JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The adage is that respect is earned. Leading the nation with 24 interceptions last season and returning eight starters from that defensive unit will undoubtedly produce respect. The secondary played a big role in the school-record number of picks last season, and defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jake Grande is excited about the opportunities that await.
"We're looking for them to do the same thing as last year which was work hard, listen, communicate as a group, and entrust one another," said Grande.
The Dolphins return both safeties in Dallas Jackson and Terrance Bryant. Bryant will again start at free safety after an outstanding junior season. The 6-foot, 2-inch 190-pounder was named to the First-Team All-Pioneer Football League after recording 60 tackles, one interception, and 2.5 tackles-for-a-loss and his coach is expecting a "super senior year."
"Terrance is a very physical player. He's always looking to hit people. He's got great eyes, is tall, long, and fast. He's got everything that you're looking for as a safety. He's really rangy when you get him into the posts. When he's in the middle of the field, that ball could be a sideline throw and he could get there. I look at him as the post safety and Dallas Jackson as the cover safety as much as possible," said Grande.
Jackson again gets the nod at strong safety as the Dolphins prepare for the season opener against Delaware on Sept. 4. Last season as a junior, Jackson picked off five passes which tied a school-record. He started 10 games, made 48 tackles, and earned Honorable Mention All-PFL honors.
According to his coach, Jackson "is probably one of the top cover guys we have on the team. He's also a great leader for us on defense, and a lot of our DBs are great leaders. He makes sure the calls are set and knows the defense inside and out."
The returning experience continues with another year of eligibly for senior Andrew Hooks. The Bowling Green, Fla., native will move to safety when the Dolphins line up in a nickel package while Jackson moves to nickel back. Hooks also expects to see the field in dime looks.
Joining Jackson on the Honorable Mention All-PFL squad is last year's starting corner, Armani Sampson. The redshirt-junior had two interceptions and 25 tackles last year.
"We expect him to keep elevating his game every year by keep working on his technique and craft," said Grande.
It speaks to the depth of the Dolphins when the new starter picked off four passes last year. Brandon Roe, a sophomore from Douglas, Ga., is tall for a corner at 6-feet and possesses strength to battle receivers.
In addition to their efforts on the field, the defensive backs appear to have dominated the film room as well.
"The DBs are students of the game and understand where they're supposed to fit and why we are doing things. I think as a secondary coach it's important to be a student of the game and understand why we are doing things," said Grande. He emphasized how willing the returners have been to assisting the rookies when he pointed out how Andrew Hooks stayed after a meeting to explain a play to Keandre Randerson.
The combination of skill, technique, effort, and knowledge all factor into the unit's record-setting season last year, and the ultimate factor, of course, is execution. The secondary doesn't do much yapping about the 24 picks in 2014, but Grande wants the group to take the same mindset into this fall.
"We talk about making the plays that you're supposed to make. We try to catch a ball in all of our drills. I want them to have a ball in their hands as much as possible so they can get used to the feel of the ball. I feel it's very important," said the new defensive coordinator.
As the conclusion of training camp approaches and game preparation for the season opener begins, Grande continues to preach that his unit should focus on the next play no matter the outcome of the previous one, because it only takes one play to force a turnover. If anyone knows how to do that, it's the Dolphin secondary.
The Dolphins have had plenty of looks this preseason to practice their craft going against the up-tempo Jacksonville offense.
"Nobody is going to throw the ball as much as we are," Grande said. "Coach (Kerwin) Bell's offense gives us more looks than anyone else is going to give us."