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5 Potential Leaders on the Miami Dolphins

Andrew Mitchell

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The Miami Dolphins are in the early stages of a momentous culture change. With that change comes new faces and new leaders. Culture is built through these alpha-types; players that will hold their fellow teammates accountable but also lead by example, on and off the field. Below are some players to watch possibly emerge into this regime’s future leaders.

1) Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB

The obvious first choice, Minkah Fitzpatrick is not only a homerun player, but also a homerun person.

He was a leader for Nick Saban’s dominant Alabama teams. The former 1st-round pick had a tumultuous first season, recently admitting that the prior defensive staff was boggled on where to line him up and would sometimes change the game plan mid-week leading up to the game. Now with Brian Flores at the helm, and his defensive scheme relying heavily on multiple defensive backs, Minkah is due to have much more structure in what this staff expects from him week-in and week-out.

With Reshad Jones’ star slowly fading, it’s Minkah who we could see step up and become the go-to communicator in that back end of the field.

2) Raekwon McMillan, LB

Former 2nd-round pick, Raekwon McMillan, stepped up last year after missing his first season due to a preseason injury. He fits well into this defensive scheme that Brian Flores and Co. plan to implement.

As reported before, Flores asked McMillan to watch tape of Dont’a Hightower. As we know, Hightower has been a staple in the New England Patriot’s defense over the last handful of seasons. Being the Middle Linebacker, it’s only natural to expect McMillan to be the center of that defense -both figuratively and literally.

One variable to consider will be how often he us utilized in obvious passing downs. Fellow linebacker Jerome Baker is the faster of the two, and could be the first name on the depth chart when it comes to coverage schemes that require just one linebacker on the field. However, I see McMillan maturing into the heart of this defense, pending the fact that he continues to progress like he did during the 2nd-half of last season.

3) Xavien Howard, CB

If we are basing this off of salary, then Xavien Howard would no doubt be number one in this case. Yet, we know from watching sports over time, that sometimes your highest paid players aren’t always the most vocal or the best at leading by example.

Howard, however, does not fall into that category. He has demonstrated over the last couple seasons that he is a true #1 shut-down corner in this league. The question then becomes, does he grow into a more vocal leader, holding other players accountable? That remains to be seen, but his play and preparation has demonstrated he is worth following and he very much fits what this coaching staff would want some of the younger (or “greener”) players to buy into.

4) Christian Wilkins, DL

Whoa! A rookie? As a leader in his first year? Well, have you listened to Christian Wilkins ever? His draft day reactions were enough to make me want to run through a wall for him.

Wilkins, Miami’s 1st-round pick this past NFL Draft, comes from Clemson where he was one of the leaders of the National Championship team. His passion and his work ethic alone qualify him as a bonafide leader. Given the process this team is currently undertaking, it’s not that crazy to think a rookie defensive lineman could answer the call and step up in a big way.

I see Wilkins no doubt becoming a pillar of this new regime and growing into one of the regular leaders for the future of this team. His play and his persona alone will gravitate players to buy in, and he undoubtedly will hold other players accountable.

5) Laremy Tunsil, OT

This last one is tough to say. We have no offensive players on this list yet, and it’s because the talent is lacking on that side of the ball.

The Wide Receiver room is filled with talent, but don’t really possess a vocal leader. Very rarely are Wide Receivers the go-to leader unless we are talking about the rarities of Larry Fitzgerald or Steve Smith. Quarterback is generally your leader on offense, and I have no doubt in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s abilities. However, we are not sure who will start and whether he or Josh Rosen will be around long term, so I decided to avoid that position for now.

I am not convinced Tunsil will be a leader on the offense, but sometimes the offensive linemen fall into that pool. Tunsil would have to grow into a vocal leader that leads by example and holds others accountable. This season would be the best sample size, since the offensive line is very questionable this season. Can Tunsil rally the guys and hold them accountable to get better and become a surprise strength on the team? We will see…

Andrew is a lifelong Dolphins’ fan that has a deep passion for sports. He has a Multimedia Journalism Degree from Florida Atlantic University and also has interned for ESPN Radio. For all his opinions and articles you can follow him on Twitter: @mitchpr0

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    JOSE BELLON

    June 17, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    IMO Rosen or Fitzpatrick should be included on the list and even maybe K Stills I do agree that our defense at this point have more leaders than the offense but I think the leadership of the HC coordinators and even the QB position will be better than last year

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Browns Week 12 Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Phins limp into Cleveland, hope to return to winning ways

Who: Dolphins (2-8) at Cleveland (4-6)
When: Sunday November 24, 1:00 East
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, OH
Weather: 42 degrees, 14 MPH winds
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +10.5

It’s a prevailing “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” from the odds makers in Vegas. The Phins six-point-underdog status against a 6-3 Buffalo squad was Miami’s first spread of less than a touchdown this season against a winning team.

