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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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NFL Draft

Scouting College Football’s Top 2020 Quarterback Prospects – Week 12

Travis Wingfield

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Recapping Week 12 of the College Football Season

During the college season, here on Locked On Dolphins, we’re going to keep an eye on quarterbacks all throughout the country. Our primary focus will be on the big four, the options that Miami will likely choose from with an early pick in the 2020 draft.

Those quarterbacks are:

Tua Tagovailoa Scouting Report
Jake Fromm Scouting Report
Justin Herbert Scouting Report
Jordan Love Scouting Report

2019 Week 1 Recap
2019 Week 2 Recap
2019 Week 3 Recap
2019 Week 4 Recap
2019 Week 5 Recap
2019 Week 6 Recap
2019 Week 7 Recap
2019 Week 8 Recap
2019 Week 9 Recap
– No Week 10 Recap
2019 Week 11 Recap

*LSU’s Joe Burrow has been added to the prospect watch list.

We’ll go in chronological order from when the games were played.

Week 12 Recap

Tua Tagovailoa vs. Mississippi State, Win
Stats: 14/18 (77.8%) 256 yards (14.22 YPA) 2 TD

Today was a collective “L” for the football community. One of the best collegiate players, and widely praised good guys, Tua Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury that leaves his football future in question.

What started out as an ordinary onslaught of explosive plays — a product of perfectly placed passes — ended in potential tragedy. Reports say that Tua’s hip is both dislocated, with a fracture of the wall that retains the ball joint. This injury calls for immediate surgery and significant recovery time, if a football career is possible at all.

Tagovailoa will do everything in his power for a full recovery, and hopefully the advances in modern medicine can allow him to make a triumphant return to the gridiron.

Jordan Love at Wyoming, Win 26-21
Stats: 18/29 (62.1%) 282 yards (9.72 YPA) 2 TD, 2 INT

This game was my favorite quarterback tape to watch this season. Jordan Love exhibited the sometimes unfathomably unique arm-talent that has endeared him to scouts nationally. After two interceptions — one a bad read, another bad luck — Love showed the shortstop-like arm, supreme athleticism, and general freaky traits that have scouts drooling.

The arm-strength to squeeze the football into a tight window from 40 yards away, the rare elasticity to sling it on a line across his body while on the move, the quick release to get the ball out in the face of pressure…it looks like he’s throwing a baseball.

The added element of a designed run package and RPO game, paired with the threat of throwing the ball to any blade of grass on the field, coaches will line up to get their hands on this prospect.

Jake Fromm vs. Missouri, Win 27-0
Stats: 13/28 (46.4%) 110 yards (3.93 YPA) 3 TD

Fromm hit his best throw of the season in another big SEC road victory. Few quarterbacks have the number of scalps that Fromm keeps in his back pocket, and he displayed tremendous poise in another hostile environment.

At times, the crowd noise was deafening, yet Fromm communicated his line checks and audibles with urgency and a steady heartbeat. He made cutch, accurate throws on third down, and beat the defense with his pre-snap prowess.

Fromm has quiet feet when he gets to the top of his drop. That’s not a trait he shares with a lot of the new-age, successful quarterbacks in the NFL. Kyler Murray went first in the draft for his ability to glide weightlessly about the pocket, creating passing lanes.

While Fromm is capable of mitigating some deficiencies with his ability to get the offense into the right play, and accurate passing, he’s not going to erase free rushers with his athleticism, and he’s not going to overcome situations with a fastball throw.

Joe Burrow at Ole Miss, Win 58-37
Stats: 32/42 (76.2%) 489 yards (11.64 YPA) 5 TD, 2 INT

And in one afternoon, Joe Burrow is left with nothing to prove. The now heavy favorite to come off the board with the first pick, the second half of Miami’s season would have to take some considerable turns to get the LSU Quarterback.

Burrow remains as cool as ever in this one. He rushed his Tiger offense out to a big lead with a couple of impressive improvisational plays. The big day was saddled by the two turnovers, but Burrow ends the day as the new QB1 due to Tua’s medical situation.

