MIAMI — Speaking to the media during spring practices, Jevon Holland couldn’t help but be honest.
The Dolphins safety captured attention last season as a rookie, finishing third among safeties in wins above replacement according to Pro Football Focus. That impressive debut came after months of preparation for the NFL combine and the draft, not to mention a whirlwind of spring and summer practices to acclimate to his new team.
So when asked how his first full offseason compared to last year, he was blunt.
“Honestly, I was kicking it, I’m not going to lie,” he said, smiling. “I took some time off, enjoyed myself and enjoyed my family. [But] I made sure that I was still getting that work in.”
Holland’s time off hardly showed up on the field during OTAs, as he was one of several Dolphins players to earn the coveted orange jersey — essentially a practice MVP award that also comes with deejay privileges for the next practice. His continued ascension is a big reason the Dolphins’ secondary is in position to finish the upcoming season as one of the league’s best.
Last season, Miami finished as the league’s 16th-best pass defense, allowing 227.7 yards per game through the air. However, during its defensive revival over its final 10 games, that number dropped drastically to 179.1 yards allowed per game, good for the fourth-stingiest in the NFL during that span.
First-year coach Mike McDaniel took note of the strong finish and made it a point to keep the team’s defensive staff as intact as possible. Five defensive coaches return for Miami, including defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, which should help it preserve its chemistry from last season.
“Man, it’s great,” cornerback Xavien Howard said of the continuity. “[We’re] … trying to keep that and add a little bit more to the plays.”
The addition of cornerbacks coach/pass-game specialist Sam Madison and defensive assistant Patrick Surtain has made this offseason even sweeter for Howard, who signed a new contract in April that added two years and $50.6 million in new money to the three years and $39 million remaining on the deal he signed in 2020.
Howard, a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, leads all players with 27 interceptions since entering the league in 2016. He is expected to start alongside Byron Jones, who signed as a free agent in 2020 after five seasons with Dallas. Howard relishes the opportunity to learn from Madison and Surtain, who combined to make six All-Pro teams during their time playing together for the Dolphins from 1998 to 2004.
The former cornerback tandem has also made an impact on 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, who has struggled to find playing time during his first two seasons but has an opportunity to make an impression on a new coaching staff in 2022.
“I love them, especially I feel like there is definitely a lot of experience in the room,” Howard said of Madison and Surtain. “Not saying that there wasn’t last year, but those guys played the position, and they played at a high level. Just to be able to learn — they are great teachers as well. I’m blessed to be able to learn from them.”
In addition to Howard, Jones and Holland in Miami’s starting secondary, safety Brandon Jones quietly led all defensive backs in pressures last season with 13; Holland was second with 12.
Their versatility is part of what makes this young safety duo worth watching. No defensive backs rushed the passer more frequently than Brandon Jones and Holland last season, and their ability to provide pressure or drop into coverage can disrupt opponents.
“Jevon and Brandon, you can just tell that back there they work together well now,” nickelback Nik Needham said in May. “They’ll get on each other, hold each other more accountable, because I think they’re comfortable with each other. That’s the big step I see.”