The Browns are not a winning team, but they welcome Miami into Cleveland as double digit dogs fresh off the team’s best defensive performance of the season.

Of course, the only thing anybody remembers from that fateful Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium was the helmet swing heard ‘round the world. As a result, the Browns will be without their best player in Myles Garrett, and best interior defensive lineman in Larry Ogunjobi (both suspended for Sunday’s game).

Miami are reeling in their own right. Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones were on the field Sunday against the Bills, both are now on the injured reserve. I lack the historical knowledge to confidently make this claim, but it would seem that the Dolphins are approaching unprecedented territory in the secondary.

Of Miami’s 11 active defensive backs, 10 were added to the roster this year. Five of the 11 were added in-season, and two more were picked up on the September 1st league cut-down day. Suddenly, alongside Walt Aikens and Eric Rowe, the next longest-tenured Dolphins defensive backs are Jomal Wiltz, Nik Needham and Chris Lammons.

Victory in this contest seemed achievable just one week ago, but now Miami will have to pull off a considerable upset to get to the winner’s circle for the third time this season.

The Scheme:

Offense:

The Freddie Kitchens dynamic has been one of the more fascinating sub-plots of the 2019 NFL season. His pressers have been combative, and the only thing that’s been lacking more than Freddie’s accountability has been his ingenuity as a play caller.

Two weeks ago against the Bills, Freddie went eight consecutive goal-to-go situations (all inside the five) without knocking down the door to the end zone. That sequence demonstrated all of Cleveland’s issues on the season — no identity, no conviction, and no aggression.

An offense that produced the first back to gain 1,000 rushing yards on the season (Nick Chubb) has been more pass-centric than you’d assume for a team with the NFL’s second-leading rusher.

Cleveland runs a 60-40 split in favor of the pass. The Browns rank 22nd in total offense, 21st in passing, 12th in rushing and 25th in scoring.

Defense:

Steve Wilks knows one speed — and it’s measured in blitzes. With his full complement of pass rushers (no Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi or Olivier Vernon this week), Wilks likes to send pressure to create one-on-one matchups on every snap.

Cleveland ranks 4th in the NFL in blitz percentage at a clip of 39.5% sending five or more rushers at the quarterback. The Browns rank 11th in both pressure percentage and QB knockdown rate. With 30 sacks, Cleveland is 8th in sacks, but will they be able to get the same pressure without its most successful triumvirate?

With plenty of disguise on the back-end, Wilks will look to bait and trap Ryan Fitzpatrick into quick throws, funneling mistakes to his head hunting ball hawks in the secondary. The Browns will fly to the ball and lay the wood, but they will miss their fair share of tackles (11th most missed tackles in football).

The Players:

Offense:

Nick Chubb is a special player and deserving of the marquee among a cast of star-studded players. He’s a quick decision maker that hits the hole with acceleration, and pushes the second and third level of the defense into business decisions with his aggressive, physical style.

Chubb is paired with Kareem Hunt, who’s a pass-catching dynamo. Hunt converted three separate third-down-and-long plays into first downs against Pittsburgh, and his fresh legs will give Cleveland a nice boost down the stretch.

Baker Mayfield’s been much maligned this season for his brash attitude and minimal production to back it up. He’s turned the ball over too much, but he’s heating up and nothing will get him back on track like a date with the severely under-manned Dolphins defense.

The matchup between Nik Needham and O’Dell Beckham should give Dolphins fans a true test of whether or not the rookie is for real. Needham has played a pro-bowl level since seizing the starting job in the absence of Xavien Howard, and shutting down a player of Beckham’s caliber will further the former UDFA’s prospects as a starter in 2020.

Cleveland’s offensive line is a bit of a mess. J.C. Tretter captains the group at center, but it’s been a trial-by-fire situation at either tackle position. Miami’s edge rush has its best chance to get going Sunday in Cleveland.

