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Inside the Film Room – Dolphins New Defensive Scheme

Kevin Dern

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Examining Brian Flores, Patrick Graham’s New Defensive Direction

Like the Easter Bunny, I’m back seemingly once a year for Locked On Dolphins. Hopefully that will change as we get further into the offseason.  The Dolphins season ended with a resounding thud last year and changes are afoot. Matt Burke, who I wrote last year had a lot of things he could do to improve Miami’s defense, failed, and like his boss Adam Gase, is now gone working for his mentor Jim Schwartz again in Philadelphia.

Enter Brian Flores.  I was pretty open to several of the candidates Miami could’ve hired, especially Vic Fangio and Kris Richard, in addition to Flores.  We’ve heard that one of the deciding factors for Steve Ross, Chris Grier and Tom Garfinkel was the list of names on Brian Flores potential coaching staff list.  I think it’s pretty hard to not be at least slightly impressed with the names that Flores has on staff.  Jim Caldwell is impressive.  Plucking Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski from the Patriots on the offensive side and Josh Boyer to run the defensive passing game are also impressive.  He’s got past experience working with Patrick Graham in New England, and Graham and LBs Coach Rob Leonard worked together in New York.  Tony Oden was retained to coach safeties.  So, the question I had was, what could Miami’s defense potentially look like in 2019? I told Travis I was interested in taking on this project, so here it is.

First and foremost, a defense as multiple as the one that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores put together in 2018 is a lot to take in.  I’ve used several sources to put this together.  Those sources include my own charting on NFL Game Pass, James Light (@JamesALight), Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) and a member known as Disgustipate on ThePhins.com message board for information used hereafter. Please, do yourself a favor and check out those guys on Twitter or if you stop by ThePhins – they all have outstanding information.

Overall, while some of their statistical rankings on defense are middle-of-the-pack, they were ranked 7th in points allowed (20.3 per game) and tied for 5th with Denver and Miami with 28 takeaways (18 INTs, 10 FRs). Those two categories, in my opinion, are your money-makers on defense.  While Miami was on par with the Patriots in terms of turnovers, Miami was 27thin the NFL in terms of points allowed per game, giving up 27.1 on average – a full touchdown more than the Patriots.  We all saw the Patriots dominate the Rams in the Super Bowl and held the Chiefs to just seven points through three quarters of the game. We know what the Patriots defense can do when it’s revving on high.

Overview

As far as how it works, my one sentence synopsis would be this: Miami’s new defense will likely be a multiple-front, defensive back-centric malleable defense that can be adjusted on a weekly basis to counter each opponent.

Forget about the debate between 4-3 and 3-4.  It’s archaic in today’s NFL.  Having watched several Patriots games and charting their games against the Packers and Vikings – more on the reasons why in a bit – we’re likely to see this team base out of a nickel defense, and it can be multiple in its formational setup.  One of the things the Patriots do well is they can use various personnel groupings and run different formations out of them.  For instance, they’ll often run three defensive linemen and three linebackers onto the field but will run a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 out of it.

Personnel

Chris Kouffman pulled these numbers, and here are the personnel groupings, formations and snaps from each that New England ran in 2018:

HALF DOLLAR – 30 personnel (3 DL, 0 LB, 8 DBs) – 1 Snap
QUARTER – 40 personnel (4 DL, 0 LB, 7 DBs) – 3 Snaps
QUARTER – 31 personnel (3 DL, 1 LB, 7 DBs) – 45 Snaps
QUARTER – 22 personnel (2 DL, 2 LBs, 7 DBs) – 41 Snaps
DIME – 41 personnel (4 DL, 1 LB, 6 DBs) – 82 Snaps
DIME – 32 personnel (3 DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs) – 162 Snaps
DIME – 23 personnel (2 DL, 3LBs, 6 DBs) – 1 Snap
NICKEL – 42 personnel (4 DL, 2 LBs, 5 DBs) – 307 Snaps
NICKEL – 33 personnel (3 DL, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) – 226 Snaps
BASE – 52 personnel (5 DL, 2 LBs, 4 DBs) – 12 Snaps
BASE – 43 personnel (4 DL, 3 LBs, 4 DBs) – 97 Snaps
BASE – 34 personnel (3 DL, 4 LBs, 4 DBs) – 13 Snaps
HEAVY – 53 personnel (5 DL, 3 LBs, 3 DBs) – 1 Snap
HEAVY – 63 personnel (6 DL, 3 LBs, 2 DBs) – 7 Snaps
HEAVY – 64 personnel (6 DL, 4 LBs, 1 DB) – 3 Snaps

 

For what it’s worth, the Patriots official team depth chart lists them as a 4-3 team.  That said, the Patriots spent 12% of their snaps in a BASE personnel grouping.  The amounts of various formations and personnel groupings alone should make any Dolphins fan excited after three combined years of Vance Joseph and Matt Burke running the defense.

