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Miami Dolphins

Adam Gase: The Architect Behind Miami’s Vision

Travis Wingfield

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From a media perspective, the Dolphins are something of a punching bag this March. Whether it’s fake general managers from the fantasy realm, or national journos spread too thin among the 32 teams, lampooning commentary over Miami’s lack of vision is in vogue.

Ironically, the same authors of those disparaging comments are the very individuals that clamored for a rebuild prior to Thanksgiving – echoing the forgotten sentiments of Adam Gase.

A typical Gase press conference follows a familiar script. Support his players, deflect trivial questioning and assume responsibility. Following a 40-0 drubbing at the hands of the Ravens, Gase took the podium with a different tone. Even with a winning record in his back pocket, Gase raked his players over the coals. As it is wont to do in the NFL, winning will mask a teams’ real, rooted issues.

That Thursday night in Baltimore was the boiling point for Gase, but the origin began weeks prior. After a deflating week-three-loss to the lowly Jets, Coach sounded off for the first time.

“That’s more mental errors than we’ve had the last two years,” Gase said of Sunday’s punishing loss at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. “I’ll find the guys that want to do it right and those are the guys that are going to play.”

Despite winning three of the next four, Miami’s offense was posting paltry results. Through seven games, the offense compiled only 86 points – an average of 12.3 points per game (Cleveland’s 14.6 PPG was last in the NFL at the end of the 2017 season).

It should come as no surprise that a coach, who is considered an offensive guru around the league, would find these results unacceptable.

“I’m pissed. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the offense being awful,”

Gase then narrowed the scope down to a specific lack of accountability.

Oct 26, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase reacts to call during the second quarter in the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Miami Dolphins 40-0. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think it’s a retain information thing,” he replied. “It’s we’re not putting the work in. That’s what it comes down to. If you can’t remember it, you shouldn’t be in the NFL. At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it. They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”

Finally, Gase honed in on specific players.

“We’ve got to stop trying to hit home runs all the time,” he said. “How about take the 4 or 5 yards that we’re going to get?  I’ll do what I think is best and those that want to come on board, great. Those that don’t, we’ll get rid of them.”

And it wasn’t false bravado. Jay Ajayi was shipped off to Philadelphia and Jarvis Landry was shopped in trade-talks.

After the Ajayi trade, the Dolphins offense improved by five points-per-game (up to 17.2 PPG). Still, that’s not acceptable. Banking on the return of starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, to make all the difference would be naive. Instead, Gase opted to reshape the veteran quarterback’s arsenal.

Landry and his 161 targets from 2017 were sent to Cleveland. Rather than splurging on a top-of-the-market free agent, Miami compiled a specific set of pass catchers – efficient players capable of winning in short areas. For $16 million, Landry’s 6.13 yards-per-target provided a substandard return on investment.

Albert Wilson (8.94 YPT) and Danny Amendola (7.66 YPT) may not have the volume stats of the departed Landry, but their efficiency and mental make-up exhibits the Dolphins’ vision. Reading between the lines of Gase’s comments, “it starts with our best players,” hints that the Dolphins star receiver wasn’t doing enough to prepare for Sundays.

The Chiefs endured a mid-season slump that coincided with the Albert Wilson’s absence. Citing the struggles to replace Wilson, Coach Andy Reid referenced the complexities of his system and the workman attitude required to perfect it.

“He’s worked very hard the past couple of years learning the game,” Reid said. “That position takes a little bit of time to get everything down. He’s done it and played well.”

Prioritizing preparation over physical traits has long been the requirement of playing wide receiver for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Brady’s trust in Amendola was never more apparent than the 2017 post-season. Amendola posted a 26-348-2 line in the Patriots three playoff games averaging 10.55 yards-per-target.

“Our scouts and coaches look for players at the wide receiver position who are very dependable and very consistent. Tom Brady demands that.”

At the risk of sounding repetitive, the buzzword for the 2018 Dolphins pass catchers is efficiency. Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills portrayed that trend in 2017. Stills was among the game’s most efficient slot receivers. His 10.26 yards per target and six touchdowns from the slot both ranked second in the NFL.

While Grant’s sample size was miniscule, his late-season inclusion in the Dolphins offense foreshadows a larger role in 2018. Over the final four games, Grant averaged 11.75 yards-per-target with two touchdowns.

Aside from the statistical prominence, the Dolphins now feature a slew of interchangeable receivers tailor-made to execute the short, rhythm passing game. Amendola’s professionalism is well-document, but Albert Wilson has earned his own praises.

