Dolphins hope scheme unlocks Charles Harris' pass-rushing potential

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores typically doesn't lavish players with praise via the media, so when he gave extensive unsolicited love to defensive end Charles Harris this week, it certainly widened some eyes.

"I can't say enough good things about him," Flores said. "He's the kind of guy we want in the building. Honestly, I don't care about his past. I care about right now. That's where I'm at. ... He's really doing a good job for us in the classroom, on the field. He's smart. He's hard-working. He's got a lot of ability."

Harris, a 2017 first-round pick, has three sacks over two NFL seasons -- a disappointing number for a player drafted largely because of his ability to rush the passer. He hasn't fully participated in a practice this offseason because of his injured wrist, which is covered by a large club. But Flores is excited about what Harris can do for the Dolphins in 2019.

It's important to note that one of two things (or both?) are happening here: Harris' ability to pick up the new scheme has quickly made Flores a believer, or Flores knows he needs Harris and figures talking him up could boost his confidence and play.

The motive behind Flores' words is unimportant in late May, but the takeaway is the Dolphins need a turnaround from their athletic pass-rusher with untapped potential.

Harris is one more lackluster season away from having the "bust" label attached to him, but he is also arguably the top edge rusher on a team with a huge dearth of them. And, the Dolphins are betting big on a new defensive scheme to help revitalize his career.

No current Dolphins edge rusher has more than 5.5 career sacks (Tank Carradine). There is no bigger hole on the roster, and a breakthrough season from Harris would help fill at least one hole. The Dolphins say they have enough talent to rush the passer and set the edge at this position. Time will tell, but scheme might play a factor in minimizing this roster weakness.

Pinning down exactly what the defense will look like has been one of this offseason's biggest mysteries, as Flores prefers not to tip his hand on anything related to scheme. Coordinator Patrick Graham has been vague when describing responsibilities for his players and whether they will be running a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense.

The generic term used to describe Miami's defense is "multiple." One Dolphins newcomer said the scheme was the most "complex" he has learned since entering the NFL and proclaimed that it demands you to know "multiple" players' responsibilities.

Maybe the biggest shift, from Harris' perspective, is that this will no longer be a traditional 4-3. Now, edge rusher is a more appropriate way to describe his position than defensive end. He's spent a lot more time standing up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, a role he believes fits his skills better.

"It's different because every time a tackle sees somebody standing up, they are thinking that he could drop [into coverage] or he could rush," Harris said. "If you give him two [options] versus just one with your hand down, where he's like 'I know he's coming,' then it's not simple. It just gives you the other 50 percent [chance of the unknown]."

The next step is getting that wrist healthy. He doesn't have a timeline for when he'll be at 100 percent, but the hope is he can do more team drills in training camp.

One player from the 2018 Dolphins gave ESPN his scouting report of Harris this offseason: "He works his ass off. He puts time into the game. But I don't know about his football instincts. He gets pushed around a bit. I think he needs to play in space where he can attack tight ends and running backs. He's a good athlete, but he's got to prove he's a football player."

It appears the Dolphins will give him a chance to play in space more in 2019. Miami's hope is that it will unlock the Harris who shined at Missouri.

Several defensive players expected to play significant snaps in 2019, including Bobby McCain, T.J. McDonald, Jerome Baker, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Harris, have been asked to play multi-position roles during organized team activities.

The idea is that everybody should be able to do everything.

"P.G. [Graham] came in and kind of ridiculed us for having that boxed-in mindset. 'I play like this or I heard we have to do it like this.' He's like 'no, be a football player,'" Harris said. "If anything, he's probably broke the chains, broke the shackles and was just like, 'play ball.' I don't think anybody wants to box themselves in.

"Any time a player gets to expand their football IQ and learn different things, it's always exciting. It's exciting and makes you appreciate the game a lot more, the intricacies of it from all corners."