Justin Herbert vs. Arizona, 10:30 ESPN
Stats: 20/28 (71.4%) 333 yards (11.89 YPA) 4 TD, 1 INT

If this was your first viewing experience of Justin Herbert, you probably came away convinced he’s a top-10 draft pick — and he will be. If you’re a regular to his tape, this game was more of the same — flashes of brilliance when the circumstances permit, but the same inconsistencies in the most important aspects of the game.

Arizona’s defense hasn’t stopped a nose bleed this year, and they sure as hell weren’t going to stop the draft’s most physically impressive specimen behind the country’s best offensive line. Herbert’s long touchdown throws displayed the hand-cannon that has scouts conjuring up the prototypical quarterback build — particularly the toss in the second half.

On the rare occasions where Arizona got heat, you saw Herbert’s lack of quick-twitch to get off the spot, without the inherent ability to keep his eyes downfield to keep the play alive. You saw Herbert make an egregious decision to throw the ball into coverage (the INT was dropped) on a first-and-goal play from the two-yard-line.

The problem with Herbert, is that this has been the story for over 30 games. He still has no signature wins or moments, and the Oregon offense is still predicated on the running and screen game.

Herbert’s best bet at the next level is a run-heavy offense that can utilize his premiere weapon — throwing on the move. Lining up in 12-personnel (2 tight ends) and allowing Herbert to get out in space to throw into layers or flood concepts on the move will be the smoothest transition for the Oregon QB to have some success.

I’m of the belief that you have to put Herbert in an absolutely ideal situation, because he’s not going to mitigate your issues offensively.

Week 12 Conclusion

Reports from the University of Alabama doctor responsible for tending to Tagovailoa say the quarterback will make a full recovery, but he is certainly in for a long rehab process. If anyone can come back from this, it’s Tagovailoa, though his draft stock will surely be impacted. If Tua enters the draft and clears all the medical hurdles, he’ll still be a first-round pick.

Miami might be fortunate if Tagovailoa is still the target. With Brian Flores willing his team to underdog victories, the chances of obtaining the first pick was becoming grim, but so too are Tua’s chances at going off the board number one.

The Dolphins will have a difficult decision to make, though an apparent contingency plan is developing behind Tua.

Jordan Love is making progress the last two weeks in his overall effectiveness, and the highlights he produced today were utterly absurd. Though he has shortcomings in his approach for the game and playing the quarterback position, his physical tools give him — far and away — the highest upside in the class.

Miami’s interesting draft season took a jump to a whole other level of intrigue with the events of Saturday.

Week 13 Schedule

Fromm vs. Texas A&M, 3:30 CBS
Burrow vs. Arkansas, 7:00 ESPN
Love vs. Boise State, 10:30 CBSSN
Herbert at Arizona State TBD

@WingfieldNFL

Additional Prospect Videos

A.J. Epenesa – Iowa Defensive End 

Bravvion Roy – Baylor Defensive Tackle

Julian Blackmon – Utah Safety (former corner, invited to Mobile for the Sr. Bowl)

Ben Bredeson – Michigan Left Guard

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Miami Dolphins

Should the Miami Dolphins be interested in signing Colin Kaepernick?

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins Colin Kaepernick
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

Miami (Locked On Dolphins) – Should the Miami Dolphins be interested in signing Colin Kaepernick?

It was only a matter of time before someone posed the question, and maybe it’s already been asked. Does Colin Kaepernick make sense for the Miami Dolphins?

I think the answer could be yes but not in a vacuum. The circumstances would have to be aligned for it to work out.

As it stands, for 2019, I don’t think Kaepernick would be viewed as a starter to fuel any tank or non-tank talk, regardless of how good he looks in the jerry-built workout on Saturday.

Any potential for signing Kaepernick would come with a big asterisk. I think it would have more to do with the some of the draft-eligible quarterbacks that could be a Dolphin next year and the traits and abilities they possess than it does with Kaepernick and what he could do directly for the franchise.

