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Kevin Dern’s Defensive Preview Part 1 – The Line

Travis Wingfield

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WRITTEN BY KEVIN DERN

I’m back for another year of my Defensive Preview.  As always, you’re being warned that this is a long-from piece and if that’s not for you, you should stop reading now. The 2017 season was basically over before it started the moment that Ryan Tannehill went down.  But we did see some glimpses of how good the defense can be during 2017.  We saw the defense play well during the first 5 games of the year, holding a 3rdin points allowed ranking and 5thagainst the run ranking.  Miami eviscerated Denver and New England in back-to-back weeks late in the season.  Miami played five different guys at safety next to Reshad Jones and played three different players at middle linebacker throughout the season.  All told, they finished 16thin total defense, smack dab in the middle of the league.  However, they finished 28thin points allowed.  But does that tell the whole story? What can we expect in 2018? Let’s dive in.

2017 Recap and 4-3 Wide-9 Overview
As you probably know by now, Miami runs the 4-3 Over Wide-9 front. This is the exact same defense that the Philadelphia Eagles rode en route to their Super Bowl victory last year. Most fans seem to dislike the wide-9 and cite giving up too many points as one of the reasons.  Let’s look at Miami last year.  Miami gave up 393 points, 29thin the league. However, consider that Miami’s defense wasn’t even on the field during 28 points scored:

– Two pick 6’s thrown by Matt Moore against Baltimore
– Fumbled kickoff in the endzone against Tampa Bay
– Jay Cutler pick 6 against Denver

You take off those 28 points, and Miami’s at 365 points, good for 20thin the league.  Not as bad, right? That’s not even considering several interceptions Cutler threw that put the defense in bad spots on the field.  Recall the picks against the Jets at home and at Carolina? That’s another 14 points allowed where the defense was in a tough spot through no fault of their own.  Take those away and you’re at 351 points allowed, 17thin the league. That’s right near the league average and sort of reflects their 16thin total defense ranking.  For the record, Miami was 14thagainst the run (110.5 ypg) and 16thagainst the pass (225.2 ypg).  Both of those totals are smack in the middle of the league.

Yes, Miami had some bad games defensively, I’ll be the first to admit that.  You can look at the home game against the Jets up until the 4thquarter, Baltimore, Carolina, the road game against New England, and they had bad moments at Buffalo and at Kansas City.  They also had some solid games against good opponents like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, and who could forget the near dominant performance against the Patriots on Monday Night Football? In my opinion, one of the biggest hindrances to the Dolphins defense was the lack of complementary football played by the offense.

Miami were 22ndin the league in terms of average time of possession and were shut out twice – in London against the Saints and at the Ravens.  They also scored on the very last play of the game in week 3 against the Jets.  That’s not good.  Another factor in Miami’s being decidedly average were injuries.  Raekwon McMillan missed the entire season with a torn ACL and subsequently Miami played Mike Hull, Rey Maualuga and Chase Allen all at MLB during the season.  Miami played four, that’s right, four, different guys at safety next to Reshad Jones throughout the season in Nate Allen, Michael Thomas, Maurice Smith, and T.J. McDonald.  They also missed William Hayes, their best run-stopping DE, for 5 games.  Even Cameron Wake endured a slump in the middle of the season tallying just two sacks in seven weeks from the Baltimore Thursday Night Football disaster through the win over the Patriots on Monday Night.

Taking all this in, what exactly is the 4-3 Over Wide-9? Well, the easiest way to explain it is to defer you to one of its co-creators. Jim Schwartz, now the Eagles Defensive Coordinator, helped create it with Jim Washburn, Miami’s former D-line coach, when both were assistants with the Tennessee Titans back in the early 2000s as a way to stop Edgerrin James and the famous Indianapolis Colts zone-stretch play.  Before reading any further, it’s required watching to view this video of Schwartz at a coaching clinic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf0k47oGl7g

What Schwartz and Washburn came up with, and what Schwartz is still running in Philadelphia today, is what Miami is running under Matt Burke.  Burke was a coaching intern with the Titans under Schwartz and coached linebackers for him in Detroit from 2009-13.  The wide-9 nine looks like this and derives its name from the strongside DE lining up in a 9 technique.

