The only way teams can maximize what players can do athletically is to fit their talents into the right system.
Ndamukong Suh was excellent in Detroit under Jim Schwartz. But the same guy with the same talent came to Miami in 2015 and didn't quite perform up to past standards because, in part at least, he wasn't doing exactly what he did in Detroit. He didn't seem as comfortable. He wasn't a perfect fit, at least early on.
So system fit is important.
And while the Dolphins have struggled at times with system fits in the past -- particularly when coaching staffs came and went, changing systems -- the current staff is doing all it can to make sure its acquisitions this year are a snug, tight fit to their system.
Take Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams for example.
Alonso had a great rookie season in Buffalo in the 4-3 defense. Obviously he blew out a knee in 2014 and wasn't the same with the Eagles in 2015 after he was traded for LeSean McCoy.
The Dolphins think the knee healing will help Alonso but they also like that their system will fit him better than Philly's 3-4.
“Coming off his injury, we feel good about it being another year removed from that," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "We see a guy that runs well, that he hits, he strikes. He’s going to fit into what we do really well. Him being back in a 4-3 defense, that probably suits him a little bit better. We’re really excited to get this guy going and getting him in our program. Having that kind of speed at linebacker is really going to be helpful for us.”
By the way, about that speed: The Dolphins last year were lost when they asked their linebackers not named Jelani Jenkins to cover. Alonso's speed gives the team options.
Consider that last year Brandon Marshall destroyed the Dolphins in two games. He caught seven passes for 128 yards in the first meeting and nine catches for 132 yards and two TDs in the second game. The Jets did a lot of this by putting Marshall in the slot. And while often the Dolphins put their best corner, tiny Brent Grimes, in the slot to check Marshall, it was a physical mismatch.
Well, Alonso gives the Dolphins some flexibility. They can now bracket Marshall with Alonso and a corner if they want. And because Alonso is 6-3, 238 pounds, and fast enough to run with Marshall (that is not a misprint) the physical mismatch greatly diminishes.
Maxwell was obviously suited to what the Seattle Seahawks asked him to do. They asked him to press. They relied on extreme pressure up front to protect their long (and slower) corners from getting beat on time consuming deep routes. It worked in Seattle but in Philadelphia, Maxwell slumped as the Eagles pass rush was 25th in the NFL in sacks per pass and Maxwell played off more, not getting his hands on receivers as much, which he likes to do.
But the Dolphins will be pressing. Maxwell and the other corners will be in receivers' faces.
"I feel like Byron is going to fit well into what we’re going to do on defense," coach Adam Gase said. He’ll be able to do more of what he has done in the past where he had success. I’ve competed against him a couple times when he was in Seattle, and he challenged us, and we had some pretty good receivers. I feel really good about him coming in. I’m excited that … I could feel his excitement (about) getting down here.
"I think Byron fits in our scheme really well. What he did in Seattle was, he’s aggressive on the line of scrimmage, getting up there and pressing and being able to play aggressive and that’s what we want to allow him to do."
Notice how many times Gase is mentioning the fit, the fit, the fit?
Williams was clearly not a fit under Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense last season. He didn't like dropping into coverage. He wasn't good at it. He complained about it. His sacks totals sunk. It was not a fit.
But Vance Joseph worked with Williams when the two were with the Houston Texans. And the Dolphins will be employing a Wide 9 technique for their rush ends which Williams has excelled at in the past.
So if Williams doesn't regain his past level of production it won't be because he didn't fit.
Interestingly, the fit thing is greatly important on defense. It obviously matters on the offensive line because zone blocking linemen are not always able to adapt to man blocking and vice versa. But for the other positions on offense, Gase promises to adapt what he does to what the players can do best and feel most comfortable with.
"Defensively, it’s a little easier for them because they look at that tape and you can see a lot of the attributes that fit into the system that we are going to run," Gase said. "On offense, I feel like that side of the ball we’re actually going to have to go out there (to the practice field) and experiment and kind of figure out where we’re at with Ryan [Tannehill]. There’s some of the routes that this group does really well that I haven’t been a part of in a while. Every quarterback likes different things and watching a lot of our film from the past, Ryan does excel at some concepts that I haven’t run in a while that the last two quarterbacks I had didn’t really like.
"We’ll be a little bit in the experimental phase as far as the offensive side. We have a ways to go on that side of the ball. I feel like on defense, those guys have a good feel for what we have on the roster and where we need to go from there."