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Can Vic Fangio’s coaching lead to an improved Dolphins defense as Jalen Ramsey’s debut approaches?

MIAMI GARDENS — There have been hints, before Vic Fangio even arrived in Miami, that when he spent last season on what he described as his “sabbatical,” among the time he spent in his kitchen wasn’t only for whipping up his precious meatballs, but in addition for developing defensive schemes to unleash on quarterbacks.

Two practices into Fangio’s first training camp with the Dolphins, things went awry, and never in a superb way. Jalen Ramsey, the All-Pro cornerback and prized offseason addition, injured his meniscus. Fears that he won’t play until December were quickly replaced by whispers that he could make his Dolphins debut significantly earlier, based on multiple circumstantial signs.

Not many were daring enough to predict that Ramsey’s comeback would are available October, but here we’re, with the Dolphins hosting the Latest England Patriots on Sunday. In his final talk with reporters Friday, coach Mike McDaniel said it was still too early to inform if the team can have Ramsey and Xavien Howard because the long-awaited dream cornerback duo, or if just one or neither can be healthy enough to suit up. (Howard sat out last weekend’s loss in Philadelphia due to a groin injury.)

The Dolphins are massive 9 1/2-point favorites and the Patriots’ passing attack doesn’t scare anybody, but the opportunity of seeing Ramsey and Howard operating on the corners is way larger than this game. It even goes beyond the proven fact that next weekend, the Dolphins face Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now, finally, Fangio gets to emerge from his kitchen/laboratory/whatever you should call it and offer everyone a taste of what he can cook up.

“It plays rather a lot into it,” Fangio said this week, referring to the liberty that comes with having two elite cornerbacks. “In some ways, not the one way, your corners’ abilities govern the defense. In case you feel confident in them that they’ll play well on the routes you get outside the numbers, it has an effect on what you do defensively. There is no such thing as a way around that.”

Jalen Ramsey’s comeback affects greater than just the secondary. The insertion of Ramsey can have a ripple effect throughout the defense. Linebacker Jerome Baker even told Ramsey that on Wednesday.

“I used to be just telling Ramsey it’s going to be fun to observe X on one side, you on the opposite,” Baker said. “Hopefully, I’ll get some more picks, too.”

Baker’s Pick-Six against the Eagles was only the second touchdown of his profession, but Ramsey’s imminent comeback has Baker envisioning greater opportunities.

“I feel the foremost thing is, you’ll take a look at it so far as pass rushing,” Baker said. “You already know while you go right into a blitz now, the quarterback has to carry it yet one more second or whatever it’s. That offers more opportunity not only to inside linebackers, but in addition to outside linebackers, our D-ends, and our D-line, to go after the quarterback.”

And more opportunities, perhaps, for his defensive coordinator? Baker had a wry smile at that query.

“I don’t need to say an excessive amount of,” he said. “You’ll be able to tell that he’s got some things that he often didn’t call or didn’t feel as comfortable calling. Now he’s just throwing it on the market commonly.”

Baker recalled looking across the practice field, pondering “something should be up,” seeing Ramsey and Howard together, and coming to an inescapable conclusion: “Because of this you’re calling it.”

Dolphins’ pass defense needs a lift. Whatever “it” is, the Dolphins could use it. They’re twenty fifth in pass defense, twenty first in passing touchdowns allowed, twenty sixth in yards per attempt, and twenty seventh in opponents’ passer rating. All those numbers are nearly equivalent to where they ranked in 2022.

Injuries also decimated the secondary last season. The difference is that this 12 months, defensive backs are mending as time goes on. Nik Needham, who can play safety or corner, is heading in the right direction to make his season debut after tearing his Achilles last 12 months. Safety Jevon Holland is working his way through concussion protocol but is likely to be per week away from getting cleared. If Holland is unable to play against the Patriots, Brandon Jones can be paired with DeShon Elliott at safety.

When Ramsey and Howard are each available, Fangio can employ Kader Kohou in a nickel or slot role. One other consideration: McDaniel is likely to be tempted to position any borderline cases on the inactive list this weekend, giving them one other week before a tougher test against the Chiefs.

As these moving pieces begin to settle on the back end, wrinkles are being ironed out elsewhere. At linebacker, Baker and David Long are coming off their best performance as a tandem.

“Identical to anything, it takes time to gel with guys,” Baker said. “And with us, 1) It’s a brand new defense and a couple of) We’ve never played with one another. So it took a little bit time to actually know one another, how we talk, how we communicate. That each one comes from just having game reps and watching film. It just helps that now we have a solid defense where a few of our mistakes weren’t as big. They didn’t cost us. I just see that our ceiling is super high.”

More: Why is it so hard for the NFL to say ‘sorry’ to the Dolphins and fans over bad calls? | Habib

The identical word was utilized by linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who’s having fun with one of the best season of his five-year profession, when asked to check this defense with the infusion of Ramsey.

“It’s exciting to have guys coming back,” Van Ginkel said. “Obviously, it’s great to see him coming back healthy and robust off the injuries. Just growing as a defense.”

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