Primary Fronts

To give you a better idea about some of the things you’ll see with the Dolphins defense moving forward, let’s look at some of their key formations.  We’ll start with their sub fronts since they’re predominantly in these looks.

1) Marble– this is one of the Patriots 4-2-5 nickel defenses.  But don’t take that too literally.  More often than not you’ll see a true DE, usually Adrian Clayborn or Deatrich Wise lined up at DE.  You’ll see one true DT, usually one of Malcom Brown or Lawrence Guy teamed with Trey Flowers at the two tackle spots.  The “Buck” is usually Kyle Van Noy or John Simon, both whom usually play as a stand-up DE; that’s where the amorphic aspect comes in as both of those guys are “linebackers” but playing as a DE. And yes, that spot plays a 9-technique.

The Mac (Mc) is usually Dont’a Hightower if he’s inserted head-up on the center and the Money ($) is usually Elandon Roberts.  Though if the Mc is not inserted, those roles are interchangeable. Sometimes you’ll see Roberts off the field and Simon at the Buck, Kyle Van Noy at Mc and Hightower at $.

Patrick Chung is pretty much exclusively the SS, essentially playing like a 4-3 strongside linebacker, and the star is a slot defender.  In the games I’ve watched this has usually been Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson if they use a third corner.  However, the Patriots will use 3 safeties a lot, especially if the offense is in 12 or 21 personnel.  In that situation,   Devin McCourty is usually the second slot defender and Duron Harmon comes onto the field as a middle-of-the-field (MOF) free safety.  If they use a slot corner Devin McCourty stays back at free safety.

  1. Marble Point – this is a variation on the Marble package. The main difference here is that the SS is inserted to play head-up on the TE, with the Buck playing an 8-technique outside the TE. The intention here is to prevent the TE from getting a free release if it’s a pass play, and to have a bigger, more physical player setting the edge against an outside run to the strongside. Teams will try to counter this by having their TE detached from the LOS, flexed out or lined up in the slot.  The Patriots have countered this, by using the Buck player to play WAY outside and help jam the TE and then rush the QB. You can see the example of them doing this to Kyle Rudolph in the video Below.

 

***You’ll also see this stunt below in the Dime Odd front.***

 

  1. Diamond– this front you’re going to see played more with true 3DL 3LB personnel. Typically what you’ll see the Patriots do is have Kyle Van Noy at the $ position, playing almost like a stand-up DE, with Elandon Roberts at the Mc and Hightower as the Buck.  Van Noy is the operative player here as he can be used as a coverage player or pass-rusher; typically if he rushes, he’s doing some sort of looping stunt into the backside A or B gap.  New England would also play John Simon here.

 

  1. Ruby– this front is essentially the same as the Diamond, but you’re going to be playing an extra safety in the box instead of a third linebacker. In the two games I watched Patrick Chung would often play as the Mc here and Van Noy as the $.  Chung would either play as a LB on the edge, buzz up or back and drop into coverage as a robber, or play straight man-to-man against the TE. Devin McCourty would be the other safety in the box with Duron Harmon deep.

 

Other Fronts

1) Extend – okay, Dolphins fans, don’t freak out.  The Patriots defense has some elements of the Wide-9 in it.  After all, Jim Schwartz got at least part of his inspiration to come up with the Wide-9 from watching the Patriots.  Their extend front is used out of their 4-2-5 package, with both DTs playing 3-techniques.  These are usually Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, with their edge players playing 9-techniques.  These edge players are usually their ends, whichever two happen to be on the field at the time.  Kyle Van Noy and John Simon can also play as stand-up guys on the edge, and the Pats will frequently have both ends standing-up.

2) Dime Odd– as I mentioned before I was able to get a lot of information on James Light’s (@JamesALight) Twitter page.  There is a TON of great info on the Patriots defense there.   This front encompasses one of the Patriots best rush schemes – note the two blitzes below and the GIF against Minnesota.

3) Radar – I honestly have no idea what the Patriots call this front, nor can I find a drawn up schematic for it.  But, one reason I wanted to chart the Vikings game was due to the fact that New England brought back their “playground” defense.  In this front you’ll see Trey Flowers lined up over the center, with three linebackers on the field – Hightower, Van Noy and Simon. They move around pre-snap and then settle into their positions and rush from there.  You’ll see a lot of still frame shots on James Light’s Twitter page.

On this play Minnesota throws a quick screen outside short of the sticks and goes three and out, but you have to wonder if the confusion caused by the Patriots movement pre-snap induces a quick throw.

