Kiko Alonso could prove to be the biggest addition the Miami Dolphins made during the off-season, if he can remain healthy.
The Miami Dolphins set out this off-season to improve two key areas on their defense: cornerback and linebacker. The team searched high-and-far, but may have been able to fix both issues with one single trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
On March 10th, the Dolphins and Eagles completed a trade that sent cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to Miami. All the Dolphins had to give up for the two potential starters was moving five draft slots down.
In Maxwell, the Dolphins are hoping he’s an improvement over what Brent Grimes provided in 2015. Between Grimes’ performance slip and his wife’s antics the team almost had no option but to cut Grimes or endanger their team’s chemistry for a third straight season.
Maxwell is expected to be a better scheme fit in Miami, being used in a zone in Vance Joseph’s defense than he was as a cover number one cornerback in Philadelphia.
Maxwell is overpaid, but he should be an improvement just because he’s not married to someone who bashes the starting quarterback constantly.
The main reason this trade will look good for the Dolphins down the road is because of Kiko Alonso, a name that the Dolphins know well because of his stint with the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills drafted Alonso with the 46th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Oregon. In his rookie season Alonso recorded 159 total tackles along with two sacks, and four picks. Pro Football Focus rated him as the number two inside linebacker in coverage, of 55 qualified players at the position.
Alonso’s rookie season earned him a second place finish, behind Sheldon Richardson by four votes, for the defensive rookie of the year award.
Looking to build on his promising rookie season and emerge as a superstar at the position, Alonso was instead met with unfortunate luck, as he went down with an ACL blowout, knocking him out for the season before the first snap.
After months of grueling rehab, Alonso was able to return to the field, this time as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He had been involved in the LeSean McCoy blockbuster deal the off-season before, adding even more pressure to his attempt from a comeback from a serious injury.
In his return to the field, Alonso struggled, to say the least. Two years removed from his strong rookie season, Alonso went from being a top linebacker to one that at times did not look like he belonged in the league.
In 2015, Alonso struggled in coverage, he struggled with poor tackling, and he even struggled to stay on the field, to begin the season. Alonso had to have arthroscopic surgery on his knee, too, after re-injuring it in Week 2. Alonso missed five more games last season due to the injury and ensuing surgery.
The Miami Dolphins are hoping Alonso is healthier in 2016 and can become the force they saw him being with in-division rival Buffalo. So far the returns on Alonso have been positive.
According to the Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Alonso amazed coaches and actually exceed all expectations during his first practice with the team. Beasley in his article mentions that coaches feel that the “old Alonso is back.”
This backs up what Alonso’s friends said back in mid-March, that he looked like the player from 2013 again.
Even rookie head coach Adam Gase sounded optimistic when talking about Alonso’s health a couple of months back when speaking to Philly.com.
"“Coming off his injury, we feel good about him being another year removed from that,” Gase said. “We see a guy who runs well, that he hits and strikes. He’s going to fit into what we do really well. Him being back in a 4-3 defense, that probably suits him a little bit better. We’re really excited to get this guy in our program, and having that kind of speed at linebacker is going to be huge.”"
Not only does Gase think Alonso will be fully healthy, but he also thinks he’ll be a better fit, much like Maxwell, in Miami than he was in Philadelphia.
Fitting in has been actually easy for Alonso, as he and fellow linebacker Jelani Jenkins have shared a common bond over “Call of Duty,” according to James Walker of ESPN.
The friendship could be a major boon for the Miami Dolphins, as Jenkins projects to start as the outside linebacker while Alonso lines up inside. Communication between the two could be the difference between the Dolphins defensive unit playing more cohesive.
Alonso, like Jenkins, is also playing in his contract season, knowing one big season could result in each of them being set for life, in terms of money.
The Miami Dolphins did not get much production out of their linebacker position in 2015. Alonso is looking to return to his 2013 star form.
If the stars align for the franchise and the 25-year old, the team’s defense could be built around a player that once looked like he was headed for a promising career.
Alonso finally looks healthy after two years of knee issues, the future looks bright for him again.