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Miami Dolphins

5 Reasons Why 2019 Will Be a Failure

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There are a myriad of reasons why 2019 can be deemed a failure, but not a single reason revolves around the Miami Dolphins record.

This team can go 8-8 (yet again), and I wouldn’t deem 2019 a failure. Miami can feature 0 Pro Bowlers, and I wouldn’t deem 2019 a failure. The Dolphins can “miss” on all of their draft picks, and I wouldn’t deem 2019 a failure.

This season is about building a future for an organization that seems to be in an eternal flux. It’s about establishing a thriving culture that can provide sustained success. And with that desire, comes some tough and somewhat contradictory decisions.

Brian Flores wants to have his best players on the field at all times. He wants to prove to his players that if you perform, you play. In theory that’s a wonderful idea, but just how far will that logic take the Dolphins beyond 2019….a year in which the team is not only expected to miss the playoffs, but compete for one of the top-5 draft spots?

See how the 2019 season can turn into the ultimate failure (and it has nothing to do with “tank for Tua”):

If you’re not going to start Josh Rosen…

Then why did you acquire him?

Why did you spend multiple draft picks on a failed quarterback experiment when you could have bolstered one of the worst offensive lines in the league? Not only have you wasted Josh Rosen‘s 2019 “tryout”, but you’ve now set your next franchise quarterback up for failure.

I think most of us have come around on the Josh Rosen trade as a whole. Outside of Chad Pennington‘s one healthy year, this team has been directionless since Dan Marino retired. We are ecstatic that this team is finally doing whatever it takes to identify the quarterback position. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the future, and if Josh Rosen is going to go from potential franchise quarterback to overdrafted backup, then did Chris Grier really learn from his past mistakes? Or are we still just throwing darts at a wall and hoping something sticks?

I highly doubt Flores and Grier sold Stephen Ross on Ryan Fitzpatrick being the answer. Most of us believe that they had a rebuilding plan in place; a plan that would finally set this team up for future success.

Fitzpatrick has looked like the better quarterback so far this offseason, and that’s to be expected. He has been with the team – and has been learning the playbook – a month longer than Rosen has. Fitzpatrick also has the luxury of being in the league for 14 years while Josh Rosen is still trying to get a grip on how things work.

Ryan Fitzpatrick may be the better option at this point, but Miami needs to make the most of Rosen’s opportunities; otherwise, this trade is going to be worse than the Leonte Carroo experiment.

If you’re not retaining Kenyan Drake…

Then why are we running him out there as our #1 running back?

Sure, we can state the obvious and say that Kenyan Drake is a much better running back than Kalen Ballage; you would receive no qualms from a single Dolphins fan about that statement. But if the team doesn’t want to “overpay” for a running back, then why is Kenyan Drake the focal point of the running game?

Run Ballage into the line 20 times a game and see if he can muster more than 3.31 yards-per-carry (if you eliminate Ballage’s 75 yard touchdown run last season, he accumulated just 116 yards on 35 rushing attempts).

Implement the sophomore running back into the passing game more and see if he can serve as a dual threat. Is he reliable in pass coverage? Can he pick up a blitz properly? How promptly does he diagnose openings in the offensive line and is he confident enough to hit them, or does he try to scamper to the outside as often as Jay Ajayi tried to do during his tenure?

Although stats tell a different story, we know Drake is a #1 back in this league. Game-planning for his success simultaneously raises his price tag and reduces the evidence we can utilize to judge Kalen Ballage.

But if you’re building for the future and you don’t expect Kenyan Drake to be part of it, then why is Drake about to receive the bulk of the carries?

In Drake’s 3 years in Miami, he has rushed for a total of 1,358 yards. His most-productive season was 2017 where he rushed for 644 yards on 133 carries (a 4.8 yards/carry average). Last year, Drake averaged as many yards-per-carry as Frank Gore did. In other words, that production is replaceable.

Miami just drafted two running backs in the 7th-round of the 2019 draft. One of them (Chandler Cox) is primarily a fullback, and he serves a different purpose on the field. The other (Myles Gaskin) is expected to provide a spark in the running game. He’s supposed to be as electric as Kenyan Drake. Was he brought aboard to eventually replace him?

If Flores’ intent is to win, then run Fitzpatrick and Drake out there every snap and try to win each football game. If the intent is to build sustained success going forward, I hope we see a much-more even split in carries for Drake and Ballage.

If Albert Wilson isn’t in the plans beyond 2019…

Then why is he going to be our #3 receiver?

Coming off of an intense injury last season, Albert Wilson seems to have recovered just fine. The shifty, agile, quick and elusive wide receiver was Adam Gase‘s best signing. Up until that injury, it was safe to say that Wilson was a more-valuable signing than Jarvis Landry. But Landry proved his worth with his durability, while Wilson was a forgotten asset (around the league) by the time Week 10 rolled around.

Wilson is set to cost $10.83m against the cap in 2020. That’s an astronomical number for a slot receiver who’s been most-successful completing “trick” plays for the Dolphins last season.

This isn’t to degrade or diminish what Wilson was able to accomplish. If it wasn’t for Frank Gore’s durability last year, Wilson would have been the team’s offensive MVP….and he only played in 7 games!

This is about the future of the organization, and the future seems a tad more promising (and cheaper) with Jakeem Grant in the slot than it does Albert Wilson. Can Grant evolve into the kind of player Wilson was for Miami in 2018? That remains to be seen. The former Texas Tech receiver gives us as many highlight-reel plays as he does facepalm worthy ones. His hands are one of the biggest mysteries on this team – every time the ball is thrown his direction we hold our breath.

It’s evident the Dolphins want to see what they have in DeVante Parker. They wouldn’t have signed him to a 2-year, $13m extension if they thought his days were numbered. With Parker, there’s untapped potential. With Wilson, the potential is already there, it’s a matter of deciding if Wilson is worth his cap hit (or a renegotiation).