Use of Three Safeties

What makes the Patriots so versatile is their ability to use three safeties. I noted earlier that one of the sources of information I pulled from was a member on ThePhins.com website known as Disgustipate.  He posted the following, which is the alignments of the Patriots safeties per snap from PFF (Note, I don’t agree with some of the PFF labels):

Devin McCourty

EDGE LINEBACKER – 19
LINEBACKER – 226 (this is essentially lining up as a slot safety in dime packages)
STRONG SAFETY – 27 (box safety)
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 96
SLOT CB – 143
BOUNDARY CB – 143
FREE SAFETY – 354
FREE SAFETY SLIT – 257

Patrick Chung
EDGE LINEBACKER – 152
LINEBACKER – 376
STRONG SAFETY – 2
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 28
SLOT CB – 276
BOUNDARY -120
FREE SAFETY – 15
FREE SAFETY SPLIT – 62

Duron Harmon

EDGE LINEBACKER -14
LINEBACKER -69
STRONG SAFETY -12
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 52
SLOT CB – 27
FREE SAFETY – 230
FREE SAFETY SPLIT -296

***PFF has some very weird labeling with their snaps.  I think these are strictly based on alignment, not assignment.***

You can see why in the following picture as all three safeties – Devin McCourty #32, Patrick Chung #23 and Duron Harmon #21 are all on the field, with Chung down in the box.

This picture is of the Patriots 3-2 front as Kyle Van Noy is the player immediately behind Dont’a Hightower.

Sorting through the Patriots games against the Packers and Vikings, I think a fair quick barometer guide for safeties would be that Patrick Chung is usually going to be the guy in the box in their nickel packages, especially on first and second downs (run downs).  Chung and McCourty were more often the split safeties (i.e. ½ field coverage with two deep safeties).  McCourty is almost exclusively in the MOF or a traditional free safety role until the offense is in third downs.  This is when McCourty would often come down into the box and Duron Harmon would play as a true MOF FS.

How I think this relates to Miami…well, this may be a bit controversial, but looking at the way New England plays their three safeties it wouldn’t surprise me if Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald are both gone sooner rather than later.  I think Miami needs players that are quicker, smarter and more dynamic.  Both Jones and McDonald seem too one-dimensional, especially McDonald who is in my opinion too slow to really work in this defense.

As far as Reshad Jones goes, I think he’s got a better shot to succeed in the defense.  His contractual issues may dictate him staying a Dolphin in 2019, but he’s able to replicate more of what Patrick Chung does than T.J. McDonald…at least as far as the in-the-box stuff against the run.  I think there are a lot of responsibilities that Chung carries out for the Patriots that may prove challenging for Jones – covering backs in man-to-man coverage, covering tight ends, knowing when to buzz/drop late in the quarterback’s cadence, etc.

With this being the case, it would not surprise me one bit to see Miami cut their losses, eat some dead cap, and move on from one or both Jones and McDonald and look to acquire safeties in the Draft to team with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Two names I really like for Miami that you should keep an eye on are Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson of Florida.  Those two names will be interesting to watch in the pre-Draft process, especially if Miami start lopping off pricey veterans.

The Fit Right Now

It should be noted that one of the things that surprised me with the Patriots is the sheer number of players that they play and how malleable some of those positions are.  Take their game against the Packers for example and we see the following players at these positions:

DE: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Dont’a Hightower, John Simon
DT: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, Danny Shelton
LB: Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, John Simon, Patrick Chung
CB: Stephone Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen
DS: Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Miami’s players and scheme weren’t even close to that flexible under the past two defensive coordinators.  Building this defense will be a project in and of itself, and in my opinion, will likely take more than just one offseason to really get it right.

As I mentioned, New England lists its own team depth chart as a 4-3 defense despite being in a base defense 12% of the time, and of that 12% it’s in a 4-3 most of the time, but not always.  In essence what you’re looking for purely from a positional standpoint is laid out below. I’ll spare you the details of looking into specific traits other than what Patrick Graham outlined last Friday in what he looks for in his front seven players:

1) Play with your hands/be heavy-handed.
2) Good knee bend and leverage
3) Eye discipline

In short this means fundamentally sound and smart players that fit the following roles:

DE: A bigger/longer player that’s likely going to be asked to play 5, 6, 7 and 9 techniques
NT: A nose tackle body type capable of playing 0, 1 (shade), 2i and 3 techniques (more 1 and 3 techniques)
DT: A true 3-technique style player who may also be asked to play 4i and 5 techniques
DE: A 3-4 OLB-esque style of player who can play 5, 6, 7, 8 (yeah, that’s a thing), and 9 techniques
OLB/LB:  A player capable of playing off the ball as a WILL LB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front
MLB: A player capable of playing a traditional MLB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front; may play some SAM
3-4 OLB:  Separate from the position above, but possibly able to be filled by the same player.  Someone who can set the edge from a stand-up position like a 3-4 OLB or play as an off-the-ball SAM

The secondary spots are pretty self-explanatory there, but I think Miami NEED to come out of this offseason with finding a second player that can play as a MOF FS in addition to Minkah Fitzpatrick. 

