Thursday, July 28, 2016

Cornerbacks and Cornerstones

    Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison:  when our Miami Dolphins assembled this duo, something happened to my adolescent sports brain.  For the first time as a fan, I felt like I could see into the architecture a coaching staff can bring to a franchise.  The message was clear:  "We will cover aggressively, persistently, and often without help.  This will leave the rest of your team outnumbered, overmatched, and punished by our playmakers at the other defensive positions."  I sat down on Sundays and watched something like a plan unfold; I felt like I was wearing a headset.

    During the Joe Philbin era my headset was never switched on- it was as though I was a visiting coach at "the Razor" and the Patriots were jamming my frequency.  Simply put, I never felt like I understood what our "leadership" was trying to build.  Drafts seemed reactive, not proactive.  For example, we threw away picks to move up for Dion Jordan because the Patriots had tight ends we couldn't cover.  Chasing Belichick's current roster instead of building our own was never going to work.  By the time we got done snapping photos in aqua hats, the Patriots roster, and therefore game plan, were already evolved into some new form that our "Brain Trust" couldn't seem to anticipate.
This is because the Patriots were building something of their own; they were dictating; we were furiously taking notes.

As the Adam Gase era begins, I want to feel my headset click back on.  That is, I want to see a blueprint and feel like we are creating our team, our building, and letting the rest of the league cope with us.  I am so far encouraged.  Signing Arian Foster to a prove-it deal is the kind of common sense move that all of us were waiting for, the kind of common sense move that Philbin never seemed to get off his riding lawnmower long enough to make (can anyone say "Evan Mathis?")  Watching the draft this year, I saw Miami make one move because they had to (Tunsil fell too far and offered too much to be passed on) and then a series of moves because we were building something.

We drafted mobil backs, speed players, and courage and hands for the middle of the field.  We traded for a smart linebacker with game-changing potential.  And we added what our Defensive Coordinator most covets, the piece that makes his other pieces fit: two big, physical corners who can jam at the line of scrimmage and give the defensive line time to have fun playing football.

Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard (may he speedily return) may not be our final answers at corner.  But they demonstrate that we know who we are in this regime.  We are big on the edges, we are physical, and we don't plan on covering you all afternoon because we are going to get your quarterback dirty. Are Maxwell and Howard Surtain and Madison?  That is not my contention, nor is it likely to be true.  But is this coaching staff one that has a plan, and at last seems willing to trust themselves and forget what the other guy is doing?  If so, we may not just have found two useful cornerbacks.  We may have found a staff that knows something about laying cornerstones.

Jay Lopez


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