Remember, Wilson joined this team because he was sold on what Adam Gase had planned for him. He took less to sign with the Dolphins because of that versatility and potential. With Gase gone, does Chad O’Shea‘s offense rely as heavily on Wilson, or do they go a more-conventional route with gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback?

We are beyond checkdown city and out of the bubblescreen purgatory we’ve witnessed the past few years. With a change in philosophy comes a change in player personnel, and if the offense isn’t going to revolve around Wilson’s trickery, then why is he taking snaps away from players like Grant, Preston Williams and other potential prospects?

If Reshad Jones is going to be cut after the season…

Then why is he our starting safety?

No, T.J. McDonald is not a better solution than Reshad Jones – there’s a reason Miami has been looking to trade both of them. But Miami is also flirting with Bobby McCain as the last man back, and we already know Minkah Fitzpatrick‘s versatility allows him to be a successful safety.

So if the plan is to see what you have in McCain and to further evolve Fitzpatrick as a complete & versatile player, then why is Jones going to be back there for the majority of the defensive snaps?

Are you trying to maintain trade value? Are you trying to prevent a toxic lockerroom? Jones seems to have already invited the toxicity when he quit on the team last year and then decided to avoid voluntary mini-camp last month. If you’re trying to make a good impression on the new coaching staff, Jones is doing the exact opposite of that.

If Flores wants to make a statement, treating Jones like a backup would send a deeper message than starting Jones at safety. But that contradicts the narrative that Flores is trying to win as many games as possible. It’s easy for me to say this as I sit in a chair analyzing my favorite football team, but Flores needs to decide which direction he wants to go in. Does he want to see what he has in McCain and Fitzpatrick? Or does he want to add wins to his resume?

If Chris Reed and Jordan Mills are stopgap solutions…

Then why are they penciled in as starting offensive linemen?

Unless we’re looking at the second coming of Isaac Asiata (in which case, why is Chris Grier so inept at drafting offensive linemen), Michael Deiter and Isaiah Prince should be starting on the offensive line, not Chris Reed or Jordan Mills.

We already know that Reed and Mills are (poor) stopgap solutions. Even if they are the “better player”, they’re career backups for a reason. Deiter and Prince are going to have plenty of instances where they’re beaten miserably, and we’re going to demand they’re ousted from the starting lineup, but do we expect a much different outcome from Reed and Mills?

No…no we do not.

As depth pieces, Reed and Mills are productive signings. If the team was on the verge of making a Super Bowl run, I’d be all for them being in the lineup as the weakest link. But 60% of this line is “weak” (Daniel Kilgore included), Jesse Davis is still an unknown commodity after having an amazing 2017, but a miserable 2018, and Laremy Tunsil is the only sure-fire thing we have.

I understand if you want to start Reed and Mills because they give you the best opportunity to judge Josh Rosen (by giving him the most time to throw), but it currently seems like we aren’t starting Josh Rosen, so why aren’t we giving our rookie offensive linemen the opportunity to evolve and gain the necessary experience to grow in this league?

I hope Flores confidently envisions this team making the playoffs, because it’s possible there are plenty of decisions that diminish the future of the organization; all while we’re on our way to another 7-9 season.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Tony F

    June 6, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    Great article. I do have one issue though;
    You said “The Dolphins can “miss” on all of their draft picks, and I wouldn’t deem 2019 a failure.”
    If that isn’t a total failure I don’t know what is.

    Drafting has always been our most glaring weakness.
    Think about all of our draft picks we have had. Only three would be considered exceptional (All Time) picks.
    In over 50 YEARS of drafts, we only have three excellent picks.
    To me they would be Dan Marion, Larry Csonka and Dwight Stephenson.
    Those are the only ones who dominated their positions.
    Even when we did get these incredible players, we squandered their talents.

    We love drafting the Erik Kumoros and Jason Allens while passing on so many greats.
    I know drafting is hard, but how can one team be so inept at it for so long?

    Until we get people who know what talent looks like, we will be spinning our wheels is the sands of mediocrity.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 6, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Tony, you make a VERY good point. While this season is more about sustaining future success, you can’t do that without young (and cheap) talent replacing the expensive players you currently have on the roster. If Wilkins and Deiter don’t end up being starters for this team by Year 2, it’s going to be a rough future for this team. I do believe Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick will change that draft narrative somewhat; and Xavien Howard looks like a stud draft pick from a few years ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that this team has been mediocre due to their poor drafting history. We need to make sure Wilkins isn’t another Charles Harris. If he can perform as well as Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor have for us, I’d say that’s a “win”. But you’re right, we need to start hitting on these picks.

  2. Avatar

    WPK CA Fan

    June 6, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    It seems a waste to throw Rosen into the fire immediately until you know how the O Line can perform. Sorting that out as well as it can be FIRST in my opinion gives Rosen the best shot at showing what he can do. That will require adjustments based on how they play. Meanwhile Rosen continues to learn the system, pick up advice from Fitz & watch what he does & why.

    I don’t think Coach Flores will wait till the last game but I also don’t believe he’ll use Rosen before he’s ready or has a decent opportunity to perform well. Even then it will still be difficult & a challenge.

    Reminds me of childhood when new toys were quickly broken in the rush to play & abuse them.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 6, 2019 at 4:43 pm

      Very well said! Flores is not going to throw Rosen into the fire until he’s absolutely ready, and that may very well take a few weeks until it occurs. Like you said, I’d rather Flores wait until Rosen is more-polished with the playbook rather than throw him out there without completely understanding the system or his roll.

  3. Avatar

    Ripp

    June 6, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    I like the fact he is making everyone earn their spot. Players do need to develop. But to just hand someone a starting position just because of their draft status is a recipe for failure in it’s own right. If Rosen does not start, then fine, we know all we need to know of him, draft a QB next year where he can compete again. At worst, we spent a 2nd rd pick on a back up and his pay is justified. You have 2 rookie OL with potential, fine, let them earn that starting spot. In 2019 I am more interested in who will rise to the challenge oppose to how many games we win because if Flores keeps to his word, competition will be our foundation for years to come. As it stands, everyone has a chance to start, no matter draft status, pro bowls or experience.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 6, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      Agreed, I like that Flores is making everyone compete for their starting role – regardless of what their draft position indicates. The higher you’re drafted, the better chance you have at hitting the lottery. But as we know, there is nothing guaranteed about the lottery. If Rosen turns into an excellent backup, the pick is nearly justified. As we’ve seen, most quarterbacks go down at some point, and if you’re able to keep the season afloat because you have a backup who’s a fringe starter, that’s just as productive for your team.

