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Miami Dolphins

Complements to Reshad – Pairing an All-Pro with an All-American

Travis Wingfield

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Technically speaking, Reshad Jones has never been voted an all-pro. Coming from the same class as Earl Thomas, playing predominantly for a losing team or whatever the case may be, Jones has largely been overlooked in his NFL career.

Despite utterly dominant 2015 and 2012 seasons, the two-time pro-bowl Georgia alum has been topped by the likes of Dashon Goldson, Jairus Byrd and Reggie Nelson by the Associated Press.

In 2016, New York Giants’ safety Landon Collins earned unanimous first team all-pro honors amidst a season that flirted with Defensive Player of the Year recognition. That season Collins registered five interceptions, 13 PBUs, four sacks, 100 tackles and scooped up one fumble (zero forced). Additionally, one of his turnovers went the distance for a touchdown.

In 2015 Reshad Jones reeled in five picks of his own (two for touchdowns), broke up 10 passes, sacked the quarterback twice, forced and recovered one fumble each, and made 106 tackles. For his efforts, Jones was the third highest graded safety according to Pro Football Focus (matching his 2012 season when he was also graded the third best safety).

Week six of the 2016 season featured one of Jones’ signature plays. Ranging from the hash to the perimeter, Jones picked off a pass thrown by Ben Roethlisberger. Lunging to his left, Jones secured the football despite smashing to the surface with only his shoulder to break the fall. He would finish the game but not the season – he was placed on I.R. later that week.

A slow start to the 2017 season sparked questions about the lifelong Dolphins’ safety. Was he past his prime? Had he properly recovered from the injury? Did Miami make a grave mistake by ponying up $60 million ($35 guaranteed) to Jones the previous March?

Those concerns were quickly quelled when Jones put together an authoritative two-game stretch. Facing the Titans and Falcons respectively, Jones scooped and scored a fumble, caught a game-clinching interception and added a half-sack to bring the Dolphins to a 3-2 mark on the season.

Jones has long been labeled a box-safety. Earning his salt lurking around the line-of-scrimmage, supporting the run-game as well as rushing the quarterback. Pro Football Focus agrees – the following are Jones’ recent grade-ranks against the run:

Year League Run Defense Grade Rank
2017 3rd
2016 Did Not Qualify
2015 1st
2014 5th

Devising a plan to sustain that level of play is imperative for Dolphins’ defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Adding the third defensive back in college football history to capture the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik Awards in the same season takes a step in a direction Miami has yet to explore. (Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson are the only others to accomplish the feat Minkah Fitzpatrick achieved).

Before diving into Minkah Fitzpatrick’s addition to the defense, let’s revisit Jones’ counterparts through the years:

Year Player(s) League Grade Rank(s)
2017 Nate Allen, T.J. McDonald 78th and 59th
2016 Isa Abdul-Quddus 56th
2015 Michael Thomas 43rd
2014 Louis Delmas, Jimmy Wilson 47th and 36th
2013 Chris Clemons 20th
2012 Chris Clemons 23rd

The position has had turnover akin to the Browns quarterback tribulations. Enhancing the strengths of a football team can take a unit from an asset, to a game-changer. Miami has never supplemented Jones’ strengths as a safety – until now.

More than just a box safety and run support specialist, Jones is a capable robber and short-area cover-guy. A trusty free safety allows Jones more range to freelance within the scheme and make the plays that has endeared the Dolphins’ fan-base to the eight-year veteran.

His forte has never been deep-coverage. He will play single-high as needed, but he often finds himself racing toward the line-of-scrimmage to assist in run-support.

The Locked On Dolphins blog and podcast has harped on some key areas of contention with the current iteration of the defense: 1.) Third-and-long defense, 2.) Red-zone defense, 3.) Run defense from nickel and, 4.) Pass defense from base.

Something of an archaic scheme, the Miami defense has been among the league’s basement in regards to employing a dime defense. Sticking with linebackers in coverage, opposed to bringing on more athletic cover specialists, Miami hasn’t properly utilized this inherent chess piece for nearly a decade.