https://cdn10.phillymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Wide9.png

Moving on from Suh
Moving on from 2017 and the basic look of the defense, let’s tackle the issues for 2018.  First and foremost, Miami lost arguably the best player on their team in Ndamukong Suh, choosing to shed his contract and cut him and Suh has since signed with the Rams. What does that mean? In short, you’re losing a 3-technique DT that can do this:

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/BelatedScentedItaliangreyhound-max-1mb.gif

Suh was superb at eating double-teams and using his brute power to be a force against the run.  Suh also played 84% of Miami’s snaps in 2017, an absurd number for a DT. And despite the high snap count, you’re losing consistency in the middle.  Suh contributed 47 tackles (29 solo) 4.5 sacks, 8 stuffs, and 2 forced fumbles for Miami last year.  That’s a pretty good season for a DT who is getting double-teamed as frequently as Suh is. Miami didn’t sign a DT in free agency. Miami also didn’t draft one either. Miami signed two UDFAs in Anthony Moten and Jamiyus Pittman before trading a 2019 7thround pick to Detroit for Akeem Spence.  Since both Davon Godchaux, in my eyes Miami’s best DT, and Jordan Phillips are both better suited at RDT, Akeem Spence, who played under Miami D-line Coach Kris Kocurek last year, figures to get the first crack to replace Suh at LDT.  I’d imagine Vincent Taylor, who was impressive in limited action, probably has an inside track, for now, on the back up spot there.

Dec 3, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) is introduced prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But replacing Suh’s impact will take more than the efforts from Spence, Taylor and other DTs.  To borrow a phrase from the movie “Moneyball”, Miami are going to have replace Suh in the aggregate.  This means that Miami are going to have to count on better production from their linebackers, particularly against the run.  Getting a healthy Raekwon McMillan will go a long way toward ensuring that Miami’s defense doesn’t suffer a drop off after Suh’s departure.  So will improved play from Kiko Alonso, who figures to be the LB2 to start the season.  Hopefully whoever wins the competition for the LB3 job between Stephone Anthony and Jerome Baker, can provide something as well.  More about this competition later.  One top of the linebackers, adding Minkah Fitzpatrick to the secondary will figure to give Matt Burke more flexibility in terms of being able to play more dime packages (meaning less snaps for at least one LB), being able to play some big nickel packages (allowing Miami to have a bigger presence from their slot player and/or a faster presence at one LB spot), and allowing Miami to not rely on linebackers covering tight ends as frequently in base packages.  Keeping the ‘backers fresher will help all levels of the defense.

New Coaches
Another factor in helping to replace Ndamukong Suh is new D-line Coach Kris Kocurek, who like Burke, comes to Miami from Detroit.  Kocurek is joined by another former Detroit assistant in new Defensive Backs Coach Tony Oden.  Joining Oden to help with the secondary will be former Dolphin Renaldo Hill, who was at the University of Pittsburgh last year.

Starting with Kocurek up front, he’s know as an aggressive guy who coaches his players hard.  Miami can use that after they finished tied for 26thin sacks with 30 in 2017.  The 30 mark is a full 26 sacks behind the Steelers, who were tops in the league with 56. While I think his work will benefit individual players like Charles Harris and Andre Branch, I do wonder if we’ll see he and Matt Burke incorporate more stunts up front.  It’d also be nice to see if he can milk more consistency out of Jordan Phillips.  Phillips played really well the last six games of the season in 2017, but if he’s going to warrant a contract extension, we need to see that level of play for an entire year.

As for Tony Oden and Renaldo Hill, what they bring back to the coverage is going to relate to one name:  Nick Saban.  Tony Oden worked under Mel Tucker while he was an assistant with the Jaguars back in 2012. Mel Tucker came up under Saban and their time together dates back to when Tucker was a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1997 and 1998.  One of the DBs on Michigan State’s roster that year was Renaldo Hill.  Saban then acquired Hill as a player when he was the Dolphins head man in 2005-06. Funny how that works.  But, what it’s going to bring – and this was confirmed by Minkah Fitzpatrick who said that Miami’s defense “is pretty much the same as Alabama’s” (it most certainly isn’t in the front seven, so we know he’s talking about the secondary here), is that we’re going to see pattern-matching coverage.