      I like that Flores is making Deiter and Prince earn their starting spots – I just hope that they’re able to overtake Reed and Mills and earn that spot legitimately. Would be great for the future of this organization.

  4. Avatar

    Daniel

    June 6, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    Dude, calm down. Let the preseason unfold, we’re not even at training camp yet and you’re already falling apart at the seems.

    • Avatar

      Daniel

      June 6, 2019 at 3:55 pm

      *seams

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 6, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      This is more of a precursor to the potential decisions we’re going to have to make in 2019. Obviously, a bunch is going to change between now and the start of the season – we’re still 3 (long) months away from that happening. Though you make a very good point, these questions would make more sense if this were August rather than the beginning of June.

  5. Avatar

    Steven

    June 7, 2019 at 5:59 am

    I honestly thing this was one of the most illogical and ridiculous columns I’ve ever read. I’ll give you just one example. You asked “If Reshad Jones is going to be cut after the season Then why is he our starting safety?”. Simple answer: Because they don’t have anyone better right now. They can’t build Rome in a day. They cannot fill every hole in one draft. They want to win games. Man, the entire article was quite simply, absurd.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 7, 2019 at 10:46 am

      That’s why throughout the article I question if Flores’ desire is to win as many games as possible or if he’s trying to build for the future. If your plan is to win games, then yeah, scrap everything I mentioned and start your best players. If you’re trying to build for the future, then why is Reshad out there? It’s fairly evident he is not going to be part of the future with the Miami Dolphins. I’m not about to hinder the progress of our younger players – players that need experience – just to satisfy Jones’ starting desire if this season isn’t about winning in 2019.

      And if it is about winning, then go ahead and throw Fitzpatrick, Drake, Jones, Wilson, Reed and Mills into the starting lineup. You “need” your best players.

  6. Avatar

    Todd

    June 7, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Play the best player at each position, period. This encourages every player to work hard to be the best they can be.

    If a guy is in a contract year, and you don’t expect to pay to keep him, let him play for that contract. 1) you may get a great year from the player. 2) you may get a compensation pick because the Browns, or the Jests over pay him.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 11, 2019 at 11:04 am

      Very well said, Todd. If you’re letting a guy go, you want him to help out with that compensatory pick in the future. And like you said, you may very well get an even better year out of him (because he’s trying to earn that contract).

      In this case, I hope Miami is pushing for victories – having guys like Jones and Drake play out of their mind may help with a playoff push, but if the team is “out” of the playoffs midway through the season, do we want to push for compensatory picks or do we want to try and grab a top draft pick so we get the better college athlete?

      It’s a pretty tough decision to make. Glad I’m not the one who has to make it.

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Miami Dolphins

Are the Dolphins Done Reshaping the Roster for 2020?

Kevin Dern

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Unless you’ve been in the deepest of quarantines by now you’ve familiarized yourself with Miami’s offseason moves. The Dolphins brought in 12 free agents, 11 draft picks, traded for a running back, and signed 10 undrafted free agents. That’s 34 new names on the 90 man roster as we [hopefully] gear up for training camp in a month and a half.  Despite all the moves, Miami currently has four roster spots open. That’s 86 spots, not counting Durval Queiroz Neto, who is roster exempt, so the question has to be asked: Are they done for now?

We all know that changes will happen in camp. There could be a surprised UDFA or two that makes the roster. Someone could, and likely will, get injured to free up a spot. But, for right *NOW* are the Dolphins done?

I tend not to think so. So who might they be after? I don’t have any inside information, but from what media information we know, and some of my own speculation, I’ve got four names I suspect Miami might be onto. Two big fish and two guys that might be a little more under the radar.

Logan Ryan
The biggest name thus far Miami has been linked to is former Titans and Patriots Cornerback Logan Ryan. Sports Illustrated’s Alain Poupart had this story on May 14th.

https://www.si.com/nfl/dolphins/news/the-latest-on-the-status-of-logan-ryan-and-the-miami-dolphins-interest

Aside from the obvious connection to Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores, Logan Ryan checks a lot of boxes Miami’s looked for this offseason.  Ryan’s a smart, team-first guy. He’s got position flexibility – able to play on the perimeter or in the slot and he already knows Miami’s defensive system.

But, corners in this league are expensive. It appears that Logan Ryan wants a one-year “prove it” deal. He’s betting on himself and cited Titans QB Ryan Tannehill as one of the reasons why. And per the Miami Herald, Logan Ryan’s agents have told the Dolphins he wants $10M or more for a year. That’s pricey, but Logan Ryan might be worth it; let’s take a look.

In this first clip, you can’t see him at the snap, but he’ll come in from the slot on the offense’s left side and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against the run and stops Nick Chubb for a short gain.

Later in the same game, he gets a sack on Baker Mayfield (Yes, this play was ruled a sack). Ryan will come in from the right side of the screen, again the offense’s left, on a slot blitz. He gets blocked but is able to redirect and chases Baker Mayfield down for the sack.

Finally, in this clip, he plays press man against T.Y. Hilton from the slot. That’s a valuable skill Miami will like. Hilton’s going to try and break outside, but Logan Ryan reads the play, and showcases a nice burst to secure the pick.

Ultimately, signing Logan Ryan gives Miami a proven slot player who can also play man coverage on the perimeter, allowing Miami to matchup their defense however they please. He’d also gives them a buffer from having to having to give Noah Igbinoghene a ton of snaps right off the bat, if they so desire. At worst, you could spoon feed Igbinoghene at first until he’s grasped his role, then you can increase his snaps. And with Ryan looking for a one year deal, that might be amenable to all parties.

