The move, while fitting nicely into Kevin Coyle’s pressure-based scheme, also reunites two former college teammates, as Ellerbe played with Dolphins safety Reshad Jones at the University of Georgia.
Willie Martinez, now the associate head coach at the University of Tennessee, was the defensive coordinator when the duo made its way through Athens, and he recently joined The Finsiders to describe what they were like in college and how they’ve grown as players in the NFL.
Despite Ellerbe’s emergence during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run — he was a terror on defense, supplying pressure in place of Ray Lewis – his signing may have caught some off guard. What gave some pause, perhaps, is that, to date, he has only played in a 3-4 defense in the NFL. Georgia mixed in some 3-4 once in a while, too, Martinez said, but Ellerbe played all over the field, inside and out, allowing the defense to line up differently and employ multiple schemes.
“He gave us a lot of flexibility with all the things he could do,” Martinez said. “He was a smart player, he was athletic. We felt good enough for him to play man to man on running backs and tight ends – a very good blitzer.”
Now, in the midst of their second offseason, Joe Philbin and his staff are starting to add their guys, pl;ayers that may fit the existing schemes well. The Dolphins, in essence, are replacing last year’s starters, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, with Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, whose 7.5 combined sacks last year more than doubled the output of their predecessors.
“Again, he’s a guy that has very good instincts. He understands all types of football. He’s great at anticipating what’s about to happen,” Martinez said. “He’s somebody that we felt when we had him at Georgia he could play all three positions, and it’s extremely to his advantage that he could have that, where you can put him outside, on both sides, playing in the middle so that when you’re going to your nickel packages he could be the Mike, he could be the Will, he could be your nickel.”
In Jones, now entering his fourth season, the Dolphins found a playmaking safety to build around. He emerged in 2012, finishing the year with 94 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He showed consistent flashes of this potential at Georgia, where Martinez said Jones’ ball skill would have allowed him to star on offense if he had decided to play wide receiver.
The area that there has been undeniable growth in Miami, though, has been his willingness to take charge.
“The other thing, too, is that he loves contact and is a very explosive player,” Martinez said. “He was kind of a quiet guy. He has a very quiet confidence, but I think watching him at practice this past December with the Dolphins and to see him communicate on field, it was awesome to see.”
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