DAVIE — Somewhere inside the belly of the Miami Dolphins' training facility coaches dissected gigabytes of practice video trying to isolate every microscopic breakdown in the DNA of the defense.
They watch the clips in a ritual that goes something like pause, rewind and slow motion. Repeat.
They scribble down notes trying to formulate the key to becoming the NFL's most impenetrable defense.
There has been very little of the Dolphins' defense to pick apart this spring despite the acquisition of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who is implementing a new 4-3 base defense.
Whether the defense has simply exposed deficiencies in the Dolphins' offense, which has plenty of uncertainty from quarterback to offensive line to wide receiver, or whether the defense has truly mastered concepts and techniques won't truly be known until they are challenged by different uniforms.
The optimism is palpable.
"We've got a chance to be great," Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We have a chance to be great in this defense. We have enough skill set. We have enough talent. We can make this defense work for us."
The final day of last week's three-day minicamp might have been the best defensive performance of the spring. Energized by the reward of a five-week break until training camp, defenders at times flooded the backfield, restraining themselves at the last second to avoid pulverizing the quarterback during non-contact workouts.
In the final two-minute drill of the spring, the defense had at least three interceptions, including one from cornerback Jimmy Wilson, one from safety Reshad Jones and one from defensive back Anderson Russell.
There also was a sack of quarterback Ryan Tannehill by linebacker Cameron Wake.
"It's a battle," rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon said. "Everyone's competing every day. You're trying to win one-on-ones. You're trying to get to the quarterback. Offensive line, they're trying to block. They're trying to get pancakes. It's competition."
And there's been no lack of intensity with players wearing just helmets and shoulder pads and no tackling allowed.
If anything, an overflow of emotion came Wednesday when a pair of small fights broke out drawing the ire of first-year coach Joe Philbin.
"It happens," Philbin said. "... You want good competition. You want the guys to play hard, but be smart. You have to protect one another, especially with no pads; you have to protect one another at all times. We don't have the luxury of importing guys left and right. We have to be smart, use good judgment."
Overall, the defense remains relatively intact from a year ago.
The biggest news for the front four was re-signing Wake and Paul Soliai to new contracts.
There was the free-agent signing of Richard Marshall added to the secondary as a nickel cornerback. And Jones appears to be ready to step into the vacancy left by former Dolphins leading tackler and captain Yeremiah Bell.
The Dolphins finished 2011 ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed (19.6 ppg.), and third in rushing defense (95.6 ypg.).
Even with the successes, the Dolphins appear to remember the bad moments — such as an 0-7 start.
"We want guys who want to come in and work," Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis said. "That's all that matters because throughout the season we have to get better, and better, and better."
The increased pace of the Dolphins' new West Coast offense has kept the defense in good shape from a conditioning perspective.
Facing a virtual no-huddle offense requires the defense to keep up, which could be an added benefit.
So even though there's five weeks of free time, it's certainly not a signal to completely step away.
"You can't take a long break," Dansby said. "You've got to be able to stay conditioned. You have to be able to stay in shape right now. The way we're moving right now is the way we're going to be moving at camp."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times