Larry Warford
It’s not too often at this stage of the offseason there’s a 29 year old (turns 29 on June 18th), three-time Pro Bowl guard is available. But that’s just what Larry Warford is. Saints Coach Sean Payton once said that he likes his guards to “have mass and ass” in order to keep a clean, firm middle of the pocket for Drew Brees to operate. Well, if there’s one rookie quarterback this year that is built like and operates like Drew Brees, it’s Tua Tagovailoa. And, between you and me, I think Tua’s going to end up playing a lot sooner than people think.

What adding Larry Warford would likely do for Miami is solidify four of the five starting offensive line spots. If Miami signed him, I think it’s safe to assume Miami would have (from left to right) Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, Larry Warford, and a battle between Jesse Davis and Robert Hunt. That’s a battle that Miami likely would want Hunt to win, as you can keep Jesse Davis as a swing tackle and guard. It would also allow them to bring Solomon Kindley along slowly. I didn’t watch it, but have heard that either Flores and/or Grier compared Kindley to Shaq Mason, who was a project that the Patriots brought along because he didn’t have much pass-blocking experience coming from Georgia Tech’s option offense. Well, with Kindley it gives you a chance to hone his game in total for a year or two while getting a veteran who walks in the door the best lineman the Dolphins would have.

Three quick clips of Larry Warford for you coming up.

First, we’ll see Warford and RT Ryan Ramczyk block up a T-E game. The DT is going to go outside and J.J. Watt comes inside to Warford. They switch it with relative ease and Warford is so big that J.J. Watt can’t generate a pop to knock Warford back and collapse the pocket.

Next, and this one is quick. It’s a jet sweep to Kamara going the other way, but look at Larry throwing bodies out the club! That kind of punch is something Miami haven’t had in a guard since Richie Incognito was in town.

Finally, we see a rep against DT D.J. Reader, who got paid this offseason. Reader’s listed at 347lbs, and someone that large shouldn’t be moved that easily.

Warford gives you size, smarts and strength inside. And, if Miami are going to possibly have a rookie RT in Robert Hunt, that kind of veteran presence can help bring him up to speed quickly. For my money, I’d sign Larry Warford over Logan Ryan since Miami’s Defensive Staff seemed to be able to bring in DBs off the street and get them up to speed enough to start in the same week. Kudos to Josh Boyer for that, but I think there’s more value in bringing in Warford now, and possibly for the next two or three years, than there is for Logan Ryan on a one year deal.

That said, both players would make the Dolphins better and I’m not opposed to Logan Ryan by any means.

Damon Harrison
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of “Snacks” Harrison before. But did you realize he was still out there as a free agent? Kudos if you did. Miami signing “Snacks” doesn’t seem like it’d be in the cards. Harrison is 31 years old, had a tough year last year with injuries in Detroit to the point he contemplated retirement, but hear me out.

Wind the clock back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense. Same defense Miami’s running now. The Patriots had over 1,000 total snaps on defense that year. Danny Shelton played just 31% of them, with 324 total snaps. NT in this defense is a part-time position.

That year the Patriots gave out the following snaps to interior defensive linemen:

Malcom Brown – 456 (43.7%)
Lawrence Guy – 519 (49.8%)
Adam Butler – 379 (36.3%)
Danny Shelton – 324 (31.1%)

With Miami’s drafting of Raekwon Davis, you sort of assume he and Godchaux are going to take on the roles of Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Christian Wilkins takes on the role of Lawrence Guy, and perhaps Raekwon Davis takes some of those snaps as well to keep him fresh. As of now, I’d expect Zach Sieler to take on Adam Butler’s workload, which was a rotational DT and someone who can be used on passing downs; Sieler has more skill there than Godchaux or Davis in my opinion.

But what if Miami were able to bring in “Snacks” Harrison to take on that NT role? It’d allow you to give Davis more focused snaps and let him use some of his upfield ability to help spell Godchaux and take on that Adam Butler role. It might mean the end for Zach Sieler in Miami, who is on an Exclusive Rights Free Agent Tender for this year. No harm if you move on.

So what would snacks bring to the table? First, like Logan Ryan, he knows the system to some degree having played under Matt Patricia in Detroit. There may be some differences here an there, but he can pick that up, and it’s a specialized role. Two, he’s a proven run-stopper. Even last year with the Lions with all his injuries he was still effective. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a back-to-back play sequence against the Eagles in Week 3.

First, Harrison’s actually lined up at 3-technique against Brandon Brooks, one of the most underrated players in the NFL. “Snacks” will never confuse for Aaron Donald and he doesn’t muster much of a rush, but he stays with the play and gets his hand up to deflect Carson Wentz’s pass.

The very next play is what he does best. Lined up as a true NT, he ushers Jason Kelce away with one arm, plays down the line horizontally and stops Miles Sanders for no gain. That’s what you like to see out of someone who is 6’3” and 350lbs.

Against the Packers you’ll see him as a 3-technique again and he defeats a double-team by Billy Turner and Bryan Bulaga and makes a run stop on Aaron Jones.

The final clip for “Snacks” comes when he gets a sack of Aaron Rodgers later in that same game. He’s going to work off a double-team by Billy Turner and Corey Linsley, gets around it, and though he’s out of his pass rush lane he keeps working and dumps Rodgers for a sack.

The knocks against “Snacks” are that he’s older than every player on the Dolphins roster save for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He battled through injuries, contemplated retirement and told ESPN that he was “hell-bent” on getting out of Detroit. Did he not like the system? The coaches? How does that parlay into Miami if he signs here considering Flores and Patricia’s backgrounds intertwine in Foxboro? While I think this signing might be more unlikely than both Logan Ryan and Larry Warford, it wouldn’t shock me given Miami’s defensive scheme and the players that Brian Flores has traditionally seen in that role.

