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Dolphins Defensive Plan Hinges on the Growth of Jerome Baker

Travis Wingfield

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Miami’s second-year ‘backer poised to take on expanded role in a new defense

“[Jerome Baker] has taken a leadership role, he’s taken a step in that direction. He’s smart, very athletic, and his lateral quickness is good for the linebacker position. The challenge will be putting everything together.” — Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores.

That final blurb — the subtle nod about putting it all together — is a prime opportunity to read between the lines of what is an otherwise run-of-the-mill coach’s presser.

Putting it all together, in this defensive scheme, requires a linebacker to adhere to multiple gaps in the running game. It requires the player to rush the quarterback both in one-on-one situations, and as a blitzer. That lateral quickness is paramount to the pursuit and tackle responsibilities in the running game.

Jerome Baker only had three sacks in his 2018 rookie campaign, but the Dolphins are entrusting the 22-year-old with the integral role of the linebacker unit. Throughout the early portions of this year’s training camp, Baker is causing problems for the Dolphins offensive line.

Andy Kent, of the Palm Beach Post, detailed Baker’s increased involvement in an exclusive interview last week.

“They’re using me for a lot of different things this year – pass rush, dropping, covering running backs, covering tight ends. To me it’s fun,” Baker said. “I really don’t have a set job. It’s kind of fit in, do this and whatever they ask me I do.

Baker’s position coach, Rob Leonard, waxed poetically about Baker’s vast array of football prowess. “He’s definitely emerging as a leader. He has all the physical tools — cover, blitz, he can run, he’s physical. He’s starting to really believe all the things that we saw when we first got here.”

It’s unanimous. This staff loves the former Buckeye Linebacker for his versatility and explosiveness — two traits that will surely increase Baker’s workload in year-two as a pro.

But what exactly does that role entail? Identifying players to take on specific roles from the Patriots scheme — directed by Flores — has been a hot topic all offseason. Baker’s emergence is beginning to reveal some transparency on the issue.

Kyle Van Noy played 90% of New England’s snaps last season, 16% more than the Patriots second-highest linebacker workload (Dont’a Hightower). In today’s NFL, sub-packages are the new base, and require ‘backers to excel in all facets of the game in order to stay on the field for the vast majority of the snaps.

Baker’s emerging leadership has put him in charge of communicating the defensive signals so far in camp, but those versatile traits will put the onus on Baker to execute Miami’s unique, complex defensive scheme.

A scheme the is liable to show one look, and bring another at the snap. A scheme that will use stunts, twists, slants, delayed blitzes, and the amoeba package; which features only one down-lineman and host of players wandering about the defensive front, searching for a gap to attack.

Stunts, twists, and slants all fall under the category of “games” meaning the defensive line attempts to defeat the pass protection by causing confusion over winning straight up, one-on-one match-ups.

Richard Seymour, Chandler Jones, and Trey Flowers. All dominant rushers that were cast aside from the origin defense for which Flores wants to model his scheme after. So when Miami ignored the edge position for the 2019 season, fans were left to wonder, where the hell is the pass rush going to come from?

The answer always was — and always will be — from the scheme. With tight man-coverage on the back-end, and sending an extra rusher (five, six, or sometimes seven-man blitzes) with regularity, Miami looks to create free rushes in hopes to expedite the opposition’s decision-making in the passing game.

Last year, New England ranked 30th in the league in sacks, but first in pressures. This was made possible not just by effective blitzing and gap integrity of the linebacker unit, but the heavy-handed, two-gap model of the Patriots defensive line.

Davon Godchaux breaks that down for us here:

From that league-leading pressure defense, only two players registered more pressure than Van Noy and Hightower. New England’s top pressure players were:

Position – Player 2018 Pressures
Edge – Trey Flowers 69
Edge – Adrian Clayborn 39
LB – Kyle Van Noy 33
LB – Dont’a Hightower 30
iDL – Deatrich Wise 29
iDL – Lawrence Guy 22
iDL – Adam Butler 18

 

The wealth is pretty evenly spread, but no team in football came close to New England’s pressure created by linebackers. The Lions were next, another scheme akin to the one Miami will run with another former Patriots defensive play caller (Matt Patricia) dialing up the attack.

No linebacker rushed the passer more than Van Noy last year (276 reps — second place was 226 reps). Hightower was third with 197 pass rush snaps — 49 more than the fourth place volume pass rusher.