The bread and butter of the short, rhythm passing game is the use of rub-routes. Creating space with quick receivers, bunched together pre-snap, is the most tried-and-true form of beating man-coverage in the NFL. Gase’s offense thrives in these formations. Creating mismatches and exploiting them is when a play caller is at his best. Between Miami’s top two slot receivers in 2017 (Stills and Landry), 28.9% of their receptions came from trips, bunched or stacked groupings. Gase adapted his system to fit his players as best he could, but now he wants to do it his way.

That’s where Wilson and Amendola fit right in with Gase’s preferred passing attack. 40.4% of Wilson’s receptions in 2017 came from tight personnel groupings (bunched, stacked or from trips). Amendola’s saw 39.3% of his receptions come from tight groupings.

That’s not to say Miami is limited to a dink-and-dunk offense. Miami’s offensive rebuild includes an infusion of speed:

Wide Receiver 40-yard Dash Time
Jakeem Grant 4.38
Kenny Stills 4.38
Albert Wilson 4.43

The idea is to have a set of complementary receivers who are position diverse – players that are all capable of being the primary read of any given snap. This allows Gase to open the playbook and prevents the defense from settling into one particular coverage. The opposition will have to prove it is as deep at the cornerback position as the Dolphins are at wide receiver.

Adopting this model from the prolific 2016 Atlanta Falcons could fail for one reason – there is no Julio Jones on this Miami roster. Maybe Devante Parker can elevate his game and give Miami the big perimeter body it needs. But, if not, that’s fine too. Gase is done funneling the offense through limited players and he’s doing it his way now, for better or worse.

Affording Tannehill time for the vertical attack is a remade offensive line.

In 2016, the Dolphins won six consecutive games behind a rejuvenated offense. The streak started when Miami’s projected opening day offensive line finally got on the field together. During the stretch Miami averaged 26.8 points, 152.3 rushing yards, and Tannehill’s passer rating was 104.7.

Although the starting-five didn’t stay intact for that six-game stretch, the Dolphins developed an identity. A balanced offense predicated on play-action, rollouts and a controlled passing game bred success. Even when the majority of the line was confined to the trainer’s room, Tannehill picked up the slack. With backups at the left tackle, left guard and center positions, Tannehill engineered two touchdown drives in four minutes to overcome a 10-point deficit against the LA Rams.

Miami will enter the 2018 season with two promising facts (on paper) about its offensive line:

1.) It’s the best starting-five the Dolphins have fielded since drafting Tannehill.

2.) It’s the deepest group since drafting Tannehill.

At press time, Sam Young hasn’t been re-signed as the swing tackle, but it has been reported that doing so is a priority for Miami. Veteran Ted Larsen offers position versatility in addition to depth, and Jake Brendel played well in relief of Mike Pouncey in 2017.

Laremy Tunsil hasn’t lived up to his lofty pre-draft expectations and Ja’Wuan James has a concerning medical history but from a talent stand-point, Miami hasn’t been this flush at the bookends spots in decades.

Inside, the additions of Josh Sitton and Dan Kilgore epitomizes the Dolphins commitment improving the talent around Tannehill. Sitton has long been one of the league’s most dominant guards and Kilgore is coming off his best stretch of games.

Both newcomers specialize in keeping the quarterback clean. Once Jimmy Garappolo took over in San Francisco, Kilgore allowed just two pressures in five games. Both of those pressures were hurries – meaning Kilgore literally never allowed the 49ers’ $137 million quarterback to get touched.

Sitton, meanwhile, has allowed only 18 sacks over the last decade. His 97.4 pass blocking efficiency grade (courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com) ranked 13th out of 61 guards in 2017. In 2016, he finished second with a PBE of 99.0.

The final piece to the puzzle is right guard Jesse Davis. After stints at left guard and right tackle, Davis settled in at right guard last season. His work both in pass protection, and the running game, earned the admiration of some well-respected observers.

Two questions persist on this Dolphins offense. The tight end position and the run-blocking of the offensive line. The celebrated tight end draft class should leave some quality options on the board when Miami picks in the second round (pick 42), while creating his own running lanes is nothing new for running back Kenyan Drake.

Behind Drake, the cupboard is bare. With needs at backup quarterback, tight end and running back depth, the Dolphins remodel isn’t yet complete, but it’s close. Stout pass protection and capable run blocking, the Dolphins are doubling down on the strengths of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The lack of flash from this revamped group has buried the Dolphins’ expectations in 2018. Adam Gase was hired to bring his offensive enguiniety to South Florida and revitalize an attack-unit that has struggled to score points since #13 was pitching the pigskin around the lot. Great coaches adapt their scheme to fit their personnel – Gase has had mixed results in this department. Now, granted full autonomy, he’s remaking the roster to fit his offensive vision.

Now that a world-class chef is buying his own groceries, the Dolphins offense is about to feast like kings.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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