Mike Weber
Going a little off the beaten path here. The Chiefs waived Mike Weber, who was a seventh round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. Weber rushed for 1,000+ yards as a redshirt freshman at Ohio State, replacing Ezekiel Elliott. An injury in summer workouts the next year opened the door and J.K. Dobbins passed him on the depth chart, but Weber still rushed for 626 yards and 10 TDs that year. He tallied nearly 1,100 yards and nine more TDs as Dobbins backup in 2018, and declared for the Draft.

Going to Dallas, Weber wasn’t going to get much of a shot behind Ezekiel Elliott, especially after Elliott’s contract extension. He also was beaten out by Tony Pollard in 2019 for the backup job. Weber spent time with the Chiefs on their practice squad during their Super Bowl Run.

Weber has yet to collect a carry in the NFL during the Regular Season, so I don’t have clips for you here. My rationale for Miami possibly being interested in Weber is that Miami had a strong interest in J.K. Dobbins during the Draft this year. Weber played in that same offense at Ohio State and put up big numbers as well. In my opinion, he was more physical as a runner, but lacked the explosiveness. He goes 5’10” 210lbs, so he’s bridging the gap in size between Jordan Howard and Matt Breida.

Kalen Ballage hasn’t proven very effective doing much of anything. Patrick Laird is a nice story, but is probably best served by playing on special teams. We didn’t see much of Myles Gaskin in 2019, save for the Bengals game in Week 16, so he’s still a bit of an unknown. With four open roster spots, what’s the harm in bringing in Weber for a look?

We’ll see what Miami does, and they could very well opt to do nothing. But Logan Ryan, Larry Warford, Damon Harrison, are three guys I think they ought to consider. Each of the three, in my opinion, makes the position group on the Dolphins better they moment they walk in the door. Mike Weber would be more of a reclamation project, but I like his odds of competing against Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin for a potential roster spot.

Stay safe and FinsUp!

 

 

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Miami Dolphins

Setting the Edge: Miami’s New Additions Up Front

Kevin Dern

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It’s no secret that Miami’s defense was bad last year. The Dolphins ranked 32nd in the league in points allowed, mostly due to giving up 102 points in the first two games alone. Their run defense, which was an eyesore under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke during the Adam Gase tenure remained problematic in Brian Flores’s first year. Miami gave up 135.4 yards per game, 27th in the league, and 4.2 yards per carry, 22nd in the league. Not good.

Miami’s pass defense wasn’t sterling by any means. Injuries to Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain hurt. Trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t help. But I think we all can appreciate that Miami’s passing defense progressed throughout the year despite having to field a secondary that consisted of: Eric Rowe playing two positions, Nik Needham, Ryan Lewis, Ken Webster, Tae Hayes, Nate Brooks, Adrian Colbert, Walt Aikens, and Montre Hartage at various points.

The Dolphins will have a hopefully healthy Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain back. They signed the premier free agent corner in Byron Jones, drafted Noah Igbinoghene in the first round and drafted Brandon Jones in the third. They also signed safeties Clayton Fejedelem and Kavon Frazier, who have some starting experience in the past with Cincinnati and Dallas respectively. Things are pointing up more solidly in the back end of the defense.

But what about the additions to the front?

The interior players from last season remain largely intact with Davon Godchaux, Christian Wilkins, Jerome Baker, and Raekwon McMillan all returning. Zach Sieler only played in three games but looks promising and his Week 16 performance against the Bengals was arguably the best game for a Miami defensive lineman since Cameron Wake was still on the roster. Kyle Van Noy will likely play a good chunk of his snaps off the ball, as he did under Brian Flores in 2018. Elandon Roberts will at the very least be good depth up the middle.

And the edges of the defense?

First, I think it’s important to distinguish that Miami uses both defensive ends and outside linebackers as edge defenders in different formations. So, to label them all as EDGE players, as seems to be common practice these days, is a bit misleading as it relates to the Dolphins defense. My purpose for this article is to breakdown how the Dolphins got better on the edges this offseason and what we can expect from them in 2020.  Here’s whose on the roster right now:

Defensive Ends
Shaq Lawson
Avery Moss
Emmanuel Ogbah
Jason Strowbridge
Curtis Weaver

*Emmanuel Ogbah, Jason Strowbridge and Shaq Lawson all can play tighter techniques to the ball when called upon (ex: 3, 4i, 4 and in some cases 0).

Outside Linebackers
Vince Biegel
Trent Harris
Andrew Van Ginkel
Kyle Van Noy

*Kyle Van Noy will very likely see snaps off-the-ball as a traditional ILB in addition to edge reps as an OLB. Biegel and Van Ginkel will also get snaps as stand-up DEs (ex: standup 5 or 6 tech in a 3-3-5 Bear front)

If you’ve read my articles on LockedOn before, you’ll know that I believe we’ll see Brian Flores defense really take shape this year. When Flores ran the Patriots defense in 2018, his most used formations were the 4-2-5 (307 snaps), 3-3-5 (226 snaps), 3-2-6 (132 snaps), and 4-3 (97 snaps). Last year’s use of the 3-4 I think was more built out of necessity. Miami’s edge players were bad at setting the edge, and with their ever-changing personnel I think Patrick Graham used more 3-4 looks because it was easier to coordinate. I think this year, with the improved personnel, we’ll see more of what Brian Flores was running in New England in 2018.

One note to consider is that prior to the bye week, we saw more examples of the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 formations, often with the same personnel. Below are several screenshots from Miami’s games in Weeks 1-3.

Standard 4-2-5
DL:  Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins Harris
LB:  Baker, Eguavoen

3-3-5 formation with 4-2-5 personnel
D-line: Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins, Charlton (OLB)
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

3-2-6 formation with three DEs (Ruby)
D-line: Biegel, C. Harris, Moss
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

4-3 Over
D-line: Moss, Wilkins, Godchaux, C. Harris
LBs: Eguavoen, McMillan, Baker

* Note Miami will play under and even looks out of 4-3 personnel.