Bottom line, #55 is coming after quarterbacks this year. And he’s shown a penchant for successfully causing chaos as a rusher, even going back to his college days.

The sample size for Baker isn’t great; he only rushed the quarterback 42 times last year getting pressure on just four reps. Pro Football Focus‘ weighted pass rush productivity metric gave baker a PRP of 8.3. Van Noy ended at 6.7, and Hightower ended at 7.9.

This one isn’t a pass play, but you can see Baker’s quickness off the snap causing issues for the interior Michigan offensive line. A cross dog (LBs cross play-side and back-side) look requires Baker to force the right guard into a reach block as he crosses face, and frees up that play-side B-gap for Raekwon McMillan to close down without having to defeat a block.

(Second video)

A lot of players can bring down Wilton Speight on a free rush, but I want you to note the closing speed Baker flashes on this play — it’s rather absurd. And we (the media) saw this all throughout training camp. There were multiple plays that offense had to repeat because Baker ruined them within two seconds of the snap.

(Second video)

Baker is more than willing to help his friends, as we’ve seen in previous videos. Here, his work taking on the center frees up a slightly delayed blitz by McMillan, and results in a game-changing pick-six for the Buckeyes.

(Second video)

How about some of his work in the pros? The two clips we’ll use come from a week-five game in Cincinnati — one from the A-gap, one off the edge.

The A-gap pressure displays Baker’s ability to “get skinny” as he works through that interior traffic en-route to a sack.

Here, Baker lines up off the edge. He forces the tackle to compensate for the speed rush by over-setting, then Baker redirects underneath to get the clean-up sack.

Baker is going to be the man that makes Miami’s multiple rush schemes go, but he can’t act alone. The Dolphins need the college version of Raekwon McMillan to chip in, with the likes of Sam Eguavoen and Andrew Van Ginkel adding to the cause.

If New England can create a league-best pressure rate with players like John Simon generating some of that heat, then certainly Miami can do it with a pair of high draft-pick linebackers; both of which have their best ball ahead of them.

Last year, Baker’s unique skill set was hardly utilized, yet he was still effective. Now, with Flores and Patrick Graham calling the shots, Baker is set to go from a nice rookie story, to pro-bowl caliber game-wrecker.

@WingfieldNFL

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    pigskin101

    August 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    Great read for sure Travis you are in regular season form before the first preseason game. Everyone in the league will know of #55 this year. #FinsUp

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Extend DeVante Parker

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

One of the longest-tenured players on the team may very well be a Miami Dolphin for life.

According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, the Miami Dolphins have extended DeVante Parker through the 2023 season.

All of the details are still being flushed out, but the deal is a 4-year, $40m extension, with an $8m signing bonus (which is guaranteed).

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Parker will earn $4.5m guaranteed in 2020, and $7.7m guaranteed in 2021.

Parker signs this extension in the middle of a career year. His 55 catches are 1 shy of his career-high (56, 2016), his 882 receiving yards surpass his prior career-high by 138 yards (2016), and his 6 touchdowns are only 3 less than his career total coming into the 2019 season.

Whether it’s Chad O’Shea‘s offense, a shift in Quarterback mentality, or the receiver finally coming into his own, Parker has shown that he can be a #1 receiver in this offense. Though some fans may be hoping for DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham Jr. “elite”, the truth is, Parker isn’t that far behind.

His extension is in line with his production, and it’s fair to say that Parker’s potential still hasn’t been tapped. It’ll be interesting to see how much Parker builds off of his career-year, especially if the Dolphins can solidify their offensive line and give their receivers a chance to get open (more often).

Parker joins Ryan Tannehill and Mike Pouncey as the only other 1st-round picks drafted this decade to have signed an extension with the team.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins roster move round-up: Week 15 sees several more changes

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins Linden Stephens
Linden Stephens defending Los Angeles Rams tight end Johnny Mundt

MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – Miami Dolphins continue to change up the roster

The Miami Dolphins have continued their roster churning in Week 15, leading up to their prizefight against the New York Giants on December 15.

While it’s been a mainstay strategy for the Dolphins this year, to comb over the waiver wire and the free agency market, there was a significant uptick in waiver wire awards last, totaling four new players being claimed.

