Who: Dolphins (0-0) vs. Titans (0-0)
When: September 9, 1:00 PM East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 88 degrees, 76% humidity, scattered thunderstorms (40% precipitation)
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +1
Here we go again. Another trip around the sun means another opening day full of hope, passion, and the core component for what makes sports so great – the potential for utter euphoria or sheer devastation. Anticipation has patently boiled over and friendly (and not so friendly) trash talk continues to amplify.
For the Dolphins, the reintroduction of football season is an opportunity. An opportunity to silence the detractors and vindicate the believers. Few things provide motivation quite like questioning a man’s standing within his own profession.
Sure players are taught to avoid social media and all the outside noise, but let’s be realistic; they hear it – all of it. Las Vegas hears it too. They have pinned the Phins as underdogs in their own building to kick off the new season.
Since 2012 (when Ryan Tannehill took over) the Dolphins are 11-10 as underdogs playing at home. For you true game-handicappers, Miami are 12-7-2 against the spread in such games over that time span.
Miami isn’t a pleasant place to visit this time of year – at least not for opposing football teams. Dating back to 2012, Miami are 11-8 at Hard Rock Stadium during September and October. While not great, that .579 winning percentage is a .110-point improvement over all other Dolphins games from 2012-2017 (.469).
The Titans will face a pair of challenges on their return pilgrimage to South Florida (16-10 losers in 2017).
1.) A revamped coaching staff (only one holdover from 2017)
2.) Temperature on the visitor’s bench (90 degrees and 80% humidity with no shade)
Mike Vrabel takes the next step after going one-and-done in Houston as the defensive coordinator (linebackers coach three years prior). Vrabel’s defense ranked dead last in scoring and 20th in total defense.
Vrabel will draw on the experience added by veteran coordinator Dean Pees (previously with Baltimore). Pees directed the Ravens’ defenses that have historically given Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins fits dating back to 2012.
Together, Pees and Vrabel will operate primarily out of a three-man front. Although star end Jurrell Casey will periodically two-gap, it’s a one-gap penetrating scheme that will mix up their fronts, coverages and blitz packages.
Few teams overloaded pressure like Pees did in Baltimore and, given Vrabel’s background coaching talented linebackers like Jadeveon Clowney, we can surmise that the Titans will play with their hair on fire.
On the back end, Pees loves the use of a robber, or peeling linebackers into the hook zone. Showing one look pre-snap and rotating to something entirely different has been a staple for his takeaway-based defenses of old.
No unit is making a greater seismic shift than the Titans offense. Tennessee will be going from a power-based running team, to shifting their emphasis on spacing, play-pass and misdirection brought in by second-year coordinator, Matt LaFluer.
LaFluer, alongside Sean McVay, helped correct the career path of Jared Goff and he’s being charged with the same expectation in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota.
The personnel haven’t dramatically changed but the identity of the team will. Creating opportunities on the edge, in space, and down to the intermediate portion of the field will be a greater emphasis for this Titans offense.
Going from a throwback 12-personnel base to a more modern 11-personnel based attack, it bears watching how long it takes the Titans offense to find its footing in 2018.
Everything starts with Mariota. He’s trending in the wrong direction after throwing more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) in 2017. His mechanics are inconsistent and, as a result, his accuracy is woefully erratic.
Mariota is right around a 60% completion quarterback that struggles in the intermediate range. Where he can absolutely burn the Dolphins is on the ground – something of a kryptonite for Miami’s defense.
The offensive line tends to do what it wants with a pair of pro-bowl bookends. Fortunately, for Miami, one of those stalwarts might miss the game, and the Titans interior line remains a question after a down year in 2017. The premier match-up when these two sides are on the field is the battle between Robert Quinn and Taylor Lewan.
Corey Davis is expected to make a massive leap in his second year as a professional. Expect him to see plenty of Xavien Howard as these two uber-talented, physical players square off in the secondary. Taywan Taylor, the diminutive sophomore has had a standout camp and should get his fair share of targets.