Let’s get one thing straight. Miami’s defense is very multiple. They will play these formations with non-traditional personnel. For example, if we go back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense, watch their Sunday Night Game against the Packers. New England opens that game with 4-2-5 personnel but using three DEs in the grouping. They used Trey Flowers as a 3-technique on 1st and 2nd downs that drive. Miami will do similar things, for instance, they had Taco Charlton line up as an OLB in their 3-3-5 look seen above.

My gut feeling is that this year, Miami’s defense will more closely resemble the 2018 Patriots in terms of what they deploy, both in formations and in personnel packages, than it will resemble anything Miami ran last year post-bye week.

For a more in-depth look at that, I’ll reference you to this piece I wrote in February of 2019 shortly after Brian Flores was hired. Inside the Film Room.

The remainder of this piece will cover the following additions Miami made this offseason and how they will fit: Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy, Jason Strowbridge, and Curtis Weaver.

As a whole, this group should give Miami much improve ability up front on the edges of the defense. Primarily, Ogbah, Lawson, Van Noy and Strowbridge should provide an immediate shot in the arm for the run defense. The first three and Curtis Weaver should all prove to be better pass-rushers than anyone Miami deployed on the edge last year, be it a DE or OLB.

Emmanuel Ogbah
First things first about Ogbah. He’s big. And he’s long. At 6’4” 275lbs he’s got 35.5” arms and 10” hands. He’s got power and some explosiveness – 35.5” vert and 121” broad jumps. These are things to note about him. Ogbah was having a really nice year with the Chiefs notching 5.5 sacks before an injury cut short his 2019 campaign. He uses that length and power really well to set the edge against the run, and those long arms have come in handy as he’s got 20 career deflected passes.

In this first clip, you’ll see Ogbah (#90) at LDE for the Chiefs. His play recognition here is excellent as he feels the tackle release to setup for a screen. Ogbah slows his rush immediately and looks to get into the pass lane. The Jaguars had a double screen called and Foles goes the opposite way.

Clip number two shows Ogbah’s ability to affect the passing lanes. His rush against Ronnie Stanley seems a bit off, and I think this may have been a game-planned spy attempt as the Chiefs blitz a corner from that side. If it’s not, then Ogbah has good recognition to stop his rush and drop into the passing lane and get his hands up to deflect Lamar Jackson’s pass for an incompletion.

Against the Packers, Ogbah showcases his length and speed in this pass-rush. He uses his long arms well to engage Bryan Bulaga in a bull-rush move. He’s able to start to turn the corner and executes a rip move to free himself and sack Aaron Rodgers.

In our final clip of Emmanuel Ogbah, we’ll see him against the Vikings. Here he’s able to set a hard edge against LT Riley Rieff and he’s able to get upfield enough to force Dalvin Cook to cut inside into traffic where he’s stopped for a short gain.

Overall, Ogbah’s a guy that is going to set a hard edge and has some pass-rush ability. While I get that Dolfans may be upset that 91 isn’t “retired” the way 54 and 99 are, I think it’s fitting as he’ll be deployed like how the Patriots deployed their #91 Deatrich Wise. Ogbah can play on the edge all three downs. He’s long enough and strong enough to play tighter techniques inside. There are a number of reps of him at a 4i-technique being able to stop the run. It wouldn’t surprise me if Miami tries to utilize him as an inside rusher on 3rd downs, much like the Patriots did with Wise. The plus for Ogbah is that he’s a better athlete. He’ll be able to collect some wins as a pass-rusher from 6, 7 and 9 technique looks on 1st and 2nd downs in addition to setting the edge against the run.

Shaq Lawson
Another player coached by Marion Hobby here. Shaq is a player that’s had an odd start to his career. Drafted by the Rex Ryan coached Bills, he wasn’t a super scheme fit there and dealt with some injuries. Starting only 17 career games, none in 2019, Lawson carved out a nice niche for himself in the rotation-happy Bills D-line last year. My thought is that he is going to get opportunities to replicate some of the looks that Trey Flowers did for the Patriots and continues to be put in with the Lions, coached by Matt Patricia, who runs another Patriot-styled scheme.

Our first clip of Shaq is against the Dolphins in Week 11. He’s going to be lined up outside RT Jesse Davis in what you’d call a wide-5 technique. Lawson’s a bit slow off the snap, but he’s able to make himself small and is able to cross Jesse Davis’s face with a quick swipe move and makes a tackle for no gain.

The second clip isn’t necessarily a great pass-rush rep, but the reason I want to showcase it is because of where Lawson’s aligned. He’s in a 3-technique look against RG Evan Boehm. Lawson does a nice job hand-fighting with Boehm, eventually getting free inside despite giving up more than 50lbs to Boehm. This is important because Miami incorporates a lot of the 3-3-5 looks and 3-2-6 looks in passing situations that necessitate DEs being able to play inside. A lot of the pass-rush games, which we’ll see when I talk about Kyle Van Noy, come from a wider edge player coming around into the backside A or B gap. Lawson’s ability to get push in the pocket here is key in executing those games, and in this rep he’s able to get in Fitzpatrick’s face to help force an incompletion.

We’ll move to Buffalo’s week 12 matchup against the Broncos for our next rep. Part of the pass-rush games that is so important in this defense it the ability for players to be able to rush inside and get into A and B gaps. Here Lawson is lined up in a 4-technique over Broncos LT Garrett Boles. He gets a good jump on the snap and is able to cross into the backside A gap, beating the LG across his face to get middle pressure and a sack against Brandon Allen.

Our final clip of Shaq Lawson comes from the Bills vs. Patriots Game in Week 16. You probably already know what it is. Lawson’s lined up in a 5-technique and reads the fake jet sweep play and is able to stop Sony Michel for a big loss. He’s able to fight inside of the double-team block by the LT and WR from a nasty split. This shows Lawson’s get-off and is play recognition skill. He makes a great play tracking this down from inside. At worst, even if he misses the tackle, he’s mucked the play long enough for the CB to be able to force this back inside where it’s going to get a very minimal gain if anything.