Defense:

Without Garrett the spotlight turns to a couple of other players that don’t always get proper due. Joe Schobert has more than double the run-stops of anybody else on the Cleveland defense, and he’s made the splash play when the Browns needed it this season.

Denzel Ward is allowing a passer rating of just 68.1 against his coverage area, and he’s done that without the benefit of an interception to skew those numbers. He’s allowed just 15 receptions on 39 targets — a completion percentage of 38.5%.

Safety Morgan Burnett had a big night in the Pittsburgh win, but he left that game with an injury. He should be ready to play Sunday, and if he can’t, the Browns have depth with Sheldrick Redwine and Damarious Randall working in on sub-packages.

The Medical:

The Opportunities:

Mayfield’s issues rolling right are well documented, but does Miami have the front-seven firepower to put the quarterback under duress? A big game from Vince Biegel could be on the horizon, but it’s interior pressure that has been an issue for Mayfield and the Browns offense. When Miami does get Cleveland into long down-and-distances, they have to get pressure and create takeaways.

Where Miami have been one of the league’s most disciplined teams, Cleveland is a polar opposite. The Browns will attempt to beat themselves, it’s on Miami to capitalize on those opportunities.

The Concerns:

The inexperienced secondary up against a receiving corps of O’Dell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and the potential return of David Njoku is a terrifying thought for Miami. And that’s before we even get to the difficulties of slowing a top-five rushing offense with the league’s second-worst run defense.

Offensively, it’s the line — it’s always the line. Without a running game, things become exponentially more difficult on the pass protection in front of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Projected Outcome:

Miami should start strong in this game. The Browns will have to manufacture a pass rush in the absence of their two best pocket-collapsers in order to fully expose Miami’s thinnest position along the offensive line.

We can trust Chad O’Shea to develop a script that gets the ball out of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands and keeps the veteran quarterback upright early, but we’ve seen how games devolve this season with this depleted roster. Fitzpatrick was limited in Wednesday’s practice after taking a beating Sunday against Buffalo.

Expect the same thing on the other side; a plan that hems Mayfield in, at least temporarily. The big days from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt salt this game away in the second half.

Dolphins 17
Browns 31

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones to IR; Miami Dolphins Replace Both

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins placed three players on Injured Reserve (IR) earlier this morning, and have utilized a flurry of moves to replace each of them.

According to the Miami Dolphins, Bobby McCain, Reshad Jones and Gary Jennings are all headed to IR. To replace them, the team signed Adrian Colbert, activated promising 5th-round draft pick Andrew Van Ginkel from IR, and promoted Gerald Willis from their practice squad.

The biggest news buried in all of this may be the impending future of Reshad Jones.

A lifelong Miami Dolphin drafted in the 5th-round (163rd-overall) of the 2010 NFL draft, Jones has been a force at safety throughout his 10-year tenure.

Often overlooked nationally because he played on so many mediocre Dolphins teams, Jones contributed plenty of Pro Bowl-caliber seasons to this franchise, even if 2015 and 2017 were the only seasons he was actually selected to go.

Muddled by a contract dispute (that saw him handsomely rewarded) and his mid-game “quitting” fiasco, Jones should be viewed as one of the best players to ever brand the aqua and orange jersey. If it wasn’t for Dick Anderson‘s insurmountable record of 34 interceptions or 16 fumble recoveries, Jones would easily be considered the best safety in Dolphins history.

With 113 starts, 21 interceptions, 55 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 10.5 sacks, 766 tackles, 41 tackles for a loss and 4 defensive touchdowns, there’s no doubt Jones will find his way into the Dolphins Ring of Honor. The question is, how long until he’s elected?

The 31-year old safety may not be worth his current contract (with cap hits of $15.6m, $14.5m and $12m between 2020-2022 respectably), but he’s still a good safety in this league and can easily help a playoff contender get over the hump.

Recency bias may trick us into believing that ousting Jones from a young Dolphins team is a good thing, but losing a legend like this is never easy to replace, and with the recent Minkah Fitzpatrick trade eliminating Miami’s talent at the position, there’s no reason to believe the Dolphins will have an impactful safety in the immediate future.

Bobby McCain, Miami’s iteration of a defensive Swiss army knife, is also headed to IR.

The defensive captain was having a productive season before a shoulder injury hindered his performance. It was evident McCain was hurt when he allowed John Brown to run right through him for a touchdown; a play in which McCain barely wrapped up his opponent as he waltzed in for the score.