So, if we’re keeping score at home based solely on the guys that Miami have under contract on the roster right NOW you’re probably looking at going into camp with the following depth chart:

DE: Tank Carradine, Jonathan Woodard, Jeremiah Valoaga
NT: Davon Godchaux, Kendrick Norton, Jamiyus Pittman
DT: Vincent Taylor, Akeem Spence
DE: Charles Harris? Robert Quinn, Andre Branch
OLB/LB:  Jerome Baker, Charles Harris? Chase Allen? Kiko Alonso
MLB: Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Chase Allen, James Burgess, Quentin Poling, Samuel Eguavoen,
3-4 OLB/OLB:  Chase Allen?
CB1: Xavien Howard, Torry McTyer, Jomal Wiltz
CB2: Cordrea Tankersley, Cornell Armstrong, Dee Delaney
Slot: Bobby McCain, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Davis
FS: Minkah Fitzpatrick
SS: Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Walt Aikens

Strikethrough = projected cut due to salary or poor fit reasons.

Italics = possible salary cap cut or questions about injury and/or fit concerns

Looking at the above, you can see Miami’s shopping list this offseason will be extensive.  I won’t dive into that right here right now, but I will be looking to put together a piece on players I think Miami will be likely to target.

@KevinMD4

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2019 Training Camp Guide – Cornerbacks

Travis Wingfield

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Over the next two weeks, Locked On Dolphins will bring you your one-stop shop for all things Miami Dolphins 2019 training camp

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Tight Ends
Wide Receivers
Offensive Line
Defensive Interior
Defensive Edge
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties – 7/23
Specialists – 7/24

Game-By-Game Predictions Part 1 – 7/24 (Part 2 coming in September)

Prologue:

For the majority of the Ryan Tannehill era, the Dolphins entered training camp as dark horse candidates to seize a wildcard playoff berth. Things have changed for the worse in 2019, but the step backward comes with the hopes of constructing a perennial AFC East contender capable of winning games in January.

That’s the big-picture snapshot of the Miami Dolphins rebuild. In the interim, however, establishing the core principles of the Brian Flores program, as well as developing young talent, both capture the forefront of this year’s training camp objectives.

Over the next two weeks, we will get you familiar with each player on the roster. With biographies, quick-hitter scouting notes, and a prediction on the player’s ultimate role on the 2019 Dolphins, this serves as your guide for Miami’s summer practice session.

Cornerbacks

Overview:

The most intriguing position on the roster, Miami’s defensive backfield has both blue chip talents and promising upside. The financial investment at the top of the cornerback depth chart is balanced by a group of unproven youngsters rounding out the unit.

Josh Boyer is one of the four Patriot defects to make the migration south along with Brian Flores. His forte in Foxboro, where he spent 13 years working with Flores, bringing undrafted players into the spotlight — most recently J.C. Jackson, before Malcolm Butler. Boyer coached New England’s corners from 2012-2018, was a DB’s Assistant from ’09-’11, and served as a Defensive Assistant from ’06-’08.

The lines between corner and safety distinction are blurred in this scheme, so the duality of some players brings about multiple job descriptions. In the new defense safeties are expected to come down and cover, with sticky man coverage serving as a non-negotiable trait of each player.

Xavien Howard – 3 years of service (4th in MIA)
Jersey: 25
College: Baylor
Opening Day Age: 26.2
Contract Details: 6 years remaining, $75.3M total, $27.2M guaranteed

Howard’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

Rewarded with the richest cornerback contract in football, Xavien Howard’s emergence at the end of 2017 rolled into 2018. Howard is physically imposing, offers elite tracking and ball skills, he’s a willing tackler and he’s a perfect candidate to take on the Stephon Gilmore role in Flores and Boyer’s secondary.

Howard wins with elite mirroring technique, a strong inside-hand jam, and constant disruption of the receiver’s ultimate goal. Nobody has intercepted more passes going back to December 2017, making Howard worth every penny of his new deal.

2019 Projected Role: Perimeter Cornerback, 100% snap-taker

Minkah Fitzpatrick – 1 years of service (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 29
College: Alabama
Opening Day Age: 22.8
Contract Details: 3 years remaining (option for a 4th), $6M total, $0 guaranteed

Fitzpatrick’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

Saban’s Son — as he is so aptly nicknamed — is the poster boy for the type of defense the Dolphins hope to cultivate under new management. A star slot corner in college, Fitzpatrick was among the game’s best at the same position during his rookie campaign. Poor coaching moved Fitzpatrick about the formation — with little warning ahead of time — and probably stunted his development.

In year-two, a clear plan has been devised for Fitzpatrick, and the expectation is all-pro production. Serving as the base nickel corner Fitzpatrick will rotate into safety responsibilities in some situations, and out to perimeter corner when the offense brings multiple backs or tight ends on the field. He’s going to blitz, he’s going to support the run and screen game, and he’s going to get his hands on footballs.

This could well be Miami’s unquestioned best player when we write this preview next summer.