Overall, I think Emmanuel Ogbah might end up being the better of the two DEs signed for Miami. Especially at the start. But I think there’s more to unlock with Shaq Lawson. If Marion Hobby can get him to work on his explosiveness of the snap and getting that more consistent, that will go a long way toward helping him. He’s a strong end capable of lining up in tight techniques like 3, 4i and 4. He’s shown ability to rush interior gaps, and that ability may lend itself to doing some, let’s say unique, things that Trey Flowers got to do with the Patriots, like playing a 0-technique in some of their LB heavy nickel looks and in their “playground”/radar defense. While I’m not sure Lawson will get looks like that off the bat, I think that’s something feasible down the road a bit if he can make his get-off more consistent and continue to develop his hand fighting abilities.

Kyle Van Noy
The Dolphins had to, HAD TO get better on the edges of the defense. Case in point they signed two DEs and drafted two more. Brian Flores spoke after the Draft about how players not filling the stat sheet doesn’t mean they had a bad game.  I believe that was in reference to Miami drafting Raekwon Davis. But it could be applied to Kyle Van Noy.

Van Noy may be the most important free agent signing and his impact will likely be rivaled only by Byron Jones for the hidden benefits they bring to the defense.  Why do I say this? It’s because of the many different things Brian Flores and Josh Boyer will be able to do on defense because of Van Noy.

First, he’s able to play ILB, and play it quite well. He can do this in 4-2-5 looks where he’s paired with someone. He can do it in 3-3-5 looks where he’s the guy.

Here you can see him lined up behind Adam Butler in a 3-3-5 look. The interesting thing to note here is that the Patriots had 4-2-5 personnel on the field with Deatrich Wise, Butler and Adrian Clayborn up front. They used Trey Flowers as an OLB in this look opposite Dont’a Hightower.

You want him to rush off the edge? No problem. Here in this GIF you can see the Patriots “playground” defense. Van Noy will be on the left side and rushes outside the left tackle.

In this clip against Dallas from 2019, we’ll see the Patriots in a 2-4-5 look (which is a 4-man front, but with OLBs instead of DEs. Miami rain this a lot against Philly and in Week 17 against the Patriots last year). Jason Witten shifts over to Van Noy’s side and Kyle is able use his arms, get extension and maintain good leverage to set the edge and help with the tackle as other defenders arrive to make the stop. Textbook!

Going back in time to 2018 against the Vikings, I want to give you two plays that were back-to-back in the game. First, we see Van Noy lined up over the RT. At the snap he’s going to drop into the short middle and read Kirk Cousins. He follows Cousins’ eyes to TE Kyle Rudolph and Van Noy just sits down in the zone right in front of him and Adam Butler gets a sack. That’s a hidden play there because Rudolph was open until Van Noy flowed that way.

But the real treat to Van Noy’s game is his prowess with pass-rush games. This is the very next play. The Patriots are in their 3-2-6 look, Diamond, but have RE Adrian Clayborn lined up head-up on TE Kyle Rudolph, whose got a short split. Clayborn helps reroute him at the snap then rushes (something we could see Ogbah and Lawson do?). But watch Van Noy here. He’s going to be lined up off-ball over the Vikings RT. He feints a rush upfield, stops and then loops around to the backside A gap. Adam Butler and Dont’a Hightower crash towards the strongside to effectively set “picks” (Ogbah, Lawson, Raekwon Davis, Wilkins) to allow Van Noy the free run at Cousins. Van Noy unloads on him and forces an incompletion.

He doesn’t notch a tackle, sack or pass deflection. Merely a pressure here. But his ability do run these pass-rush games is OUTSTANDING. Watch the 2018 AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl victories.

Want one more? Okay, fine you’ve got me! This is in the Super Bowl victory over the Rams on a 3rd down in the first half. The Patriots are lined up in a 4-2-5 look, their marble concept (DB inserted over the nasty split or TE) and Van Noy is the MLB. He simply sits in the underneath zone and takes away two different receivers – almost like a spy. Then Jared Goff scrambles and Van Noy explodes to chase him down for a 14 yard loss on a sack!

I expect Kyle Van Noy to be featured in multiple roles in this defense. Remember the picture of Miami’s 4-2-5 look way at the beginning? He can play either LB spot in that look – outside where Eguavoen is or as the MLB where Jerome Baker is. He can play ILB in 3-3-5 looks. He can set the edge as an OLB in 2-4-5 looks. You can use him in all manner of ways in pass-rush games. And regardless of where he plays, he’s very smart! You’re going to get good reps out of him. Knowing this system already will likely propel him into a leadership role on the defense, which in my view, will help younger guys like Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and Andrew Van Ginkel. He can make sure they’re on top of their alignments and assignments and give them a living, breathing example of what it means to be a smart, tough and physical player. Do I sound like Coach Flores yet?

Jason Strowbridge
If you’ve followed me on Twitter leading up to the Draft, you know I’ve mentioned Strowbridge frequently as someone I’ve liked for Miami. And getting him in the 5th round is a bit of a steal in my opinion. He took on a role as a DT and 3-4 DE at North Carolina, getting minimal reps as a DE in a four man D-line. With the Dolphins, I think he’ll slot into the same position as Emmanuel Ogbah and be a part of the rotation behind him.

His experience playing tighter techniques as a Tar Heel will be one thing Miami will likely try to build on in pass-rush packages. Here’s a clip from Voch Lombardi’s film review of the Senior Bowl with Strowbridge rushing as a 3-technique.

Our next clip of Strowbridge comes from the Tar Heels Bowl Game against Temple. We’ll see Strowbridge lined up at LDE in a 4-man line. He’s able to use an arm over move to defeat the TE and uses his explosion to get into the gap ahead of the pulling guard and help make a TFL.

In this clip against Virginia Tech he’s able to use quickly recognize that both the RG and RT down block and he’s able to get inside of the TE who’s trying to reach him and gets inside of the backside guard pulling. That play recognition is key and he’s able to make a tackle for no gain. Strowbridge doesn’t always exhibit the greatest get off/explosiveness off the snap, but when he does, his eyes take him to the ball well.