Last week’s claimed players included Trevor Davis, Mack Hollins, Zach Zenner, and Zach Sieler. Zenner’s Miami stint was short-lived; he was waived on Tuesday, December 10 to make room for the newest wave of Dolphins signees.

Along with Zenner’s release, the Miami Dolphins added cornerbacks Ken Webster and Ryan Lewis to the Injured Reserve list.

Those three transactions allowed the Dolphins to scoop a player from the New England Patriots’ practice squad, defensive back Nate Brooks, a second player from the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, linebacker Jamal Davis II, and a third player, offensive lineman Adam Pankey, who was waived by the Green Bay Packers.

Nate Brooks is a rookie defensive back that played at North Texas and has spent time with the Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.

Jamal Davis II is also a rookie. He entered the league from Akron. As mentioned above, he spent time with the Titans earlier this year before the Miami Dolphins signed him.

Adam Pankey is the most traveled player the Dolphins have added. Pankey went undrafted in 2017 out of West Virginia and has had two runs with the Packers and a short one with the Titans.

On December 7, cornerback Linden Stephens was added to the roster in a last-minute shuffle before the Dolphins-Jets game. Cornerback Chris Lammons was released to make room for Stephens on the squad, per Adam Beasley.

Stephens has had tenures with the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. He formerly played at Cincinnati in college.

In practice squad news, cornerback Rashard Causey was added to the group on December 12, per Safid Deen. Causey played college ball at UCF and has spent time with the Denver Broncos.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Giants Week 15 Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins set to run it back in New York

Who: Dolphins (3-10) @ Giants (2-11)
When: Sunday December 15, 1:00 East
Where: MetLife Stadium — East Rutherford, NJ
Weather: 35 degrees, partly cloudy
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +3

DolphinsGiants

The Miami Dolphins did not equip Brian Flores with a competitive roster for the 2019 season. Despite taking a path traveled by nobody else in the league, Miami sits with a better record than three teams in the league, and Sunday will pit the Fins up against one of those teams.

The Giants thought they were constructing a playoff roster that could run the football behind former number-two overall pick Saquon Barkley, and disrupt both the run and pass with an influx of high resources spent on the defensive line.

Even with half the cash payroll of the next lowest team on that notorious list, and 11 of its original opening day starters gone for one reason or another, Miami enter a week-15 road game as mere three-point dogs.

Still, with three or four new bodies working into the rotation every week, Brian Flores’ Dolphins have won three games since the bye week, and been within a score in the fourth quarter for all nine games.

Does either team want to win this game? Of course the players and coaches will want to be rewarded for a long, arduous work week, but what good does a victory do in the grand scheme of things? Flores has proven that he can coach his ass off, while Pat Shurmur is assured to lose his job whatever happens these final three weeks.

The cost, for the Giants, could be Chase Young. For Miami, perhaps even more severe as the best quarterback prospect of the last several years could suddenly be available because of medical concerns, should the team land in the top five.

A victory Sunday will likely remove Miami from that perch as the Lions and Cardinals are both underdogs, and would each jump the Dolphins with a one-game difference in the standings.

The Scheme:

Offense:

Mike Shula’s scheme is as 11-personnel heavy as any in the league, but things have changed due to injuries. Without Evan Ingram to provide the ultimate flexibility between 11 and 12-personnel packages, the Giants have lacked much variety in his absence. Using 81% one back, one tight end (3rdmost in football), Miami will be afforded the opportunity to get creative on defense altering its pre-snap look from the same package.

The Giants are successful on just 41% of their plays from this personnel grouping, including 12 interceptions, 31 sacks and just 6.6 yards per passing play. New York only runs one other package (12-personnel) and also doesn’t have a lot of success out of that grouping. Adhering to old school principles, the Giants don’t throw from run formations, and the predictability has the Giants averaging just 5.7 YPA from 12-personnel.

The Giants rank 26th in total offense, 22nd in passing, 26th in rushing and 25th in scoring.

Defense:

James Bettcher is a fan of sending pressure, and he will certainly try to heat up Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday. Fitzpatrick might have the last laugh with his ability to get the ball hot to the interior receivers working in behind the linebackers and winning one-on-one matchups with a young defensive backfield.

The Giants base is a 3-4 look, but elements of that defense are always sparingly used because of the nature of modern day football. Bettcher wants to get pressure out of his outside backers in Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter, using his interior backers in a more traditional, off-ball sense.