Tennessee’s revamped backfield is going to be a problem for plenty of NFL teams this year. Derrick Henry is sheer brute force and Dion Lewis is among the best pass catching backs in the league.
On defense, everything begins with Jurrell Casey. He’s a bull-rushing, run-stuffing nightmare that can play all three downs and wreck an entire series.
We’ll see which outside linebackers are healthy enough to dress but, at full strength, the Titans are loaded with quality edge rushers (Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry). In the middle the Titans will have to replace Avery Williamson (signed with the Jets). Inside, Vrabel operated with two primary linebackers in Houston. Benardrick McKinney played 94% of the Texans snaps and Zac Cunningham played 70% – don’t expect to see a lot of dime defense from the Titans.
In the secondary, Kevin Byard’s surprise all-pro campaign might’ve been the very entity that attracted Pees to Tennessee. Whether it was Ed Reed or Eric Weddle, Pees has always had a player that can start from deep center field and wind up in the box disrupting a passing lane. The Dolphins need to key him on every play.
Adoree’ Jackson, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan make for a steady trio of corners, but each is beatable. Kenny Vaccaro signed a month ago after starter Johnathan Cyprien tore an ACL in practice.
— Al Butler (@ALaboutSports) October 5, 2017
Offensively, the primary concern are the polarizing backs. If Miami can’t at the point of attack and slow Henry from gaining chunks of yards on early downs, it’ll be a long day. The same story applies if Matt Burke refuses to deploy more defensive backs in lieu of linebackers to deal with the versatility of Dion Lewis.
If Lewis draws match-ups with Kiko Alonso, this game is already over.
Three things need to be taken care of by the Miami offense in order to successfully move the ball on this Titans defense:
1.) Correctly sliding pass protection – Vrabel and Pees are going to send overload pressures. The last time Tannehill played this Titans team, those same overloaded pressures wrecked his offensive line.
2.) Keying Kevin Byard – His ability to disguise coverage and jump into lanes where he’s not supposed to be is why he earned all-pro honors in 2017.
3.) Helping Jesse Davis on Jurrell Casey – Casey can ruin plays, series and games – he did as much in Miami in 2017. It’s a tall ask to expect Davis to win one-on-ones against Casey for 60 plays. Whether it’s additional protection off the edge or a back stepping up in pass pro, Casey needs to be accounted for.
Tennessee’s current depth chart features only five defensive lineman on the active roster. If they don’t add another body or two, it’ll be a long afternoon; provided Miami can convert first downs before half time.
Outside of Jurrell Casey (80% snaps played in 2017), none of these Titans defensive linemen are fit to play more than a timeshare’s worth of snaps. Bennie Logan took the next highest snap count in 2017 with 52% of the Chiefs defensive reps (his former team) while undrafted free agent Matt Dickerson is making his NFL debut.
Adam Gase has been holding back a lot of his playbook, but he might not need to dig too deep into the well this game. The use of outside zone, and screens on top of screens could gas this defense leaving them without legs in the fourth quarter.
Miami’s pace and tempo are absolutely pivotal to leaning on this Titans team.
The Projected Result:
Fans in Nashville are geeked about this Titans team. The Miami faithful are, well, not as excited. Despite these two team’s expectations trending in different directions, the folks that build all those beautiful chandeliers in Vegas are calling this contest essentially a pick ‘em.
Opening weekend is always prime for surprises. Roughly 85% of “experts” and fan-picks alike favor the road team. Doubting a team, with the energy created from playing in their own building, combined with the extreme weather all lines up aces for the Dolphins.
