and when he returns he'll really start trying to figure out who should play where this season.
Burke and the rest of the defensive staff have been experimenting and evaluating during spring non-contact drills. But when asked Wednesday how much he can tell before players don pads, he responded with a slight smile.
"Nothing," Burke said.
Minicamp does offer a chance to assess agility and how well players are absorbing the system, he said. But it will be August before Burke and the Dolphins have a true sense regarding what kind of defense they'll be in 2018.
"Everything has an asterisk on it until we put pads on," Burke said.
Miami hopes and need to be much better on defense than last season, Burke's first as a coordinator under coach Adam Gase. The Dolphins ranked 29th in points allowed at 24.6 per game, and then parted with their best defensive player, five-time Pro Bowl tackle Ndamukong Suh.
On the plus side, they added veteran Robert Quinn at defensive end and first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety. Raekwon McMillan, a 2017 second-round pick, returns to start at middle linebacker after missing his entire rookie season because of a knee injury. And depth appears improved at end, linebacker and safety.
"We don't have any positions set in stone right now," Burke said. "We're rolling a lot of guys at a lot of positions."
Fitzpatrick, for example, is splitting his time among the free safety, strong safety and nickel back positions.
"He's probably about as advertised," Burke said. "He's really sharp. He's thirsty for knowledge. We're trying to overload him, and he keeps taking it. We are moving him around at some different spots and trying to get a feel for what his best fit is. He has responded well."
"Our plan would be to rotate different groups," Burke said. "We feel we'll be better off having fresh guys, whether it's for two, three or four snaps at a time, and then send the next group in. Building depth there was important to us. We want guys going full speed."
The Dolphins have four more practices scheduled next week and then break until training camp, allowing the 42-year-old Burke to embark on his latest exotic vacation in Bora Bora, a small island in the South Pacific. He has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, done charity work in Uganda, and taken a safari in three other African countries.
Burke joked in the past about Gase calling him during vacation with football questions, and had a quick response when asked if the boss will be able to reach him this time.
"Whether I have cellphone service or not," Burke said, "the answer is no."
Decisions about who's playing where will have to wait.
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Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press
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