Dolphins’ leading tackler Long is hopeful changes to Miami’s defense won’t impact his role

For a man to tattoo “Que Sera, Sera,” on his neck there clearly must be a commitment to letting things play out however the universe sees fit.

The saying “which can be translated in Spanish and Italian to mean “what will be, will be” has been David Long Jr.’s mantra since joining the NFL as a sixth-round pick in 2019, and working his way up from special teams contributor to NFL starter.

Last year the Miami Dolphins signed the inside linebacker to a two-year, $10 million deal hoping he would be a perfect fit in Vic Fangio’s defense. It didn’t seem to be a good fit early.

But as time progressed, and comfort set in, Long found his footing and finished the season as the Dolphins’ leading tackler.

While the season was filled with numerous challenges, Long adjusted, overcame them and eventually thrived.

Now the veteran inside linebacker is being asked to do it all over again, and this time with a new partner at the core of Miami’s defense, which will feature a different looking defensive front now it has been handed over to newly hired defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver.

“We all see the style he’s trying to implement and everyone is taking to it,” Long said about Weaver’s defense, which every defender is learning in the early period of Miami’s offseason program.

Miami hired Weaver to replace Fangio, who left at the conclusion of the 2023 season to become the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator.

The Dolphins — players, coaches and executives — have provided very few clues on what Weaver’s defense will look like, and that’s clearly intentional because they don’t want to provide opponents anything that would reduce their competitive advantage.

But what is known is that Weaver’s scheme will be a hybrid 3-4 defense, one that uses multiple fronts and rotates defensive linemen regularly. Behind that they will use two inside linebackers, a zone concept for coverage in the secondary and will feature Jalen Ramsey shadowing the opposition’s best receiver.

Even though the Dolphins added Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker Jr., two veteran starting inside linebackers, as free agents this spring, the belief is that Long, who tallied 113 tackles (nine of which were for loss), one sack and forced one fumble, should be viewed as a frontrunner to remain a starter.

“In my opinion, it’s not that difficult to grasp it,” Long said about Weaver’s scheme. “A lot of this stuff throughout the league is the same. You know, just different terminology. Once you get the basics of these defenses down, you know, it all kinda overlaps.

“The good thing is we’re all here early. So we can all learn at the same time, you know, help each other,” Long continued. “I think that’s one of the best things [we’ve got] working for us right now.”

Also working in Miami’s favor is the fact that most of the defense’s core players have experience playing together — seven returning starters — or have some history with one another, or the scheme, from past NFL experiences.

For instance, Long and newly acquired defensive tackle Teair Tart go back to their early years together playing in Tennessee, when Tart was responsible for keeping Long clean as his nose tackle.

“David Long is all dawg, all gas all the time. I love playing with him,” said Tart, who was one of the seven veteran defensive linemen Miami signed this offseason to replace Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, who left the Dolphins as free agents. “David gets those double teams off of you quick, man. He’s a hard worker. He’s passionate, very passionate about what he does. I missed him in Tennessee a lot…. It’s a blessing to be here in Miami playing with him again.”

According to Long, what Weaver is implementing has a ton of overlap to what the Titans ran with Mike Vrabel as Tennessee’s head coach.

That is logical considering Weaver worked alongside Vrabel for one season as a member of the Houston Texans’ coaching staff, and then worked for him for the 2017 season, when Vrabel was the Texans’ defensive coordinator and Weaver was the defensive line coach.

What Long likes about Weaver the most is his background as a former player seeing as how he spent seven seasons in the NFL as a starting defensive linemen (98 starts in 103 career games) for the Ray Lewis-led Baltimore Ravens defense, and the Houston Texans.

According to Long, that helps Weaver put his instructions, his coaching points in a place where players can receive it better, explaining the whys, and the tools they needed to play without thinking.

“Right now everyone is clicking, and it starts off the field as well with how tight we are as a team. How good do we communicate and how fast do we take the classroom to the field?” said Long, who will compete with Brooks, Walker and Duke Riley to replace Jerome Baker as Miami’s every-down linebacker, and the player who wears the [blue dot] communication helmet. “Every day it’s getting better, and I’m sure it will continuously get better throughout Phase 3 and minicamp.”