How much of a leap can an NFL player make from Year 1 to Year 2? How about from Year 2 to Year 3?
The answers to those two questions will determine how far the Miami Dolphins’ upstart safety tandem of Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones can catapult this defense.
The versatile duo, known for blitzing more than any other combination of safeties in the league, brings a dynamic aspect that makes returning defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s unit unique. Holland and Jones, along with veteran rotational safety Eric Rowe, are much more than a traditional last line of defense.
Holland is about to find out what kind of jump he’ll make after going through his first cycle on the NFL calendar, a successful one as an early second-round pick in 2021 out of Oregon. The Dolphins are completing organized team activities this week and will return for training camp in late July.
“I feel like it’s important, yeah. I feel like every year you have to improve,” said Holland, who had 69 tackles, two interceptions, 2 1/2 sacks, 10 passes defensed and a fumble recovery as a rookie. “I don’t know what year it is that I’ll stop getting better every year and I’ll be the best I can be, but right now I’m always on the uphill battle.”
Jones, who now enters his third professional season, already witnessed how much can be gained from a second go-around in the league. He went from a four-game starter as a rookie in 2020 to starting 13 games, mostly alongside Holland, last year.
Jones was in on 76 tackles last season with five sacks, his first career interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His five sacks led all NFL defensive backs last season, but just because he holds that distinction, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a safety that merely specializes in rushing the passer.
“I don’t necessarily think that I’m identified as just a blitzing safety, especially with the amount of stuff they have me doing, playing in multiple different positions,” Jones said. “My goal is to obviously branch away from, ‘this guy can only blitz; this guy can’t cover, can’t do this, can’t do that.’ Just trying to find the best way for me to be well-rounded.”
Holland is finishing up the offseason with a holistic mindset to improving his game ahead of training camp.
“I think it was just my overall development as a professional,” he said of what he has discussed with Boyer and safeties coach Steve Gregory. “Things will come in practice and as things start to speed up — tackling, angles to the ball and things like that. But for me, conducting myself as more of a professional was probably most of it.”
But more so than any individual improvements either makes, it’s about how the two work together. When Rowe spoke to reporters earlier in the offseason, he noted the two developing as a pair, together through OTAs. Jones feels it started early when Holland joined him in the secondary last summer.
“When he first got here, we just kind of connected,” Jones said. “We always sit in the back. We’re always communicating. We’re always aware of kind of what happens if this guy moves, what we got to get in and out of, showing different schemes.”
Jones specifically mentioned the confidence Holland instills in him from instances where he’s in man coverage and Holland helps him playing center field, able to cover a lot of space.
The Dolphins are able to use their safeties with as much versatility as they do largely because of the 1-on-1 coverage cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are capable of playing on the outside, along with nickel cornerback Nik Needham.
They’ve gotten different looks this offseason as neither Howard nor Jones have participated in OTAs. Howard did individual portions of the team’s two-day mandatory minicamp last week, but Jones has been on the sideline rehabbing from a lower left leg surgery he had earlier in the offseason.