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2 posts from December 20, 2012

December 20, 2012

Wannstedt's unchanging approach finally a plus for Miami

Earlier this year I shared with you how Dave Wannstedt, former Dolphins coach and current Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, had not changed a lot with age.

His scheme is still the 4-3.

He still wants his cornerbacks to press.

He still believes in playing a very unsophisticated system that doesn't do much in the way of disguises or blitzes or, well, changing from game to game.

This approach, which worked great at the University of Miami in the 1980s and with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, is probably a good way to go when it's backed up by superior talent. Ultimately, talent trumps everything.

You got it, you got it.

You don't, you beter figure something else out.

Well, as you know Wannstedt didn't have it to the degree he believed during his time with the Miami Dolphins. He certainly doesn't have it with the Bills.

And yet, his philosophy has. Not. Changed.

So much for adapting or evolving.

This philosophy was fine for a while with the Dolphins but as with most things in the NFL, somebody eventually studies the problem and solves it. The Dolphins' defense got solved eventually.

That's why Wannstedt won the AFC East his first season and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs. They made the playoffs again his second year and then they missed the playoffs three consecutive years, eventually falling to 4-12 in 2004 and quitting before the season ended as he was going to be fired anyway.

Folks figured out the Dolphins defense. Players complained about it. I wrote about it extensively at the time. And Wannstedt did very little to correct the issue.

The most obvious proof this was happening? The Dolphins typically started fast but swooned as the seasons closed. Why? It wasn't the change in weather. It was the lack of change and in a defense that was apparently too easy to figure out.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in AFC East play. As the teams played each other twice, it gave opponents a second chance to figure Miami's defense out. And they did.

The Dolphins had a 10-7 record in first annual meetings against AFC East opponents during Wannstedt's time. They had a 6-9 record in the second annual meetings against those same opponents. (Wannsted left in October of 2004 which accounts for the 17 games on the first end but only 15 on the rematches).

So why is this history important?

Well, Wannstedt is basically the same coach only older in Buffalo. Earlier this year, the Bills didn't blitz, didn't change or disguise things on defense. They basically played their defense game after game and Wannstedt expected it to work.

When he was asked why he wasn't blitzing early on, he answered, "The front four has to get there."

And that brings me to this:

After all those years of being victimized by Wannstedt's unchanging approach, this week the Dolphins can benefit from that same stone age, unchanging approach.

Yes, the Bills beat Miami in the first meeting between the teams. But this week offers the Miami coaching staff, particularly the offensive coaches, another crack at the same looks, same scheme, same approach, for the second time.

This game is an opportunity for the Miami staff to show itself able to absorb information and solve the problem.

And they can do it with a degree of certainty that the Bills are not changing the variables as they prepare for the game because that's not how Wannstedt works.

What can I say? SMH.

Follow Armando Salguero on twitter.

A quick study? Michael Egnew is up next

Before Wednesday's media session the Dolphins staff pulled aside tight end Michael Egnew and gave him a quick tutorial on speaking in circles and not answering questions directly. It was a lesson in moving the lips without really saying anything.

This little lesson was apparently necessary because everyone knows Egnew, a rookie who has been inactive every game this season, is expected to finally be in uniform Sunday for the first time this regular season. The injury to Charles Clay makes Egnew the next guy up and so, barring a disastrous week of practice, the numbers necessitate Egnew be active.

(One word of caution: The Dolphins have Kyle Miller on the roster as well so he's a possbility, but he arrived in Miami only three weeks ago so it stands to reason Egnew is ahead of him in familiarity with the offense.)

Anyway, Egnew absormbed his lesson on media double-speak like a champion.

He was asked if he's ready to take care of business on Sunday.

"Right now, all I'm trying to do is get better every day. I let the decision-makers make the decisions," Egnew said. "I prepare for the game every week."

Does that mean he's ready or not?

Does Egnew realize that fans ask about him a lot? And does he feel any added pressure to get his career started?

"I prepare for the game every week," he said. "For me it's just another week and if I'm called upon, I'll be able to go."

Is that a yes? Is that a no?

I'll say this, if Egnew washes out as a tight end, he should go into local politics because he has the non-answer answers down pat.

But that's not a terrible thing. That tells me something. And here it is:

It tells me Michael Egnew is not dumb. He is a quick study. He obviously can learn fairly quickly as I've just shown you. That should be encouraging because if one can elminate an inability to learn as one of the reasons he has not been playing, we can get more easily get to the real reason.

Here it is: Blocking.

Egnew came out of college with absolutely no idea how to block.

Before the gaggle of reporters crowded around him Wednesday, I spent a couple of minutes alone with him and asked him, directly, if the reputation of University of Missouri (his college) tight ends not knowing how to block is fair.

He nodded his agreement without protest.

And then I asked why it is so many Missouri tight ends go to the NFL and have the reputation for not blocking.

"I think we're not asked to do a lot of it," Egnew said. "The offense we run doesn't call for the tight end to do a lot of it so that's not something you work on enough."

So to boil it down for you, Egnew arrived at the Dolphins not knowing how to block. He was picked in the third round of the NFL draft without a solid foundation of blocking.

Let that marinate for a moment ...

You know that football is about tackling. And running. And passing. And catching. And blocking.  

Those are the fundamentals.

But Egnew apparently wasn't taught blocking in college -- at least not at a level proficient enough to get him started in the NFL. The Dolphins have had to work from the ground up in this area.

That and some other reasons having to do with familiarity of Miami's offensive foundation are why Egnew has not played this year.

So here's the bottom line question:

How long does it take somebody to learn to block?

Again, Egnew is not a dumb kid. He's bright. He clearly learned the Dolphins system for saying nothing very quickly. I believe he should be able to learn to block somewhat quickly.

Why he hasn't learned to the coaching staff's satisfaction is a question that lingers.

But ready or not, here he comes Sunday. Unless things are much, much worse than we thought.

Follow Armando Salguero on twiiter.