At his best, Jones supports the run-game as a quasi-linebacker and disrupts the passing lanes 10 yards and in. Early in his career, Chris Clemons provided Jones an analogous mate to Jones. Functioning as the deep center-field-safety in Kevin Coyle’s defense, Clemons’ presence freed up Jones to execute the plays that fill up the highlight reel.

Here’s a clip of Jones taking Rob Gronkowski up the perimeter in man-coverage – interception:

And his counterpart, Chris Clemons, coming off man-coverage to make a touchdown saving interception:

The 2014, 2015 and 2017 defenses took on similar endeavors. Louis Delmas and T.J. McDonald had similar skill sets to one another, and too closely related to that of Reshad Jones. Although not as effective as #20, Delmas and McDonald made their money closer to the line-of-scrimmage.

Notice McDonald completely turned around by Brandin Cooks:

Despite a poor grade in 2016, Isa Abdul-Quddus supplied Miami with a rangy compliment to Jones. The marriage only lasted six games as Quddus would join Jones on injured reserve with a career ending injury. And here a rangy center field pick for Abdul-Quddus:

Miami drafted Jones in the fifth round in 2010, the same year the club passed up an opportunity to draft Earl Thomas with the 12thselection of the draft. Thomas went on to produce a Hall of Fame career alongside a player not unlike Jones – Kam Chancellor.

Eight years later, Miami invested the 11thpick of the draft on another All-American safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick acted primarily as a slot corner (the “star’ position) in Nick Saban’s accomplished defense in 2017. In 2016, however, an injury forced the captain of the Crimson Tide defense to work primarily as a deep-safety.

The results were the same – dominant.

Fitzpatrick’s 2016 PFF grades were the summit of the illustrious defensive back’s career. On passes 20-yards or more down the field, quarterbacks posted a rating of 10.1 in Fitzpatrick’s coverage area. His elite coverage numbers ranked as follows:

Yards Per Coverage Snap – 12th
Cover Snaps Per Target – 17th
Cover Snaps Per Reception – 11th

The rangy, preparation-oriented rookie will step into Miami’s defense from day-one with an resounding impact. Detailed in the brilliant journalistic endeavor of Yahoo’s Pete Thamel was Fitzpatrick’s dedication to excellence.

The Dolphins paired all-pro pass rusher Cam Wake with fellow all-pro Ndamukong Suh in 2015. Wake missed most of the ’15 season with an Achilles tear, but returned with a vengeance in the following two seasons. The 35-year old former CFL star added 29 sacks to his Canton resume in just 39 games with Suh alongside him.

The difference is quantifiable. Rather than relying on an all-pro to carry a unit, supplement that player with more equals and turn a good unit into an utterly dominant group.

That’s the aim for Jones and Fitzpatrick – dominance.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Pillaging the Pats

Travis Wingfield

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Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins

De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.

A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.

*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.

If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.

By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.

 

Coach (Year Left New England) Additional Migrating Staffers
Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame) 0
Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland) 0
Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets) 0
Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver) 0
Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State) 0
Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit) 0

 

Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:

1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.

2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.

That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.

It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.

Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.

There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.

Enter Patrick Graham.

It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.

Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.

Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.

And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.

For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.

We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.

The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.

This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.

In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).

The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.

Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.

The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.

Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.

The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.

The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.

Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.

The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.

Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.

These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.

The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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It is that time of year again.  Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.

It’s mock draft season!  Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…

Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:

 

Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy.  Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.

Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”.  Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.

 

CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams.  It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.

For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection.  In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.

 

The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma

Now it’s getting exciting!  There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray.  As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.

Some question if he will be available at #13.  As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched.  Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size.  Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier.  Murray will be no exception.

2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring.  If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.

 

Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship.  Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.

Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs.  He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback.  Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.

 

Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.  

What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available.  Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.

Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald).  Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.

 

SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke

It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback.  Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach.  Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill?  There are other options out there at a cheaper price.

When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.

All that said, it’s the NFL draft.  Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out.  Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential?  I just don’t see it with Jones.

 


 

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13.  Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.

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