What's the Next Step for Wilkins?
Christian Wilkins said early last season he's the type of player who's never satisfied, and that hasn't changed one bit for the Miami Dolphins defensive tackle.
By all measures, Wilkins had a solid first NFL season in 2019 when he led all rookie defensive linemen in tackles with 56, though he did not earn All-Rookie accolades.
If the Dolphins defense is to take a big step in 2020, Wilkins figures to play a big role. Yes, the team added key pieces throughout the lineup in the offseason — Kyle Van Noy, Byron Jones and Shaq Lawson, to name just three — but improvement will be needed from the returning 2019 starters.
Wilkins definitely fits that bill.
“Well, I’m never a complete player, I’m never done working on my game, so there are always things you can improve on," Wilkins said during a Zoom media session. "The biggest thing for me is just working on hands, pad leverage and having good technique, really. That starts with your hands, eyes and feet, and like I said, playing with good pad leverage.
"From what I’ve noticed from college to the NFL, it’s a lot harder to make those big plays, but that just stems from your technique. If you play with good technique, you’ll make a lot of plays and you’ll make those big plays and get those tackles for loss too. That’s really my big focus going into the season.”
Wilkins ended the 2019 season with three tackles for loss, to go along with two sacks and two passes defensed. And, of course, there was his offensive touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 when he caught a pass after lining up at fullback in a goal-line situation.
Given the Dolphins' defensive scheme, which employs a multitude of alignments with many featuring three or even only two linemen, it's not exactly easy for a player like Wilkins to make a whole lot of highlight plays.
It's also more difficult for a player in that kind of scheme to earn individual accolades or generate a lot of attention.
It doesn't make the significance of somebody like Wilkins any less, though, it just means it's sometimes going to make more sense to look at the team success on defense to gauge how he's playing.
Wilkins understands his role on this defense.
“No one has higher expectations for me than me," he said. "I’m always working daily, day in and day out, on my craft, just to be the best player I can be and the best leader. I felt like I can definitely take a step from a leadership standpoint this year. Just lead by example, vocal when I can. So that’s big as well. It all starts from preparation and doing what I need to do on the field."
Part of that leadership role will be guiding the three players who followed Wilkins as Dolphins first-round picks — Tua Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene.
"I’m ready to help those guys out – those three first-round picks – as much as I can because I know what it’s like," Wilkins said. "I know what the pressure is like, the expectation to succeed on the field and just everything off the field — dealing with life, managing all of the distractions and things like that. I’m definitely here for those guys as much as I can be.”