Also drafted in the 5th-round (2015, 145th-overall), McCain has been a jovial character amidst a brutal game. His charisma annually wins over his coaches and teammates, but coaching staffs constantly experimenting on his position has hurt McCain’s production.

Once vastly defended by Dolphins fans on social media, it seems McCain’s contract extension prior to the 2018 season was a poor decision; though it’s not necessarily because McCain is a bad player. I’m sure you’re seeing what Minkah Fitzpatrick has done for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his limited time there. Imagine if our coaches just left McCain in his natural slot cornerback position and simply asked him to thrive there?

Just like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world will never know.

Unlike with Jones, it’s very likely McCain returns in 2020. His cap hit is $6.24m while his dead cap hit is $5.24m; that $1m savings isn’t enough to entice Miami to cut McCain loose – especially when you’ll need someone to replace him.

Recently-acquired wide receiver Gary Jennings was also placed on IR.

Originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th round of the 2019 NFL draft, Jennings became expendable when the team signed free agent Josh Gordon.

One day after his release, Miami claimed him off of waivers with the hope that they can evolve Jennings into a legitimate NFL receiver.

Jennings has yet to appear in an NFL game.

The Dolphins made a variety of moves to fill the three vacant roster spots made available.

The most-notable transaction involves the team’s 2019 5th-round draft pick, Andrew Van Ginkel.

After a promising training camp, Van Ginkel was expected to join Jerome Baker (and Sam Eguavoen) as the team’s starting linebackers. Van Ginkel had the luxury of utilizing 2019 to work through any growing pains, and with a young duo of Baker and Van Ginkel, the team finally thought it solved its longterm linebacker problem.

Ironically, Raekwon McMillan took advantage of his second chance after a subpar sophomore season led coaches and fans to look elsewhere for a solution. McMillan’s torn ACL prevented him from learning the NFL game his rookie year, and the hope here is that Van Ginkel’s injury doesn’t hinder him similarly. Those in-game reps are very hard to replace.

It’ll be nice to see if Van Ginkel lives up to his training camp promise.

To fill the void at safety, Miami signed former University of Miami safety Adrian Colbert. Seems the Dolphins enjoy picking on the Seahawks’ depth, as Colbert was poached from Seattle’s practice squad and signed to the team’s 53-man roster.

Originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 4th-round of the 2017 NFL draft, Colbert has been active for 21 games throughout his career, starting 7 of them. In these 21 games, Colbert has 0 INTs, 6 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles.

Miami also promoted defensive end Gerald Willis from their practice squad.

Willis played for the University of Miami and the University of Florida throughout his college career. He originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent earlier this year, but was released prior to the season starting. Willis has been on the Dolphins practice squad since the end of September.

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Miami Dolphins Release Running Back Mark Walton

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE 11:55am: Mark Walton has been arrested in connection with a horrific (alleged) domestic violence incident.

According to the Miami Dolphins, running back Mark Walton was involved in another “police incident” earlier this morning (11/19/2019) and has been released by the team.

A former University of Miami sophomore standout, Walton has had multiple brush-ins with the law prior to finding his way on to the Dolphins.

Originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 4th-round (112th-overall) in the 2018 NFL draft, Walton was arrested multiple times during his minimal stint with the team.

  • First: Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession
  • Second: Misdemeanor Battery (on a neighbor)
  • Third: Reckless Driving (took the cops on a high-speed car chase), Unlawful Possession of a Firearm (carrying a rifle) and Marijuana Possession

Overall, this seems to be a consistent pattern in the young man’s life. The Miami Dolphins are wise to distance themselves from Walton, though he certainly needs some assistance changing his lifestyle and the hope is that he can turn himself around and learn from these incidents.

With the Dolphins, Walton accumulated 201 yards on 53 rushing attempts (3.8 yards-per-carry) and no touchdowns. Initially, it looked like the Dolphins found their #2 running back when Walton emerged. His productive play early in the season made Kenyan Drake that much more expendable, even though the team was likely going to part ways with the former Alabama running back when his contract was up at the end of the season.

For now, the Dolphins have Patrick Laird and Kalen Ballage as their top two running backs. Given how Ballage has played so far this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Laird receive plenty of additional snaps going forward.

It’s also possible we see a bit more from Miami’s 2019 7th-round draft picks, Myles Gaskin and Chandler Cox.

 

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