2019 Projected Role: Slot and Perimeter Corner, 100% snap-taker

Eric Rowe – 4 years of service (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 21
College: Utah
Opening Day Age: 26.9
Contract Details: 1 year remaining, $3.5M total, $500K guaranteed

Rowe’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

The first of many low-risk, high-reward acquisitions this offseason, Rowe’s largest obstacle is the medical. Missing 27 games the last three years, Rowe’s career is hanging by a thread. If he can find his rookie year form — and health — Rowe is an intelligent, position-diverse asset in the secondary.

This defense wants to matchup and bounce players from boundary to field responsibility. A willing tackler and capable slot cover-guy, Rowe checks those boxes. A clean bill of health could earn Rowe a second contract with the Dolphins.

2019 Projected Role: Perimeter Cornerback, occasional slot/safety 85% snap-taker

Jalen Davis – 1 year of service (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 36
College: Utah State
Opening Day Age: 23.4
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $1.1M total, $0 guaranteed

A December call-up, Davis made an impact as a rookie undrafted free agent last year. His best position is the slot, and another step in his progression could create some expendable veterans in the secondary. He entered the week 16 Jacksonville game and forced a fumble, sacked Cody Kessler, and broke up a third-down pass in the end zone.

Davis could see some run in the Dolphins dime package, contribute on special teams, and act as the first man off the bench in case of injury.

2019 Projected Role: Backup slot, dime slot, 20% snap-taker

Cornell Armstrong – 1 year of service (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 31
College: Southern Miss
Opening Day Age: 24.0
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $2M total, $0 guaranteed

Armstrong’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

Earning a role as a core special teamer last year, Armstrong is poised to make more of a contribution on defense. He had a cup of coffee on defense in his rookie season (83 snaps), and the scheme change suits his aggressive style as much as any player in the Miami secondary.

Armstrong plays with his hair on fire. He will separate receivers from the football and rack up passes defensed in bunches.

2019 Projected Role: Backup perimeter corner

Torry McTyer – 2 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Jersey: 24
College: UNLV
Opening Day Age: 24.6
Contract Details: 1 years remaining, $645K total, $0 guaranteed

The surprise of the early portion of camp last year, McTyer worked his way into significant playing time, but the results were mixed. His physical brand and willingness to stick his nose in on the running game are feathers in his cap, but he’s going to have to fend off several gunning for his job.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

Cordrea Tankersley – 2 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Jersey: 23
College: Clemson
Opening Day Age: 26.2
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $1.4M total, $0 guaranteed

After a promising rookie season, 2018 could not have played out any worse for the former college national champion. Tankersley is more of a physical marvel than a thinking man’s corner, which bodes well in the new defense.

In addition to learning a new scheme, and bouncing back from a supremely subpar performance, Tankersley is working back from the ACL he tore last October. He’s a candidate to begin camp — and the season — on the physically unable to perform list, with eligibility to return in week six.

2019 Projected Role: P.U.P – Backup Perimeter Corner upon activation

Walt Aikens – 5 years of service (6th in MIA)
Jersey: 35
College: Liberty
Opening Day Age: 28.2
Contract Details: 1 year remaining, $1.4M total, $0 guaranteed

Bouncing between safety and corner during his five-year tenure in Miami, Aikens hasn’t found his true home on defense. He did, however, earn a second contract with the Dolphins last summer for one reason — special teams.

Taking over for the departed Michael Thomas last year, Aikens is the unquestioned leader of the third phase of the game.

2019 Projected Role: Special Teams Exclusively

Nik Needham – Rookie
Jersey: 40
College: UTEP
Opening Day Age: 22.8
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $1.8M total, $0 guaranteed

A four-year starter and all-time UTEP leader in passes defensed, Needham is a technically sound corner with a penchant for finding the football. He’s known for his choppy footwork and instincts for the position. He mastered UTEP’s combination coverages and excels in both man and zone.

Needham is a prime candidate to be the next name on Josh Boyer’s UDFA-turned-producer list.

2019 Projected Role: Backup Perimeter Corner

Jomal Wiltz – 2 years of service (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 33
College: Iowa State
Opening Day Age: 24.9
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $1.1M total, $0 guaranteed

Beginning his career in Philadelphia, Wiltz was most recently with Boyer and the Patriots practice squad. Like Needham, Wiltz is a scheme diverse, instinctive cover corner.

Iowa State’s defense has routinely been the best in the Big 12, due in large part to the work of defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. A terrific piece penned by Mark Schofield on Pats Pulpit showcased the similarities in Heacock’s defense and the schemes deployed by Bill Belichick.

Adhering to those principles and fundamentals, it should come as no surprise that Wiltz was one of the stars of minicamp.

2019 Projected Role: Backup Perimeter Corner

Montre Hartage – Rookie
Jersey: 41
College: Northwestern
Opening Day Age: 23.3
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $1.8M total, $0 guaranteed

Patriots corners typically measure impressively in the three-cone, short shuttle, and vertical and broad jumps. Hartage checked each of those boxes at the combine, and his tape is loaded with smart football plays.