State of the AFC East
With the aging empire of the New England Patriots hopefully coming to an end in the coming years the arms race and power struggle will enter overdrive. The Patriots have run this division for over a decade but all things must come to an end, with Tom Brady nearing his goal of playing till 45 and Bill Belichick turning 66 there is blood in the water, and the rest of the East will look to grab the crown and run with it.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady’s play has declined but that hasn’t stopped New England from being a powerhouse, the offensive line will welcome Isiah Wynn back the former 1st rounder, he tore his Achilles in camp 2018. The skill positions are mixed, Sony Michelle provided a solid rookie campaign but there are holes in the wide receiver and tight end positions. Rob Gronkowski is pondering retirement meanwhile Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson are all set to hit Free Agency. Defensively New England has excelled on maximizing talent with what they have but with that being said they have some notable players departing such as Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, and possibly the McCourty twins.
Free Agent Acquisition:
Markus Golden (EDGE)
Pick 32, 1st round:
Kelvin Harmon (WR)
New York Jets
The New York Jets are not a star-studded team and will be ongoing a scheme change led by Coach Adam Gase. Offensively it would be easier to name what they do have then to name what they don’t, Sam Darnold is the only true “bright” spot on the offensive side of the ball. Multiple reports state that Isiah Crowell will be released in the coming month so half back will need to be addressed, in addition to wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line. On the opposite side of the ball things seem to be a bit more promising with Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye. New York will need to add a true pass rusher along with some other linebackers and defensive backs as well.
Free Agent Acquisition:
Le’Veon Bell (HB)
Pick 3, 1st round:
Josh Allen (EDGE)
Buffalo has a good defense that is paired with the 31st ranked offense, they are in need of talent to surround Josh Allen with. Josh Allen needs an entire cast around him, most importantly an offensive line who can buy him some time, but it doesn’t stop there. After releasing former fullback wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Charles Clay the only player who can truly garner some targets is aging halfback Lesean McCoy. Although the defense has played well they are also in need of some attention, with Kyle Williams retiring they will need another defensive tackle in addition to a true edge rusher. This roster is still being rebuilt and could use talent on almost every level offensively but they need to give injury prone Josh Allen some decent offensive line play.
Free Agent Acquisition:
Trenton Brown (OT)
Pick 9, 1st round:
Jawaan Taylor (OT)
Our beloved Miami Dolphins will be going through many changes and a complete rebuild directed by Chris Grier and Brian Flores. Miami has talent at the skill positions with young and inexpensive talent at halfback, tight end, and wide receiver. With the upcoming release/trade of Ryan Tannehill the biggest need will be finding his replacement via free agency or draft. Resources will have to be allocated to the trenches as Miami lacks talent on the interior offensive line and on the edge defensively. Miami’s defense is looking to be a multiple look defense in order to achieve this they will have to add versatility on every level off the defense and add depth to the secondary. This regime will be taking the long painful road of a true rebuild as Miami has been mediocre for far too long.
Free Agent Acquisition:
Mitch Morse (OL)
Pick 13, 1st round:
Rashan Gary (EDGE)
Madden 19 Giveaway:
I am giving away Madden 19 on Xbox One for free, all you have to do is find my favorite player. I will add a clue to every article until someone answers correctly. Tweet the answer to me and DM me on twitter @BrazilCandido and don’t forget to give the @LockedOnDolphins and it’s writers some love as well!
HERE IS THE HINT:
My favorite player once caught 29 passes in a season while 11 of them went for TDs! That means over a 3rd of his receptions were Touchdowns!
State of the Roster – Cornerbacks
The 2019 off-season schedule had an unusual beginning for the Miami Dolphins. Not that the once proud, winningest organization in the NFL is suddenly new to coaching turnover (quite the opposite, rather). It’s the timing of the hire that provides the distinction from Stephen Ross’ three other head coaching appointments.
Typically, when the incumbent or new staff is in-place by Early-January, the roster dominoes begin to take shape. Waiting for Brian Flores to win his fifth Lombardi Trophy delayed that process by a month.
Now, with the majority of Coach Flores’ staff settling into their new offices, we can begin to speculate and forecast what will transpire over the next three months.