It boils down to who the Miami Dolphins have on their quarterback short list in the 2020 Draft. A lot of this franchise’s future boils down to the quarterback. But I’ll save that lecture for another time.

I’m not sure who will be the quarterbacks on the roster next year. Josh Rosen is likely out, and I’m not sure about Ryan Fitzpatrick. Maybe he stays, maybe he goes.

Regardless, there will be a rookie quarterback on the team, maybe even two if the Dolphins double-dip like the Redskins did in 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. I’ll save that theory for another time, too.

But once the Dolphins have taken their guy next spring, I think they’ll look for an experienced veteran to fill in for a pedagogical role in the QB room.

One of them could still be Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it could be someone else, like Cam Newton…or Colin Kaepernick, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Newton would be a better fit for that role compared to Fitzpatrick, and he offers the ability to kill two birds with one stone. He can win games and bring up the rookie as he goes.

Travis Wingfield tossed around the idea of trading for Cam Newton on Tuesday’s LOD podcast. I liked the idea. Trade for Newton and draft someone like Jordan Love or Jalen Hurts, who are both much rawer than their Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa counterparts.

Of course, that’s Plan B. If Tagovailoa is still within reach, then draft him. If Burrow’s there, take him. If either of those two situations plays out, then all of the contingency plans go out the window.

But getting either Tagovailoa or Burrow is not a guarantee. So, having a scope on the other potential first-rounders is essential. I still like Jordan Love and his traits, but I also like Jalen Hurts, and I’m coming around on Justin Herbert. All three would benefit from redshirt seasons when entering the NFL.

And having the appropriate veteran guidance will be a huge blessing for the rookie’s development.

While I hope Plan A still comes to fruition, I also like the first backup plan. Here’s a caveat to Plan B, though. Trading for Newton is also not a guarantee.

There are several factors out of the Dolphins control, and that’s assuming that they are, in fact, interested in trading for Newton. If they are interested, then it becomes paramount that they can trade for him. At least they have their 2020 war chest of draft picks.

Now, back to my Kaepernick spiel. If Newton becomes a distant memory and Plan B crumbles, then Kaepernick jumps into the picture.

Kaepernick offers flexibility if the Dolphins do want Newton but can’t land him or if they’re going to save their picks outright.

If Newton is Plan B, then I’m viewing the signing of Kaepernick as a next-best Plan C. Newton and Kaepernick could both fit into the mold of teacher, but both also offer more upside than Ryan Fitzpatrick when it comes to winning games. It’s a way of having your cake and eating it too.

You wouldn’t have to trade for Kaepernick, and I doubt you’d have to fend off many other teams to sign him, either.

Allow an incubation period for the rookie quarterback while Newton or Kaepernick takes the reins for a season or two. Similar to how Patrick Mahomes held clipboards for most of his rookie season, grooming a rookie quarterback under the wings of a veteran could provide more sustainable growth for the rookie.

It’ll set up the rook to eventually blossom in a few years instead of being thrown to the wolves and also allow the Dolphins to find relevancy in short-term eras from one of the two mentioned veterans (Newton and Kaepernick).

So, would signing Kaepernick make sense? Yes, but only under certain conditions. I could see it become more likely that Kaepernick never joins the team, but there are scenarios, albeit limited ones, that could see him in orange and aqua.

But he could become a leader for the team and a teacher for the next-gen quarterback waiting in the wings.

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Miami Dolphins

Brian Flores – The Solution to Miami’s Two-Decade-Long Problem

Travis Wingfield

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The talent has been here all along, but the coaching hasn’t been, until now

Hot, muggy August mornings signal the best time of year for football fans in South Florida. As the Dolphins head to camp, the start of a new season looms on the horizon. This past August — Brian Flores’ first with the Dolphins — we saw a training camp in Davie unlike any before.

Individual drills, focusing on fundamentals and the core basics of the sport (blocking, defeating blocks, tackling, and drilling mental toughness and a mistake-free mindset), the practices featured very few team portions.