Hartage picked up nine career interceptions at Northwestern, in addition to plenty of evidence of run-support. He’s not sudden enough to play inside, and his long-speed could be exposed on the outside, but the latter has proven to be a bit of a non-issue with this defensive scheme.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut, practice squad

Chris Lammons – 1 year of service (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 30
College: South Carolina
Opening Day Age: 23.4
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $1.1M total, $0 guaranteed

With limited change-of-direction ability, Lammons route to the 53-man roster likely comes as a gunner on special teams. He’s adept in zone, but lacks the physicality to matchup in man coverage at this level.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

2019 Dolphins Cornerbacks at a Glance:

With blue chip talent atop the cornerback depth chart, it’s imperative that Miami uncover a cheap option to round out the rest of the up-for-grabs workload in the secondary. Between Howard, Fitzpatrick, Bobby McCain, and Reshad Jones in the defensive backfield, there isn’t a lot left in the budget to fill the voids in next year’s free agent class.

Luckily, the potential to achieve cheap production is already on the roster. Communication breakdowns occurred with regularity last year, but fans should expect a clearly defined defense to impart substantial improvements for a talented unit. Howard’s breakthrough, in accordance with a similar expected outcome from Fitzpatrick, could make the cornerback room the most talented group on the team.

Tackling, man-coverage, instincts, and an introduction into the modern era of defensive football will prove to be the stalwarts of this position. More dime and quarter packages should vastly improve Miami’s third-and-long defense.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2019 Training Camp Guide – Off-Ball Linebackers

Travis Wingfield

Published

on

Over the next two weeks, Locked On Dolphins will bring you your one-stop shop for all things Miami Dolphins 2019 training camp

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Tight Ends
Wide Receivers
Offensive Line
Defensive Interior
Defensive Edge
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties – 7/23
Specialists – 7/24

Game-By-Game Predictions Part 1 – 7/24 (Part 2 coming in September)

Prologue:

For the majority of the Ryan Tannehill era, the Dolphins entered training camp as dark horse candidates to seize a wildcard playoff berth. Things have changed for the worse in 2019, but the step backward comes with the hopes of constructing a perennial AFC East contender capable of winning games in January.

That’s the big-picture snapshot of the Miami Dolphins rebuild. In the interim, however, establishing the core principles of the Brian Flores program, as well as developing young talent, both capture the forefront of this year’s training camp objectives.

Over the next two weeks, we will get you familiar with each player on the roster. With biographies, quick-hitter scouting notes, and a prediction on the player’s ultimate role on the 2019 Dolphins, this serves as your guide for Miami’s summer practice session.

Linebackers (Off-Ball)

Overview:

Like the multi-purposed edge players, the linebacker position will be asked to change their respective responsibilities entirely from the previous scheme. Patrick Graham coached the linebackers and coordinated the run defense in Green Bay and now takes over as the Defensive Coordinator under Brian Flores with the Dolphins.

The marriage of the New England and Green Bay schemes might contribute equal parts and look relatively identical in the secondary (more dime and quarter packages), but the front-seven is where the differences lie. Whether it’s the 4-2 or 3-3, we can presumably conclude that the linebackers will take on responsibilities of the former wide-9 ends on the roster.

Defending the edge in the ground game, offering blitzes both off the edge and looping inside on stunts, and shifting about the formation trying to find the vulnerable gaps.

Whereas in the previous scheme, the linebackers were responsible for play-side and backside gaps, this defense will allow the ‘backers to play more aggressively. With a free-flowing, downhill style, the minimization of the run fits should open up more blitzing opportunities.

So that’s the tradeoff — less run responsibility, but more by way of bringing pressure. Though Flores and Graham have linebacker pedigrees, Rob Leonard is tasked with running the room. Leonard was on the Giants staff for six years including two seasons as a colleague of Graham (Giants defensive line coach in 2016 and 2017).

Raekwon McMillan – 2 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Jersey: 52
College: Ohio State
Opening Day Age: 23.8
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $2M total, $0 guaranteed

McMillan’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

After a slow start in his first NFL action — returning from a torn ACL his rookie season — it’s difficult to poke holes in McMillan’s game. As the 2018 season progressed, McMillan took on expanded leadership roles and the defensive calls. His work as a b-gap-to-b-gap defender was top shelf from October onward.

No linebacker registered more run-stops (tackles within two yards of the LOS) during that period. McMillan’s 43 run stops was 13 higher than the second place finisher (Luke Kuechly, 30), despite playing in one less game. His run-stop percentage also led the way at 14% — second place was 11.9% (Leighton Vander Esch).

This scheme should free McMillan up to perform at an ever higher level. The next step is for the Dolphins young ‘backer to provide more returns as a blitzer — something he showed in college, and a big element of linebacker play in the new scheme.