For a full brief on pattern match coverages, here’s Nick Saban to explain it himself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM21euJf74g&t=169s

The short-hand summary of match coverage is that it’s sort of like in basketball when a team plays man-to-man defense, but switches on every screen.  With match coverage, if there are two receivers to a side, the widest defender stays with the widest receiver, UNLESS the second receiver crosses his face before a certain landmark.  This varies, but I’ve seen teams use 7, 8, and 10 yards as those landmarks and depending on the depth of the CBs pre-snap.

I actually wrote a piece on Tony Oden for Locked On Dolphins back when Miami first hired Tony Oden.  You can find that here:  https://www.lockedondolphins.com/dolphins/tony-odens-potential-impact-on-the-defense/

The gist of what that piece says is that we’re going to expect to see Miami use more than just standard nickel coverages in 2018 – this is a nice step forward for Matt Burke and the defense! Miami will likely still employ Cover 1, 2-man, Cover 3, Quarters, and press man, like they did in 2017. But the addition of match coverages, which I think well see a considerable amount of, will help Miami’s slot defenders, linebackers and box safeties, particularly in dime packages when guys like Howard and Tankersley are able to play press outside with a deep safety in the middle third of the field.

With the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, I think it will allow Miami to get more creative with how they use their personnel packages.  We’ll cover this when previewing the secondary in a bit.  But to sum up what Tony Oden means for Miami, it means you’re going to see more varied personnel groupings, more defined roles for each player in the back seven, and various combination coverages throughout the game. I think this will still fall under Matt Burke’s overarching philosophy of being more flexible on early downs, meaning he’ll play zone or combo coverages, and wanting to play more man coverage on 3rddowns.  All of this is good news.  It means we won’t have to see Kiko Alonso manned up on a tight end as much or see he and Stephone Anthony trying to drop into zones against speedy running backs because Miami’s beholden to the nickel formation.  In my opinion, varying up what Miami does in the secondary will help to make the defense better as a whole.  Considering where they were last year in terms of being middle of the pack and seeing just how good they were in certain games, that’s encouraging to me. Let’s move onto the position groups.

Defensive Line
“It all starts up front” so I’ll start there as well. I know OTAs and mini-camps only provide a glimpse of what we’re going to see once training camp and preseason games come around, but Charles Harris and Kris Kocurek both talked about Miami wanting to rotate their Defensive Line groups like Philadelphia, “like a hockey team”, by keeping fresh guys rotating into the game frequently.  Harris revealed after one OTA session that Kocurek called the groups Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.  Now, Miami’s not going to be keeping 12 defensive linemen (3 full units) on the 53-man roster, the math just doesn’t work that way.  But I think we could realistically see 10 guys in the D-line room come week 1.

Going by pictures and the brief two and three minute highlight videos Miami’s media team, which is excellent by the way, put together, going into camp one of the units consists of:

RDE Robert Quinn
RDT Jordan Phillips
LDT Akeem Spence
LDE Cameron Wake

Again, going into camp, this would strike me as the Alpha unit; the starters.  All four guys are vets so in my head it makes sense.  What I think will end up happening is that Davon Godchaux will prove that he’s ultimately the best DT Miami is carrying on the roster and he’ll work his way onto this line in some fashion.  After all, Jordan Phillips did play some LDT later in 2017, so he’s not averse to playing there.  The second line we saw consisted of:

RDE Charles Harris
RDT Davon Godchaux
LDT Vincent Taylor or Gabe Wright
LDE Andre Branch or William Hayes

People forget that Andre Branch played 2 years as a primarily LDE in Jacksonville before he came to the Dolphins in 2016 so he’s not completely foreign to that side.  But, he’s been more productive on the right side of the defense, which gives Miami three guys in Quinn, Harris and Branch who are suited to that side. It gives Miami two guys in Wake and Hayes suited to playing on the left.  And they have another guy in Cameron Malveaux, who played both sides and inside.

Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Akeem Spence (97) reacts to a stop against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Miami and Cameron Wake have both made it known that they may look to reduce his snaps this year to help keep him fresh.  To me, that’s a good thing, if they can get the rotations right.  Given that William Hayes is as good against the run as he is, I think Kocurek could look to bolster the run-stopping abilities of both the Alpha and Bravo units by inserting Hayes when the situation calls for it.  Hayes is also the only DE Miami has that’s capable of playing in a tighter alignment than normal.  He’s played some true 5 and true 6 technique, which allowed Miami to play some Under looks when the felt they needed to play hard against the run. Traditionally Miami’s ends are in a 9 technique on the strongside and in what Jim Schwartz calls a “wide 5” technique (which is really a ghost 7 technique alignment) on the weakside (no TE).

Ultimately, Miami can’t move on from Andre Branch due to his contract, so I think they’re going to have to try and get him to improve his play from 2017.  Yeah, he had an undisclosed knee injury, which makes the whole situation seem murky, but he’s had a nice bull rush ability and maybe Kocurek can get more out of him that way.  Robert Quinn being back in the wide-9 is a natural fit and we’ve heard Miami’s beat reporters all rave about him so far this offseason.

https://espngrantland.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/quinnrip.gif

One thing that really jumps out at you is Robert Quinn’s ability to dip and rip and turn the corner.  Laremy Tunsil commented on that after getting beat by Quinn for a sack in a minicamp practice.  The other thing that intrigues me is that as a former state champion wrestler Quinn is pretty strong despite being 257lbs.  You’ll also notice some nice change of direction here.

https://cdn.bleacherreport.net/temp_images/2013/11/05/Quinn.gif

Cameron Wake is an elite pass-rusher.  That hasn’t changed.  So if you can keep his snaps limited, relatively speaking, he may be more productive this year than he was in 2017.  What’s worth noting is that 2017 was the first year in his career he’s followed up a double-digit sack season with another double-digit sack season. Impressive.

Inside, as I mentioned before, I think Davon Godchaux is the best DT Miami has.  He was impressive as a rookie and yours truly got to see him live when he was at LSU back in 2016.  I think if he can be relied upon as a “starter”, Miami’s run defense can be expected to be about where it was in 2017 even without Suh.  If Jordan Phillips can produce more plays like this one, then he and Godchaux will seemingly have the RDT spot locked up well.

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/9024043/PhillipsTFLVsNE.gif

At LDT, the newcomer Akeem Spence seems to fit the mold that Miami’s been looking for in DTs.  Other than Jordan Phillips, who goes 6’6” 341lbs, all the other DTs Miami has on the roster are guys between 6’1” and 6’3” and 300-315lbs.  Spence falls in there at 6’1” 307lbs, so he’s a fire hydrant, but he can move a little.  I’ll refer you to Travis’ piece on Spence here:  https://www.lockedondolphins.com/dolphins/akeem-spences-fit-in-miamis-defense/

We also know that William Hayes will be playing some DT this year.  That figures to likely be in the nickel and dime packages, obvious pass-rush situations, so snaps may still be challenging to come by for the fourth DT, who I think will be Vincent Taylor.  Taylor saw something like 150 snaps as a rookie because Ndamukong Suh played so many snaps on a per game basis.  But, Taylor was pretty stout against the run.

Rounding out my D-line group is Cameron Malveaux, who tallied 1.5 sacks and was solid against the run when he got a late-season call up from the practice squad after William Hayes was IR’ed.  I think there’s still some potential in there; more than there ever was with Terence Fede, so I think Miami would be wise to keep him on the roster.  I don’t think they’ll keep a 10thguy active on game days, but he’s valuable depth and can play some on special teams.  However, until there’s another domino that falls in relation to the numbers game in front of him, Malveaux is 10thout of 10 in line in the D-line room.