In our final clip, we’re looking at something subtle that I think the Dolphins will appreciate. Remember Kyle Van Noy’s pass-rush against the Vikings from above? Well, it’s plays like this from the front line that allow those pass-rush games to happen. Here we see Strowbridge lined up at 3-technique to the near side. He rushes from the B gap to the A gap and is able to occupy the RG and the C, allowing the LB to have a free run at the QB. While the LB fails to make the sack, you can see how this translates to what Miami will be wanting to do.

Jason Strowbridge will need some coaching up, there’s no denying that. But his length, power and experience playing tighter techniques will come in handy. I think his workload will steadily increase as the season moves on. But at first, I think he can help spell Ogbah at Big DE in 4-man lines and might give Miami something as an interior player on 3rd down pass-rush packages.

Curtis Weaver
I think most people are aware of the “good player, bad body” stigma that Curtis Weaver’s carried throughout the Draft process. Daniel Jeremiah said as much when Miami selected him. Weaver could be a tremendous value pick for the Dolphins. I haven’t seen Boise State a lot, but Weaver seems to be strictly a stand-up DE, and I’d think that he’d be that for Miami starting off. Think Chris Long at the end of his run with the Patriots. Weaver can be a 3rd down pass-rusher right off the bat. But I think he’ll need to learn to play the run better in order to earn more snaps.

In our first clip we’ll see that Air Force brings a wing-back into pitch phase to fake an option play. Weaver is the stand-up DE nearest to us. He’s able to read that the motion player isn’t getting the ball before he fully steps into his rush. He uses a rip move to get around the RT and does a nice job turning his rush path into the QB.

This clip showcases Weaver’s strength. Here he’s able to split a double team for a sack.

In the final clip with Curtis Weaver, we’ll see him use his length to set the edge against the run. Marion Hobby will be charged with coaxing this ability out of him more consistently. But when he does, this will help him see more reps.

How all these pieces come together should be very fun to watch. Miami now has a pair of Big DEs – Ogbah and Strowbridge and a pair of Rush ends in Lawson and Weaver. Kyle Van Noy will be playing himself. We’ll also likely see guys like Vince Biegel, Andrew Van Ginkel and Raekwon McMillan get some snaps on the edge as Brian Flowers wasn’t shy about having those three play on the edge last year.

Another added benefit to this, could be that we see Christian Wilkin’s pass-rush potential unlocked more in his second season. With some of these new edge additions able to rush from multiple spots, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wilkins benefit on twists across the line.

While I won’t make any predictions on which of these guys leads the Dolphins in sacks, I will make two others:

1) These edge defenders will help Miami’s run defense improve. A lot.

2) In terms of pass-rush and the totality of the defense, this group of guys will allow Brian Flores and Josh Boyer to run the defense the way they want to and not be constrained into boiling it down like they did in 2019.

That final point is something we as Dolfans should all be very excited about! #FinsUp

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade Charles Harris to Atlanta Falcons

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are replacing former first-round picks with late-round prospects.

According to Jason Butt, the Falcons beat writer for The Athletic, the team has traded former 1st-round pick (22nd-overall in 2017) Charles Harris to the Atlanta Falcons for a conditional 7th-round draft pick in 2021.

Current conditions are unknown, but they’re expected to involve Harris either making the final roster, or being active for a certain number of games in 2020.

Trading Harris comes less than 24 hours after the Dolphins released fellow 2017 1st-round draft pick (28th-overall to the Dallas Cowboys), Taco Charlton. It was widely debated which of these pass rushers the Dolphins would draft that year, naively missing out on a much-better talent (drafted 30th-overall) in T.J. Watt.

Taco Charlton ironically ends up joining the Dolphins last year after being released by the Cowboys, and instantly saw more action than Harris. In 10 games with Miami, Charlton logged 396 defensive snaps (39.6 per game); in 14 games, Harris played 429 (30.64 per game).

Charles Harris showed promise his rookie season, but was never able to grow as a pass rusher. During his three years in Miami, Harris combined to accumulate: 3.5 sacks, 34 solo tackles, 10 tackles for a loss (TFL), and 23 quarterback hits. Think Cameron Wake had a down year for the Tennessee Titans last season? In the 9 games he was active for, Wake was still able to get 2.5 sacks and 11 QB hits.

Even more detrimental than his lackluster pass rush was Harris’ inability to set the edge in the running game. Infamously being flushed out on big runs, Harris was a liability on first & second down, and couldn’t generate the necessary pass rush on third down. The team tried their luck at outside linebacker, but the results were just as disappointing.

Teams can never have enough pass rush in today’s NFL, making defensive end a premium position to solve. That said, when Harris was drafted in 2017, Cameron Wake was still performing at a high level, and the team extended Andre Branch to a 3-year, $24m deal less than two months before the NFL draft. Defensive end wasn’t necessarily a need, and seeing such limited production from Harris only exemplifies our disappointment over the last decade.

A likely candidate to be cut after the team drafted defensive ends Jason Strowbridge (154th-overall) and Curtis Weaver (164th-overall) in the 5th-round, receiving compensation for Harris is a pleasant surprise, and speaks to the type of shrewd moves general manager Chris Grier has made over the past year, including:

  • The Laremy Tunsil haul.
  • The additional 2nd-round pick Miami acquired from the New Orleans Saints in the 2019 draft that led to them drafting Raekwon Davis.
  • The additional 6th-round pick they received from the Seattle Seahawks for the 5th-to-last pick in this year’s draft; which, at the bare minimum, is a 50-slot jump.

Miami now has 11 draft picks in 2021, with additional draft picks coming in rounds 1, 2, 6 and 7. And this doesn’t take potential compensatory picks in mind.

A new era is certainly blossoming under Brian Flores; unfortunately, it’s evident there wasn’t much of a foundation for him to build off of.

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