New York blitzes 28.7% of the time — exactly the middle of the pack at 16th— but it’s safe to assume they’ll turn that number up on Sunday. The G-Men are in the middle of the pack in hurry rate, knockdown rate and pressure rate. The Giants 94 missed tackles are 13th most in the league.

The Giants rank 27th in total defense 26th in passing, 20th in rushing and 28th in scoring defense.

The Players:

Offense:

Eli Manning is Eli Manning. The Giants hung onto him for three years too long, and his storied career appears to be coming to an end in three weeks. Filling in for the injured Daniel Jones gives the Miami defense a chance to tee off on a quarterback for the first time since the home win over Sam Darnold and the New York Jets.

Manning can’t move, he can’t drive the ball, and there’s really no reason for him to be on a roster at this point. The Dolphins will hit him, turn him over, and dominate the Giants offense is he plays.

New York funneled a lot of resources into its offensive line, and it’s still one of the worst in football. Miami lacks true pass rushers, so it’ll be up to the stunts and games up front to get pressure. Expect Flores to blitz Manning relentlessly, likely with a lot of zero looks.

Holding Saquon Barkley has been easier for opponents this year. A lot of the Giants running game gets Barkley going horizontally, and he’s been able to make the big plays due to poor blocking and a nasty ankle sprain earlier in the year.

This game will be a big test for Taco Charlton, Vince Biegel, Andrew Van Ginkel, Charles Harris and the rest of the Miami edge players.

Defense:

Markus Golden stands to wreck this game for Miami. He’ll come down off the offense’s left edge, and that position has been an issue for the Dolphins all year long. Sliding protection and using a back or tight end to chip Golden is the only way Fitzpatrick will have any time to throw.

On the inside, the Giants offer the beef that Miami’s interior line struggles with the most. Dexter Lawrence is massive, and those are the kind of players that give Daniel Kilgore problems up front.

Alec Ogletree remains a focal point of the Giants defense, and that presents a lot of opportunities for the Dolphins. Look for Miami to empty out the backfield from 12 and 11-personnel, find Ogletree in coverage, and go to work.

The New York secondary is full of inexperience. Rookie DeAndre Baker has worn the rabbit hat (teams go after him) all year long while Janoris Jenkins appears to have past his prime.

This is a slow defense and I’d be surprised if Chad O’Shea doesn’t have his way with it in the passing game.

The Medical:

(Coming Friday)

The Opportunities:

If Devante Parker can go, there isn’t a player in the Giants defensive backfield that can handle his skill set. Regardless, Miami’s passing schemes will create opportunities for whichever players are healthy, especially Allen Hurns inside on mismatches from 12-personnel against linebackers. Patrick Laird should draw some favorable matchups in the passing game in his own right — expect a big day for The Intern.

If it’s Eli, expect a lot of pressure sent to overwhelm a bad Giants line and quarterback. If it’s Daniel Jones, expect Miami to play coverage and take the ball away from the rookie. Either way, this is the day the Dolphins defense gets healthy.

The Concerns:

The Giants skill players can make some noise. Darius Slayton’s speed is a problem, and he’s been producing regardless of who’s under center. The Dolphins added yet another pair of defensive backs to the injured reserve, and that’ll provide a challenge against Slayton, Golden Tate and Sterling Sheppard.

Miami haven’t been able to block many pass rushes, and they’ve created almost nothing by way of the ground game, so the Giants talented front is an issue. There will be one-on-one opportunities aplenty for Markus Golden, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams.

The Projected Outcome:

It doesn’t matter if it’s Daniel Jones or Eli Manning. Both are going to give the Dolphins defense opportunities to take the football away, and neither presents much fear to a unit that is full of undrafted free agents are largely unknowns. Manning doesn’t have the physical traits to scare anyone and Jones is on track for the most turnovers at the position per game of all time. If Jones plays, it will be on a tender ankle that robs the one trait he has — his mobility.

Miami beat the Jets in November in convincing fashion. Every other game since the bye week — with the exception of the Cleveland and Buffalo (home) games — have been white knuckle affairs. This game has the makeup of a blowout, but in favor of the road team.

A bitter, angry team off the loss last week responds to Brian Flores’ message and puts a beating on the Giants.

Dolphins 27
Giants 13

@WingfieldNFL

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