It’s not hyperbole to say that these next three months are the most important of Chris Grier’s professional career. Miami’s new General Manager is charged with resurrecting a franchise that, in the last 15 years, has fallen from the peak of the winning percentage mountain top, all the way down to fifth place on that obscure, yet illustrious list.
In this series we are going to explore the current assets on the roster and what their futures hold. Plus, we’ll explore the free-agency market and point out scheme fit pieces the Dolphins might seek to add in April’s draft.
Current Cash Owed: ~ $9.3 Million
NFL Average: ~ $16 Million
Players Under Contract – 2019 Cash Owed:
Xavien Howard – $1.3 M
Tying for the league lead in interceptions (7), Howard continued his breakthrough performance that began late in 2017. Among the game’s top corners, Howard excels in man coverage, offers an impressive physical style of press play, and tracks the ball exceptionally well.
The Dolphins will likely look to extend Howard in the near future, despite rumors of his presence on the trade block. Stephone Gilmore’s lockdown Super Bowl performance afforded the Pats defense ultimate creativity – something Brian Flores will want to retain in Miami.
Howard’s Projected 2019 Action: #1 Corner
Bobby McCain – $5.6 M
In his first season with a new payday, McCain struggled. Kicking outside on the perimeter was a challenge that exposed his lack of long-speed. Still a jitterbug inside, McCain offers a knack for the nuance of the position in both man and zone.
Injuries mounted on McCain as he tried to fight through a number of issues all season. He’s a team leader and a top-shelf slot corner – that much will be evident when he’s back in his regular role in 2019.
McCain’s Projected 2019 Action: Slot Corner
Cordrea Tankersley – $673 K
It’s difficult to imagine a worse sophomore season for Tankersley. Benched, ran-ragged, and ultimately a torn ACL, it was a steep decline from an impressive rookie campaign. The mental aspect of the game proved to be a challenge for Tankersley and, to be fair, he wasn’t alone in that portion of Matt Burke’s awful scheme.
Likely starting the year on the physically unable to perform list, Tankersley will get a fresh start in a scheme that accentuates his strengths – playing man coverage.
Tankersley’s Projected 2019 Action: Depth (Begins the season on PUP)
Jalen Davis – $570 K
My pick for biggest sleeper on the roster in 2019, Davis flashed big-time potential in his limited work late in the season. In the Jacksonville game Davis forced a fumble and broke up a third down pass in the end zone. He’s fiery, aggressive, and Miami’s best option behind McCain in the slot.
Davis’ Projected 2019 Action: Backup Slot
Cornell Armstrong – $570 K
Thrust into action late last season, 2018 was a learning experience for Miami’s sixth-round rookie. Armstrong fits the prototype for length and style, but he was worked over in the New England game by Julian Edelman (hardly a bad look).
Armstrong will compete for time on the perimeter this year and continue to serve as a core special teamer.
Armstrong’s Projected 2019 Action: Depth
Torry McTyer – $645 K
McTyer’s numbers look worse than his actual performance. He was whipped consistently, starting with the beat down in Foxboro, but his good coverage was beat by better throws in the Chicago game.
There’s upside with McTyer, but he needs to show it in 2019 if he wants to have a future as a starter in Miami.
McTyer’s Projected 2019 Action: Depth
Jomal Wiltz – Not yet announced (Camp Minimum)
Wiltz was drafted by the Eagles in 2017 and later migrated to the New England practice squad in 2018. Playing under current Dolphins Cornerbacks Coach Josh Boyer, Wiltz has a head start on the new defensive scheme and techniques.
The most interesting aspect of Wiltz’s acquisition, he’s just 5’10’’ 180 pounds – an outlier for Miami’s prototype at the position.
Wiltz’s Projected 2019 Action: Cut/Practice Squad
Pending Free Agents –
2019 Cornerback Free Agent Market:
With McCain locked up and Howard due next, Miami may have to eschew buying its number-two corner. The need is glaring, but the market is lacking. Morris Claiborne, Pierre Desir, and Bradley Roby are the bells of the ball and will be out of Miami’s price range should they hit the market.