Boring as all get out for the fans in attendance, sure, but those foundational bricks have already laid the groundwork for the least-penalized team in the NFL. In the midst of a challenging season, those repetitive, grueling days have resulted in a team that ranks in the top 10 in tackling (9th-fewest missed tackles).

The 2019 Miami Dolphins training camp period was the most important month of Flores’ tenure as the man-in-charge, and it’s already paying massive dividends. The top-of-the-league rankings in the minute, yet crucial details of the game are tremendous, and even more valuable when considering the gems Miami discovered along the way.

Those gems aren’t exclusive to undrafted free agents and reclamation projects. The Dolphins are getting career years out of former top 50 picks in Devante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Raekwon McMillan.

Good coaching with premium talent is the best way to curate household names across the league, but a team without depth is a team that can’t succeed in this league. Uncovering both bonafide starters, and rotational parts from that scrap heap is the most encouraging aspect of Brian Flores’ first year in Miami.

Vince Biegel’s pass rush productivity marks are top 10 at his position from an efficiency standpoint.

Nik Needham was an undrafted free agent who’s gone from Conference USA to holding his own against NFL receivers. Needham’s coming off a two-game stretch where he made 14 tackles, and his first career sack and interception.

Jomal Wiltz was on the Patriots practice squad last season, and now he’s a valuable, versatile part of the defensive backfield. Ryan Lewis, Ken Crawley, Ken Webster have all contributed as in-season defensive back free agent signings as well.

Sep 15, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Miami Dolphins linebacker Vince Biegel (47) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

John Jenkins was a cut-down day acquisition, and all he’s done is led Miami in overall Pro Football Focus grade.

Eric Rowe was signed for close to nothing — a one-year, $3.5 million deal back in March. He struggled at cornerback early on, but since moving to a strong safety role — where he covers tight ends and plays a lot in the box — he’s playing some of the best ball of his career.

That list is impressive in its own right, and certainly inspires confidence in the Dolphins ability to succeed in this rebuild going forward. Even for the fan apprehensive to trust Chris Grier and company, it’s impossible to deny the widespread individual growth.

That’s where this next list comes into play. The Dolphins have had talent, and that’s evident by the players that have departed South Florida, and gone onto successful careers elsewhere.

For the sake of continuity and time elapsed relevance, we’ll go as far back as the beginning of the Joe Philbin era. Grier has been in Miami since 2007, but his role in each individual acquisition is impossible to gage. And that remains true even today as Miami — and all NFL teams — act as a gigantic collaboration.

With more than 30 scouts, college and professional personnel directors, a General Manager, Assistant General Manager, and nearly 20 coaches all serving underneath Owner Stephen Ross, nobody outside the walls in Miami knows who is responsible for which move.

To borrow the famed Bill Parcells mantra, the front office buys the groceries. From there, it’s up to the coaching staff to best prepare those ingredients and cook up a winning recipe. From Joe Philbin to Adam Gase, Miami have done very little to take on talent and produce an even better product on the other side.

We start in 2012 with the decision to trade the biggest name receiver this franchise has employed since Chris Chambers left at the 2007 trade deadline.

2012

Brandon Marshall – Marshall was an pro-bowl-level player at every stop except for Miami. His career fizzled towards retirement at the end, and he had a decent stretch in the 2011 season, but his two years in Miami produced the two worst statistical seasons out of the prime of his career. Marshall’s first year with the Bears resulted in a first-team All-Pro selection, a product of 1,508-yard season with 11 touchdowns — topping the two-year total (nine TD) with Miami.

Vontae Davis – The infamous grandma phone call request will never be forgotten, but Vontae got the last laugh on Miami. After three promising seasons with the Phins, Davis’ next four in Indianapolis produced two pro-bowls and 12 interceptions.

2013

Karlos Dansby – This move was a double whammy, as it was made to create space for all-time free agent bust in Dannell Ellerbe. Dansby didn’t make any pro-bowls after leaving Miami, but his first season in the dessert was a smashing success. He picked off four passes (two for touchdowns), broke up 19 passes, made 12 TFLs and registered his second-highest sack total of his career with 6.5.