Expect big things from 52 in 2019.

2019 Projected Role: Starting Middle Linebacker, 90+% snap-taker

Kiko Alonso – 6 years of service (4th in MIA)
Jersey: 47
College: Oregon
Opening Day Age: 29.1
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $12.9M total, $2.6M guaranteed

Alonso’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

Despite racking up tackles at an absurd pace, and regularly finding the football, Alonso has taken his lumps since coming to Miami. Too much has been asked of the former Duck in coverage and as a quarterback spy, but his lack instincts are often exposed.

Alonso is all hustle and all ball, and while that results in a few takeaways every season, it also leads to far too many roughness penalties. Alonso’s bloated contract keeps him on borrowed time in Miami, and the Dolphins will likely phase him out as the season goes along.

2019 Projected Role: 3-3 Linebacker, First off the Field, 50% snap-taker

Chase Allen – 2 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Jersey: 59
College: Ohio State
Opening Day Age: 26.0
Contract Details: 1 year remaining, $645K total, $0 guaranteed

Missing the majority of the 2018 season puts Allen in a bit of a bind. He serves a purpose on special teams and a niche role as the nose backer (lining up over the center in the wide-9), but with a new staff and new responsibilities, Allen will have to fend off a long list of newcomers to earn a roster spot.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

Mike Hull – 4 years of service (5th in MIA)
Jersey: 45
College: Penn State
Opening Day Age: 28.4
Contract Details: 1 year remaining, $805K total, $90K guaranteed

Hull and Allen are something of a redundancy on this roster. Both excel on special teams but have a difficult time finding a role in modern-day NFL defenses. Hull missed half of the 2018 season and likely falls victim to the same miscast roles as Allen in the new scheme.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

Tre Watson – Rookie
Jersey: 44
College: Maryland
Opening Day Age: 23.3
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $1.8M total, $0 guaranteed

A sure-tackler and a big hitter, Watson has an outside shot at making the roster as a core special teamer and backup middle backer. The new prototype at the position doesn’t require elite movement measurements (likely why Watson and his 4.73 forty wound up in Miami), but he will need to improve his run-key identification to make the roster.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut, practice squad

Sam Eguavoen – Rookie
Jersey: 49
College: Texas Tech
Opening Day Age: 26.5
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $1.8M total, $0 guaranteed

Cam Wake’s legacy with the Dolphins may have placed unfair expectations on CFL conversions, but Eguavoen’s tape from up north is impressive. He’s undersized (227 lbs.) but he brings explosive measurements to Miami. Eguavoen had 10 workouts scheduled this offseason with NFL teams, but signed with the team that saw him first — the Dolphins.

Eguavoen made quite an impression at organized team activities getting involved in a number of turnovers over the course of the six-week period.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut, practice squad

Quentin Poling – 1 year of service (2rd in MIA)
Jersey: 51
College: Ohio
Opening Day Age: 25.1
Contract Details: 2 years remaining, $1.1M total, $0 guaranteed

Poling’s instinctive nature, and plethora of football experience, is his calling card, but he struggles to work through traffic. He’s too easily washed out by contact and might need another year to add size to his frame.

A relentless motor and experience calling the defense in college are feathers in Poling’s cap, but he has to made some headway in camp to stick around.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

2019 Dolphins Linebackers (Off-Ball) at a Glance:

Though this position group seems a tad light, Jerome Baker probably belongs in this group, in addition to his mention in the edge position. Baker and McMillan give the Dolphins immediate and long-term answers at two of the most important positions on this defense — the pairing has a chance to be special.

Alonso will have to have the best year of his career to be back in 2020, and even that is a question considering the contract number. There is hope for improvement for Kiko with the scheme change and drawn back responsibility.

The rest of the players in this group will compete for backup work, but primarily special teams’ duty. Keeping an eye on the kick coverage units during camp and preseason should provide an indicator for which players will fill out the bottom of the linebacker depth chart.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Staff Predictions: Which rookie will have the biggest impact in 2019?

Gabe Hauari

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The Dolphins enter Year 1 of the rebuild under the leadership of Brian Flores and Chris Grier with what appears to be an extremely green and unproven roster. While there is veteran talent on this roster, there will be ample opportunity for rookies, both drafted and undrafted, to earn roster spots and snaps.

With that being said, the LOD staff took a shot at predicting which Dolphins rookie will have the biggest impact this upcoming season.

Chris Kowalewski

Prediction: Andrew Van Ginkel

Every Dolphins fan should be hoping that Clemson DT, Christian Wilkins is the most impactful rookie from Miami’s 2019 draft class. When you select someone at the 13th overall pick, anything less could be potentially disappointing for a team which has such a perceived lack of talent. However, it works both ways and the number of open competitions provides huge opportunities for rookies across the board.

