‘Keep trying to dominate’: Dolphins’ front seven determined to remain among the NFL’s best – NFL Nation

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MIAMI – It’s easy to look forward to training camp at this stage of the Miami Dolphins’ offseason program. Their attack is in the process of installing a new system and neither side of the ball has worn shoulder pads during organized team activities or mandatory minicamp.

But that has not meant anything to players in the trenches – especially a front seven that seems to maintain its status as one of the NFL’s best. Players say the level of competition without pads has been intense and they expect it to remain that way when everyone is in full gear next month.

“That’s what I can tell you about this team, I think it’s a little different right now,” said offensive lineman Robert Hunt. “The guys are working without pillows on and you can see guys are definitely fitting their holes right, guys are coming off the ball and flying off the ball.”

The Dolphins hired head coach Mike McDaniel and added seven players expected to play significant roles on the offense in hopes of reviving a unit that was No. 25 in the NFL last season. However, the defense remains the team’s undisputed strength. The unit led the league in defensive expected points added over the last nine weeks last season as Miami went 8-1 and the plan for defense this offseason has been clear: run it back.

Miami agreed to a $ 65.4 million four-year contract with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah minutes before free agency began, re-signing his entire group of inside linebackers, signing Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall in the third round and signing three times Pro Bowl outside linebacker Melvin IngramIII.

Ingram did not practice with the team as it held mandatory minicamp this month, but was present on the sidelines. He joins a pass-rushing rotation that includes Ogbah, who has led the team with 9.0 sacks in each of the past two seasons, linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel and Jaelan Phillips – the overall number 18 in the 2021 NFL draft, who set a Dolphins rookie record with 8.5 sacks last season.

“He definitely has a chance to be special,” Ingram said of Phillips. “He comes to work every day and he provides that work. I certainly admire that.”

Last season, Miami was one of the most aggressive defenders in the NFL, with 38% of opponents’ dropbacks – the second highest rate in the league. Its tendency to lightning is part of the reason why it played man coverage of 49.5% of its defensive snaps in 2021, the 12th highest rate in the league.

The Dolphins’ aggression up front forces quarterbacks to make quick decisions, giving playmaking defensive backs such as cornerback Xavien Howard (15 interceptions over the past two seasons) and second-year safety Jevon Holland (13 starts, 69 tackles, 2 interceptions, 10 passes defense) opportunities to play on the ball.

The team felt it was crucial to keep the defense intact as McDaniel handles so much turnover on the offensive in his first season and the decision was welcomed by defensive players demanding stability on the sidelines.

“I’m definitely happy. Just me personally, I’ve always had different coaches,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “Different linebacker coaches, different coordinators who go all the way back to college. For me, [stability is] a good thing. … you know what to expect. You have a little understanding before entering the building. Now is just the time to build on that. “

Also back to Miami’s front seven are defensive linemen Christian Wilkins (first-round pick in 2019), Zach Sieler and Raekwon Davis (second-round, 2020), who together formed one of the league’s most underrated inner defensive lines.

Wilkins’ 89 tackles last season, leading the league just among defensive linemen, and Sieler had the fourth-best pass rate for pass rush as an infield defender (16.0%), according to the NFL Next Gen Stats. Wilkins (44.0%) and Sieler (42.0%) also had third- and fifth-best running stop winning rates among defensive linemen, respectively.

Davis’ impact is harder to quantify statistically, but at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, he is an undeniable presence in the middle of Miami’s defensive line, occupying space and blocking. He said the unit’s chemistry has prevented it from becoming complacent into 2022.

“Just keep pushing each other,” he said. “Keep trying to dominate any opponent, just get better as a unit and get better out of season.”

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