JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -Proud to welcome back a Dolphin great, Kerwin Bell announced the hire of Rolando Fines as the new defensive line coach for Jacksonville football just over two weeks ago.
Fines entered the world of college football coaching at one of its busiest times at the start of preseason training camp. The initiation was a whirlwind to learn a 100-page playbook and its calls, but the former defensive lineman relied on that same hard-working mindset from an All-Pioneer Football League career to immerse himself in JU coach's lingo.
In a spare moment of downtime this weekend, Fines took time to give an inside view on this fall's front four.
TJ Jenkins, who is in his fifth year with the defensive line, is again slated to anchor down a spot at defensive end with his 6-foot, 5-inch, 260-pound frame. The Darien, Ga., native earned Honorable Mention All-PFL last year with five tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
"When you watch film, TJ is the first person you see sprinting to the ball. It could be 40 yards downfield and he is giving it his all. He only knows one speed and that's 100 miles per hour and that's something you look for in a d-lineman. I'm counting on him to be a cornerstone of the line," said Fines.
The redshirt-senior, who is cross-trained at defensive tackle, also will be relied upon to offer more than effort on the field. Fines views Jenkins almost as his assistant coach with his nature to help the younger linemen learn the trade.
"TJ is the leader and the guy I turn to if I want a player relating a message to the defensive line,'' he said.
It's a unique evolution for the two. Jenkins was a freshman during the last season of Fines' Dolphin career. Now it's Jenkins, a fifth-year senior, and Fines tasked with a new role.
"The first time I saw him I thought he was someone's father on a visit. When he was a senior in high school he looked like a grown man,'' Fines said.
Jenkins not only possesses a mature look, but portrays an elder's mindset.
"Giving everything I can on the field and having no regrets. Being a leader in my group and on the team. Trying to show guys that it can all be over anytime. Give it all you got every day because you never know when it's your last day. It's about leaving everything out there on the field," said Jenkins.
Another Dolphin who was named to the Honorable Mention All-Pioneer Football League team, Joshua Gilmore, will again look to wreak havoc across the league from the nose tackle position.
"When it comes to nose tackles for our team, we need nose tackles who can move around and create lots of movement. In our system, we need our interior guys who can hold down the a-gap on a run, but if there's a blitz or stunt requires them to work outside and get contain on the edge, we respect that," said Fines.
Gilmore is strong at point of attack, possesses good leverage at 6-feet, 230 pounds and owns considerable hand technique to rid himself of blockers.
"Our system creates lots of one-on-one matchups, and he took full opportunity of that last year."
The senior is "great at getting the hands off and getting to the shoulder (of an offensive lineman)." Gilmore does so with a signature long-arm lift then uses his hands to cleanse himself of the block.
At defensive tackle, Maroa White's "first-step is extremely quick. He is great at low pad level and moving in tight spaces," said his coach, Rolando Fines.
White, also carrying the distinction of Honorable Mention All-PFL last year, stands 5-11 and weighs 260 pounds. The senior noticeably enjoys the game and according to his coach, "comes out his shell on the field and has a lot of fun."
The defensive lineman cherishes the opportunity for pass rushing on the edge and his best move is an outside hand slap to an offensive lineman, then dipping his inside shoulder and ripping through with the inside arm.
Does being a defensive lineman sound violent yet?
If not, then maybe the job description and title of the last position on the line will.
Competing for playing time at the bandit position are Justin Horton and Tre Davis. The bandit is a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive end, and just like its name, allows for the player to operate in a seemingly lawless abandon.
"At the bandit position, he's able to move around a lot, and he takes full advantage of that. Sometimes he will line up at our safety spot and then right before the snap sprint down to the line of scrimmage,'' Fines said.
Davis, moving to bandit for the first time in his career coming off two injury-suffered seasons, moves with a quick burst.
"When he goes, he really goes. He might be one of the fastest kids on defensive line,'' Fines said. "He does it 100 miles per hour. If he does it wrong, it's at that speed; if it does it right, it's also at 100 miles per hour. I can coach you to do the right thing, but I can't coach you to play that way and that's something that you like from Tre."
Horton, who played the position last year, "has all the tools and athletic ability" and also possess a great knowledge of the defense. He previously played outside linebacker then transitioned to defensive end, so Horton is comfortable in speaking coverage material.
"I think it helps him play a little bit better knowing what's happening on the back-end and it helps his fits and helps him know what he's doing a little bit better,'' said Fines.
No matter who starts in the season opener at Delaware Sept. 4, both will see action. Fines is looking to create depth during preseason camp in hopes of fresh legs this fall.
"We need fresh bodies. If you go through a long drive, it can take a toll on not only how you perform on that drive, but a toll on how you perform the rest of the game,'' he said. "My ideal is to be two-deep at every position so I can always have fresh guys in and fresh viewpoints because some players are able to help you react based on what they've seen."
A couple of weeks into this process, a small pod of Dolphins have shown their worth to spell the starters.
Largest in height amongst the interior defensive linemen, sophomore Tyler Havenner is looking to add to the five games he saw action in as a true freshman.
"Tyler Havenner is cross-trained between defensive tackle and nose. He's got great explosion and size,'' Fines said. "He played at the same high school as Maroa White, so they have that relationship and to be his backup is a funny dynamic in the meeting room with how they give each other a hard time watching film. He definitely pushes Maroa and both of our inside guys."
A bandit from Fines' hometown of Tampa, Fla., Kenny Siplin played in six games a year ago and has shown tremendous strides.
"From starting camp to where we are now, he has made leaps and bounds, especially in the trust department. No player for me will ever see the field if I can't trust them to do what they're supposed to do. From the start of camp to now, he has definitely earned that trust."
Jareeq Crenshaw will also see time at defensive end.
"With his third step he will be able to beat any offensive lineman on his second step,'' Fines said. "He will always be able to correct any mistake that he has as he continues to learn the position. With his athleticism he is able to make up for any mistake that he might do. He also has great extension."
Defensive end Chris Jones, who was sidelined last year with a shoulder injury, has earned praise from Fines and other coaches.
"For being out so long, you could come back a step slower and not know your plays, but he has definitely been the surprise of coaches,'' said Fines. "He's been able to make the transition from what we've done in helmets to what we've done in pads."
Freshman Jeff Stokes has moved down the defensive assembly line as soon as he stepped foot on campus. Stokes came in as a prospect for defensive tackle, then moved to nose, is now at defensive end and is doing well there. He's caught the eye of Fines for his willingness to take on whatever is best for the team. With so much to learn for not just one position but three, Stokes hasn't been slowed down from analysis by paralysis learning the three positions, and might earn a shot in the rotation as the season progresses.
Fines said, "He's a very promising player for not just this season but for the program's future."
With so much competition for playing time, Fines is aiming to create a family atmosphere, and believes that his group will play harder for each other if they see one another as a brother first. It's one of the many expectations that Fines has for his pressure cookers up front, and given the experience, attitude, and leadership of the group, all signs point towards a season of much more than tackles and sacks.