Sean Smith – Smith infamously made a public comment during the Seahawks rise to prominence in 2012 about Richard Sherman and the freedom of Seattle’s cornerbacks within that scheme. Smith was promptly allowed to depart via free agency, but didn’t break the bank with the Kansas City Chiefs. Fresh off his new three-year, $18 million deal, Smith’s first year in KC resulted in an 84.7 passer rating against. Then, in 2014, Smith was PFF’s 6th-highest graded corner (Davis was 2nd.)

Tony McDaniel – Arriving via a conditional pick in 2009, McDaniel earned his way from the bottom of the depth chart into a rotational role. Then, in 2013, he left for Seattle and his career took off. His Pro Football Reference Approximate Value metric was never higher than 3 with Miami. His first two years in Seattle, McDaniel had an AV of 9 and 7. He made 94 tackles those two years, 12 more than his four-year total with the Dolphins.

2014

Nolan Carroll – A fifth-round pick in 2010, Carroll took some time to develop his game. Just as he did, the Dolphins allowed the Maryland product to walk in free agency. Carroll never became a lockdown cornerback, but he was a key role player for three years with the Eagles, starting 27 games his final two years there. His contract with Philadelphia paid him $5 million over two years — plenty affordable for cornerback depth.

2015

No notable losses. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Randy Starks never had jumps in production in their post-Miami careers.

2016

Olivier Vernon – Vernon received a monster contract from the Giants, but an extension could’ve reduced Miami’s cost on the hometown product. Drafted out of The U, Vernon’s breakout season happened in his contract year, and pushed Miami out of the market to bring him back entirely. Vernon’s highest AV mark in Miami was 8; his first season with the Giants nearly doubled that with an eye-popping 15 approximate value figure.

Lamar Miller – Another Miami native, Miller never took the league by storm the way some assumed he would, but he signed a cheap deal to move to Houston after the 2015 season. This is more of a nod to the Dolphins scouting staff to find a good player in the fourth round.

Rishard Matthews – Miami used a first-round pick on Devante Parker the year before, but that premium pick could’ve been used elsewhere if Miami were capable of self-scouting their own receiver corps. Matthews first season in Tennessee was the best of his career. His 945 yards and nine touchdowns were both career highs.

Billy Turner – A left tackle at North Dakota State, Turner was shuffled about the offensive line before flaming out in embarrassing fashion through a difficult 1-4 start to the 2016 season. Turner went on to start for the Broncos, where he impressed the Packers to the tune of a four-year, $28 million deal this past offseason.

2017

No notable departures

2018

Ndamukong Suh – The original signing was probably never a good idea, but Suh was an integral part of the Rams run to the Super Bowl last season. Again, this piece is to prove that Miami has done plenty to acquire talent over the years.

Mike Pouncey – Pouncey was a shell of his former self at this stage. Injuries were always the primary issue with Pouncey, but he was a first-round pick in 2011 that played in four pro bowls. There isn’t a football fan on earth that wouldn’t sign up for that return on the 15th pick in the draft.

2019

We can’t write the final story on Laremy Tunsil or Minkah Fitzpatrick yet, but those two, along with Kenyan Drake, provide Grier with quite the endorsement of the 2016 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick wasn’t a part of that class, but Xavien Howard was, and he remains in Miami.

We might look back on these trades of Tunsil and Fitzpatrick as catastrophic failures, but both will always hold superiority to Miami’s decision to part with so many of the names we just mentioned. The Dolphins received premium compensation for both players, including quarterback prices for Tunsil.

The Skinny

Now, with almost no considerable resources on his roster, Brian Flores is getting similar production from his stripped-down squad than what Adam Gase got the last two years. And Gase did it with far more money and accolades scattered throughout the locker room.

These types of blunders stretch all the way back to Rob Ninkovich, and Evan Mathis before him. The hope, with Brian Flores and his unique ability to develop players acquired off the scrap heap, is that those days are gone.

If they are, with all the premium resources Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie and the entire front office has to work with, the Dolphins can quickly become a team to be reckoned with for years to come.

@WingfieldNFL

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