There have been two free agent themes presented in this series: 1.) Filling the Foxboro-to-Miami pipeline and, 2.) Reclamation projects.
Jason Verrett qualifies for the second bullet-point – he’s a hell of a player but his medical history is alarming. Eric Rowe is a free agent and falls into both categories. He spent three years with the Patriots but only played in 21 games during that stretch.
Rowe is 6’1’’ with the 205-pound frame to match. Verrett is just 5’10’’ and 188 pounds, but he’s an elite play maker (when healthy).
Miami has been linked to Ronald Darby in recent years. He shakes free from Philadelphia and a poor medical history could significantly reduce his cost.
2019 Cornerback Draft Class:
Cornerback is in play for the 13th pick. DeAndre Baker (Georgia), Byron Murphy (Washington), and Greedy Williams (LSU) head the class at the position.
Baker is feisty and superb in man coverage though he does lack long-speed. Murphy is rail-thin (175 pounds) and his lack of interest in run support will turn the Miami staff off. Williams’ effort has been called into question by some. If that’s true, he will be off Miami’s board altogether as they preach the love of the game.
Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye is an option in the second-round. He first the prototype, he’s ultra-competitive and excels in both press and zone.
Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin plays with the temperament of an alpha dog. His match-ups with Deebo Samuel at the Senior Bowl were the must-see events of the week.
The local product, Michael Jackson from the U, excels in man coverage – he’s a fit.
2019 Cornerback Prediction:
It’s pretty apparent from the free agent and draft classes where the more attractive options lie for the ‘Phins to address this need. Signing a bargain player to compete, and drafting a rookie relatively high should bolster this position into a strength in 2019.
Minkah Fitzpatrick’s official capacity will be as a safety, but he’s going to match-up where the staff sees fit. He’s the best option to cover a detached tight end and he’s probably the best slot cover guy Miami has. We’ll cover him on tomorrow’s podcast and column.
CB #1 – Xavien Howard
CB #2 – Rookie (Baker, Ya-Sin, Jackson)
Slot – Bobby McCain
Slot Backup – Jalen Davis
Depth – Cornell Armstrong
Depth – Torry McTyer / FA (Eric Rowe)
Depth – Cordrea Tankersley (beginning on PUP)
Fits and Starts of the 2019 NFL Draft–Jarrett Stidham
Which 2019 NFL Draft quarterbacks fit for the Miami Dolphins, which ones could start, and which ones aren’t on the table?
Let’s dive into the first installment of Fits and Starts with Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham.
2019 NFL Draft quarterbacks and Fits and Starts intro
I hope you’re enjoying all the Kyler Murray talk; it’s not going anywhere for the next two months. So, with all the hype surrounding the Heisman winner and his decision to play in the NFL over the MLB, it makes sense that Murray shot up the draft boards in rapid fashion.
Murray has been connected with the Miami Dolphins, and it makes sense. The Dolphins need a quarterback to lead the franchise into the future, especially with the start of the Brian Flores era.
But what happens if the Dolphins can’t get Kyler Murrayin the 2019 Draft? Let’s take that a step further. What if the Dolphins don’t get any of the QBs that are pegged to go in the first round? Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones, along with Murray, are all in the conversation to go off the board in the first round.
The 2019 QB class hasn’t exactly been lauded for its talent, but that doesn’t mean its totally devoid of untapped potential on Days 2 and 3. There are some diamonds in the rough and some could be on the Dolphins’ radar come April. The Fits and Starts mini-series will be focusing on these overshadowed mid-round prospects and who could fit into a role with the Miami Dolphins.
Let’s get into the first name on the list: Jarrett Stidham.
