Tyrel Dodson: No Stage Too Big


Former Texas A&M Aggies linebacker Tyrel Dodson got another taste of regular season action in week two against the Dolphins in place of Tremaine Edmunds, and he showed that he wasn’t just going to keep Edmunds’ seat warm. “The communication went well throughout the day,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier told the media on Monday, “and we found out that he can make some plays.”

There were a lot of flashy plays with a few bad ones mixed in, but we got to see what coaches had seen in practice over the last year.

Run Defense

Dodson finished the game with seven tackles, which was second on the team behind captain Jordan Poyer. Two of his tackles and one of his stops were against the run, and it was this area that most fans believed was his strength. Dodson has a degree of twitch to his game that I am sure has been the apple of the staff’s eye, but I thought he processed much better than I expected. On this play, he reads the gap exchange by DT Harrison Phillips beautifully. Phillips shoots the back-side gap and Dodson works over the top, quickly getting tight enough to the line of scrimmage so that the back-side guard can’t wall him off.

I thought he processed his keys very well, almost to a fault, as we will see later. The Dolphins attempt to run a Y/G counter trey, but Dodson zoned in on his keys and he makes the tackle. As the ball is about to be snapped, watch his eyes. He is staring through the near guard. As that guard pulls, Dodson shows off his short-area quickness and sifting ability across the formation. He is able to stay over the top of the left guard, who is responsible for blocking Dodson after combo blocking with the tackle. Dodson works over the top again, gets into a solid tackling position, and brings the back down.

Dodson’s ability to ‘fire his gun’ pops on film, and I’m sure that it was one of the traits that the Bills fell in love with. Unfortunately, his play speed is still not up to par. Three of his four missed tackles against the Dolphins were against the run, and they were plays in which he read them perfectly but failed to bring the back down. You see that here as Dodson sees the gap as ‘clear’, so he shoots it but doesn’t square the runner up properly. As a result, Myles Gaskin makes him miss. Great job of suffocating the runner, but he can’t let the back escape.

This play is one of my favorite plays from Dodson on Sunday because of how incredibly difficult this play is to read. He accomplishes that feat but is unable to bring the ball carrier down. On the snap, the tight end sift-blocks across the formation. This essentially adds another gap to the defense’s left side. This forces the second-level defenders to bump a gap to their left, and Dodson recognizes that. Linebacker AJ Klein fires through the A-gap, so the Fins have a +1 play-side.

You see Poyer replace Dodson, and with Klein committed to the A-gap, Dodson has to bump even further in an attempt to cover the C-gap (inside the kick-out block by the TE).

He works through the traffic but is unable to bring the running back down, but much like the prior play, he may have saved an even bigger play. The offense had advantageous numbers play-side, but Dodson disrupted the back enough to limit a bigger play.

False Keys

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took advantage of the middle of the field with Edmunds and Matt Milano out of the game, and he did that with play action. Former Bills coach Chan Gailey threw a lot of false keys at Klein and Dodson, and they took the bait. The Fins pulled guards, which triggers run at the linebacker level. When those guys move, gaps are moving and the linebackers — as you saw — have to compensate. So when guards were pulled, the linebackers naturally have to move with them, and that opened up easy passing lanes over the middle. Milano and Edmunds key and track guards on these plays as well, but they are much better at getting their hands up and in the passing lanes. This is something that, if you were listening closely on the broadcast, you could hear a Bills coach say “get in the passing lane” after a play fake from Fitzy. But Dodson’s biggest blunder against play-action came on this play. The Fins run an iso with an H-back, so now there are two new gaps inside. Klein has one and Dodson has the other, IF it is indeed a run. But it’s a pass and Dodson appears to be guessing where the running back is headed instead of getting to his gap. If he had been anywhere near his “run-gap”, there is a good chance it would have put him in the passing lane.

Screen Game

The Bills’ quarters defense is extremely susceptible to screens. When you play four defensive backs deep, looking to minimize explosive plays, that only leaves three defenders to roam underneath. And as you can imagine, the offense can scheme leverage along the perimeter against those defenders. But Dodson wasn’t having it. He sniffed out several screens. Here, Gailey tries taking advantage of the quarters defense by spreading them out with an empty set and running a WR screen. But Dodson reads it quickly, fires downhill, and makes a huge tackle. Look at the alley up the middle that formed behind the Dolphins’ lineman. That’s a much bigger play if Dodson doesn’t click and close.


On this one, the Dolphins send a false key by pulling the guard. It holds Dodson for a second, but he uses his speed and range to work through traffic to make the tackle.

Pass Coverage

While Dodson “surrendered” 10 receptions for 76 yards, most of which were from play-action passes or when the Bills were in zone defense, he showed off that he can make plays on the ball. There was a particular sequence in the first half where the Dolphins attempted to take advantage of the Bills’ coverage techniques and Dodson nearly made Fitzy pay. As the running back releases into the flats, slot corner Taron Johnson and Dodson execute a ‘push’ call. This is a technique that Milano and Edmunds use consistently where the linebackers and slot corner are pattern-matching the #2 and #3 receivers. Johnson passes the slot receiver to Dodson and picks up the running back. Dodson attacks the receiver and nearly picks it off.

After seeing the call on that play, the Fins attempt to out-leverage Dodson. This time, they send the slot player (#3) on a deep out looking for a big play, but Dodson flawlessly executes the ‘push’ and sticks to his man. It causes Fitzy to hold it a half a second longer, and allows the rushers to get home.

I thought Dodson’s first start was very promising. His reactionary, hairline trigger sort of play is reminiscent of Milano early in his career. A handful of flashy, disruptive plays in the pass and run game, with a few missed tackles. Dodson isn’t nearly as athletic as Milano is, but what was evident on film was that Frazier didn’t have to change the playbook all that much with the young linebacker in the game. “We didn’t have to bring the game plan down much; we still were doing a lot of things we did coming out of training camp,” Frazier told the media. Dodson was asked to carry the torch for Edmunds, and I thought he handled the responsibilities wonderfully. A lot is asked of linebackers in this defense, and Dodson showed that he can make plays when the coaches put him in position to.