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Reunion in secondary

Posted Oct 5, 2012


Kevin Coyle

Kevin Coyle, the poet laureate of the Coyle clan, is pure football coach so he hasn't had time to wax anything about Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) when he calls the Dolphins defense against the Bengals top 10 offense.

But since he spent the 11 previous seasons coaching the Bengals secondary, rest assured this is more than the obligatory-next-game-on-the-schedule Sunday. This reunion is living proof why people behind the Xs and Os are what make the game and not the other way around.

"All of a sudden I looked up and this game is here," Coyle said from Dolphins headquarters this week. "All summer long it just seemed so far away and now here it is. Obviously a lot of mixed emotions coming back. I was blessed to be in such a great town where my daughter grew up, went to high school and graduated. And to be around some great players and people."

Coyle is grinding just like always. As a top aide in new head coach Joe Philbin's first season, he has seen his team lose back-to-back overtime games, prepare to come north on the back end of a two-game trip that started out a few time zones away in Arizona, and go 1-3.

But Coyle's defense is playing the way you would think it would play. The Dolphins are physical (ranked first against the run), opportunistic (their five interceptions are third-most in the NFL), and stingy in not allowing a run longer than 15 yards while logging the fifth-best third-down percentage in the league.

Nothing easy.

"We've got a lot of good pros," Coyle said. "We've had a couple of heartbreaking losses and we've got to get over that and finish it off and start winning games. But I feel good about where we're headed. Coach Philbin has done a great job setting the direction, we've got a good young quarterback, and the guys play hard."

The Bengals offense has spent the week talking about the similarities between their own defense and Miami's, and Coyle won't deny he's using a lot of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's stuff.

After all, he worked with Zimmer for four seasons and so there are the alternating over-under looks, the penetrating, upfield line play, the mixing of coverages and the blitzes that are well disguised and set up even if they're used less than half the time.

But as Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said this week, Coyle has learned a lot of football and not just from Zimmer. Coyle's first two seasons in Cincinnati were under head coach Dick LeBeau, the architect of the zone blitz that he perfected while working with current Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis with the Steelers.

"I've got a lot of respect for Zim and I picked up a lot of stuff from him," Coyle said. "But there's also stuff from Marvin and Coach LeBeau from their Pittsburgh days, and I've got my own stuff. It's always a mix."

But this is a reunion that has as much love as football. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall talked about his love for Coyle this week as he recounted how Coyle never forget one of his DB's birthdays, always had a cake, and always insisted everyone sing "Happy Birthday." And there were the DB dinners at Coyle's home with wife Louise, and the involvement in their work in the community.

"I think he just cared a lot more than he really needed to. With football stuff obviously he cared, he wanted us to play the right way and do the right thing but on a personal level he cared about you," Hall said.

As he regaled some hilarious texts he has sent to his former players recently, Coyle could only say, "I love those guys."

When safety Chris Crocker came off the couch to make Cincinnati's first interception of the season last week in Jacksonville, Coyle fired off a text after he did a rare thing and flipped the tape over to watch the other team's defense.

"You ever meet Crocker's wife? Great person. She's tough. I tell him, 'She's tougher than you,' " Coyle said. "So I sent him a text that said something like, 'Congrats. But the minimal return needs work. Carrie couldn't have been happy with your dive out of bounds.' "

Crocker shook his head at the vintage Coyle busting of chops.

"That's Kevin; never satisfied," Crocker said.

Coyle is very aware of what the Bengals have on offense.

"The minute A.J. Green stepped on the field you knew he was special. He's unbelievable. And to watch Andy (Dalton) run the offense, he's got that great poise," Coyle said. "(Andrew Hawkins) was one of my favorite players last year, the way he came into camp and busted his butt. I tell you, you won't find a quicker guy in the slot."

Hawkins calls Coyle "my guy" because Coyle embraced his speed and quickness and almost immediately recruited him to play some cornerback in an emergency, and it got serious enough that he was meeting with him.

Hawkins's brother, Artrell, was playing cornerback for the Bengals when Coyle arrived in 2001 and says, "He saved my career. I was lost. I was coming off my toughest year and I had nobody to really lean on. He became that guy, and I'm talking about off the field as much as on the field. He cares and that really means something to professionals."

Artrell was there at the creation. When Lewis arrived in 2003, he promoted Coyle from cornerbacks coach to secondary and in the next eight seasons the Bengals defensive backs came up with 125 of the 150 interceptions that were fifth-most in the NFL over that span. The previous eight seasons before Coyle? The DBs had 84, barely 10 per year.

"No coincidence," Artrell Hawkins said. "Kevin is a master technician. He's so great with technique, and being able to teach it. Just ask Tory James and Johnathan Joseph."

When there are big family occasions, Coyle always comes up with some rhyme. This one qualifies, but there is just no time.

"But I'm getting a haircut for the ballgame," Coyle said.

So he's making the first move in the head game with Gruden.

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