Jarrett Stidham and his NFL Future
The first quarterback on the docket is Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. He’s an enigmatic player. He was in the conversation last draft season (before he returned to Auburn) to go in the second round. He was also talked about as a dark-horse Heisman candidate before the college season started.
His junior season didn’t go exactly as scripted, though. Jarrett Stidham had an up-and-down season, and his draft stock has been all over the place, consequently. He’s polarizing in the Twitter Draft realm with many draftniks either loving or hating him. I predict that he’ll go in the third round, but I could see the need for the position pushing him into the second round.
In a lot of ways, I would compare Jarrett Stidham to Ryan Tannehill. With that being said, he’s a poor man’s Tannehill. He’s not as athletic and I wouldn’t put his arm strength or accuracy on the same level, but there are comparisons that can be drawn.
Jarrett Stidham Mini-Report
He has some starter qualities, and he’s very raw in that regard. He also did not get a lot of help from his receivers during the 2018 season. I saw a lot of dropped passes that should’ve been “gimmes”. Jarrett Stidham has a moderately high ceiling, I would say. He’s extremely rough around the edges, but I can see him becoming successful in the NFL; it’ll come with many growing pains, albeit.
He also has some accuracy issues from a lot of the film I’ve watched of him. He’ll make some unbelievable down-the-field bombs, but also make some passes that are too high, too inside or too outside. Many passes were underthrown and I saw plays where WRs had to turn and play some defense. The accuracy is a roller coaster, and that’s something that is hard to improve at the next level; accuracy is more a God-given ability than it is a teachable skill.
Something else that I wasn’t wild about was how Stidham reacted to chaos and pressure. When the line collapsed, I saw some ugly escapes. Those ugly escapes will be ugly sacks in the NFL. I saw flashes of decent pocket presence, but like many of Stidham’s qualities, they were inconsistent.
That’s one of the best words I would use to describe Jarrett Stidham: inconsistent. Sometimes he’s good, sometimes he’s bad. Sometimes he’ll thread the needle for a 40-yard touchdown, sometimes he’ll undercut a route. But if the inconsistency is his biggest issue, which I believe it is, then I’m intrigued by his prospects at the next level with some next-level coaching.
At the End of the Day
So, if the Dolphins drafted Jarrett Stidham, it’d likely be on Day 2 and in the second round with the 48th pick. While the Dolphins are rebuilding, I could see them using a popular draft philosophy of taking a quarterback every year until one hits. If that’s the case, then Stidham could very well be a target if the Dolphins decide to address a bigger need or BPA with the 13th pick.
This could be a way for the Dolphins to hedge their bets while keeping an eye on the 2020 quarterbacks. Akin to the Redskins taking both RGIII and Kirk Cousins in the same draft in 2012, the Dolphins could take a flier on a mid-round quarterback and see what he could do in some games under the guidance of a veteran.
While I wouldn’t be upset by the pick, the Miami Dolphins would be wise to stay away from Jarrett Stidham, bottom line. I say that not because of Stidham’s shortcomings or upside but because of where the Miami Dolphins franchise finds itself.
If Jarrett Stidham goes out and has a decent showing in some live action during his rookie season, then that could affect the draft strategy regarding the 2020 class of quarterbacks.
I don’t want the Dolphins to keep waiting and waiting for someone to slowly develop as they did with Ryan Tannehill. Stidham is in a similar mold, looking at his tools and raw potential. I’m not sure how long it would take for Stidham develop, but I could see it turning into a situation where he takes a few steps forward every season.
Jarrett Stidham could be a quarterback that Chris Grier likes, but I would have a hard time believing that he’s a prospect that he would love–and that’s not what the Miami Dolphins need to right the ship.
- State of the AFC East February 20, 2019
- State of the Roster – Cornerbacks February 20, 2019
- Fits and Starts of the 2019 NFL Draft–Jarrett Stidham February 19, 2019
- State of the Roster – Linebackers February 19, 2019
- 5 Viable Options for Miami at Pick 13 February 19, 2019
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