Whilst I am certainly hopeful for big impacts in the running game from FB Chandler Cox and by having a mauler on the O-Line in G, Michael Dieter I think the most significant addition could be in the form of the Dolphins’ surprise 5th round pick, LB Andrew Van Ginkel. With 99 tackles (19.5 for a loss), 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions in 2 years at Wisconsin (2017-2018), Van Ginkel plays with a high level of energy and has an inherent nose for the football. 

A lot of people hadn’t heard of Van Ginkel before Miami’s pick at 151 but the hope is that, in time, he can develop into a playmaker for the Dolphins defense under Brian Flores.

Speed, energy and football smarts could go a long way in Miami’s new defensive scheme and Van Ginkel could grow to be a great compliment to Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan – think Kiko Alonso, but more of his big highlight plays than the forgettable failed coverages and the Dolphins could have unearthed a talented gem as part of the future of their young team.

Travis Wingfield

Prediction: Christian Wilkins

Taking chalk doesn’t make for entertaining journalism, but let’s be real here, Wilkins is the only rookie guaranteed to play significant time on the Dolphins. He’s a disruptive force against the pass with the athleticism and intelligence to execute the many games (stunts, twists, slants) of a Brian Flores front. 

Wilkins’ position versatility likely led to Miami’s infatuation with the multi-degreed, multi-championship winning collegiate star. As the 3-tech, 4i, or even some reps outside as the 7-tech, Wilkins is going to play upwards of 75% of the Dolphins defensive snaps as a rookie.

Shawn Digity

Prediction: Michael Deiter

There’s nothing to necessarily base this on other than my belief that Deiter is the most pro ready. And that much is certainly arguable; others might want to say Christian Wilkins, and I’d be OK with that. But I’m giving the go-ahead to Deiter. 

I think he’ll still take a bruising in training camp while he gets his NFL bearings, but he’ll also become the most productive rookie this year. This wasn’t really a draft class that boasted a lot of guys that could step in and start on Day 1. Andrew Van Ginkel, Isaiah Prince, Myles Gaskin, and Chandler Cox are all late-rounders and role-players, so to me, the conversation comes down to two frontrunners: Michael Deiter and Christian Wilkins. 

Deiter will be able to quickly step up to the plate if he shows out in camp because of the dearth of offensive linemen the Dolphins find themselves in. Deiter will be the best of the bunch, but that also doesn’t mean it’s going to be a spotless performance during the regular season. 

He’ll get truly tested by guys like Quinnen Williams twice this season against the Jets, Fletcher Cox v. the Eagles in Week 15 and Geno Atkins v. The Bengals in Week 16. The season will definitely show more promise than concern, and Deiter will become an anchor for years to come after earning some stripes this year.

Andrew Mitchell

Prediction: Michael Deiter

While it’s difficult to put Christian Wilikins in this spot, I think with our DL rotation he could technically have less of an overall impact due to snap counts. Whereas, in Deiter’s case, I fully anticipate him starting on our weak offensive line and playing the entire season.

Deiter comes from Wisconsin, who are notorious for churning out high quality offensive lineman. The Dolphins have struggled at the Guard position for a long time now and I expect Deiter to help alleviate that void.


All in all I think our entire rookie class is going to have a solid impact regardless due to the fact this is a season for development and experience. But with issues along the offensive line and the habitual lack of solid guard play, I see Deiter as having a huge impact on solidifying our run game and developing into an above average starter for years to come.

Jason Hrina

Prediction: Michael Deiter

Michael Deiter is poised to be the biggest contributor from this rookie class. There is nothing sexy or intricate about this selection; it speaks more about the state of the roster than it does about each rookie’s potential.

With a such a weak offensive line, the Miami Dolphins need any upgrade they can find. Barring an absolutely miserable preseason, Deiter should find himself starting a majority of the games this season at left guard.

Players like Myles Gaskin and Chandler Cox can pose as offensive threats, but just how much playing time will they receive behind Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage?

Christian Wilkins should be the biggest playmaker of the bunch, but he’s sitting behind Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor and Akeem Spence on the depth chart. He may only see a limited amount of snaps this season, even as a high 1st-round pick.

The hope here is that Deiter will be able to solidify one of the guard spots and get the Miami Dolphins 2020 quarterback in a secure spot to begin (or continue) their career.

Gabe Hauari

Prediction: Chandler Cox

This might be the un-sexiest pick of them all (yes, even less sexy than picking Michael Deiter), but I sincerely believe Chandler Cox is going to have a big impact on the Dolphins run game this season.

You don’t spend a draft pick on a fullback unless you plan on using him in a variety of ways. Cox has shown the ability to be a bulldozer as a blocker, but he can also catch passes out of the backfield. I also assume Chad O’Shea will utilize him in short yardage and goal line situations.

James Develin made a huge impact for the Patriots last season, and I suspect Chandler Cox will have a similar impact on Miami this season.

 

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