Going with my gut, here’s how I’d predict the opening day D-line depth chart to look:

Right DE Robert Quinn Charles Harris Andre Branch
Right DT Davon Godchaux Jordan Phillips
Left DT Akeem Spence Vincent Taylor
Left DE Cameron Wake William Hayes Cameron Malveaux

I am intrigued by UDFA DT Jamiyus Pittman. Chris Kouffman had some good things to say about Pittman after Miami signed him and from the limited number of snaps I’ve seen of his, he seems a pretty savvy player.  He’s not a massive guy, nor is he explosive, but he has good recognition skills and I think he’s a guy I’d love to see on the practice squad this season.  I think there’s potential to develop him for down the road.  Let’s be honest, I don’t think Miami gives Jordan Phillips an extension unless he takes another BIG step in 2018.

@KevinMD4

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Miami Dolphins

25 Things We’ve Learned 25 Days into the 2019 Miami Dolphins Season

Travis Wingfield

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Camp kicked off 25 days ago, giving us a month’s worth of visual evidence; here’s what we know so far

Preseason reps are not the end-all-be-all, and training camp practices won’t put players in the Hall of Fame, but there’s a purpose every time the chinstrap is buckled. For a team that harps on the fundamentals and executing the job that has been asked on a down-by-down basis, every rep has meaning.

The NFL calendar never sleeps, but the true beginning of the 2019 Miami Dolphins season began on July 25, exactly 25 days ago. With 10 practices under my belt, an intra-squad scrimmage, and two preseason games digested to the max, these are the 25 things I’ve learned over this first month.

Some of these things are big, some are small, some are encouraging, some are concerning. We start with the biggest of them all.

Big Things:

1. Xavien Howard – Money Well Spent

Xavien Howard’s been targeted a lot over the last month. He’s allowed a few catches, mainly in unjust 1-on-1 periods, but he’s also pulled some down, too. A lot of them. And that trend has continued through a scrimmage, joint-practices with an opponent, and one live game. X, as he’s so aptly named, exemplifies Brian Flores’ message on and off the field.

2. Laremy Tunsil – Next in Line

There’s a term — set and forget — that refers to such a comfort level with said player, that you don’t even bother watching him. He’s got it. Laremy’s got it. The feet, hands, strength, athleticism, quickness; a trip to Tunsil island is a dreadful way to spend a Sunday afternoon for edge rushers.

3. Jerome Baker – Glow Up

His rookie year looked promising, but no one could’ve seen this coming, not this fast. Baker had a strong debut season, but he wasn’t a full-time player, and he had his vulnerabilities. Now, he’s doing everything under the sun with supreme professionalism and execution. He plays at a different speed and contributes in all three phases (blitz, cover, run-support).

4. Josh Rosen – Signs of Life

USA Today Sports Josh Rosen Miami Dolphins

Aug 16, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen (3) throws a pass in the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations always should’ve been low for a kid who is brand new to the league — brand new to his now third new home in three years, but that’s football. It was whatever in May. It was concerning in July. Then, in August, Miami’s second-round investment started playing a little freer. Getting into his second, third, sometimes fourth read, while moving away from a compromised pocket, things could be clicking.

It’s not a consistent theme yet — and it needs to be very good, and very consistent to push Miami off the 2020 QB Class — but that coveted trait, the consistency, is progressing. That much at least deserves monitoring.

5. Pass Rush Scheme – As Advertised

Saying goodbye to Cam Wake and Robert Quinn took a lot of juice off the edge for Miami. Those departures, and the Dolphins unsubstantiated interest in Trey Flowers, all but confirmed the shift to a new scheme that relied on games, gap integrity, and blitz packages to get after the quarterback.

Jerome Baker has been running free on QBs all camp and preseason. Charles Harris, Christian Wilkins, Tank Carradine, Dewayne Hendrix, Jonathan Ledbetter — a host of Dolphins blood-thirsty rushers are turning up the heat on opposing passers with regularity.

Encouraging Things –

6. Preston Williams – Star potential 

Despite his two-drop showing on the first-team Thursday, Preston Williams has shown true number-one receiver potential all summer. He’s crafty in the way he jostles for position, his strong hands are evident at the release from the line-of-scrimmage, as well as in catching the football. He transitions well enough out of breaks for a man of his size and stature.

At that build, with that catch radius, Williams’ deep-ball prowess has been the most encouraging. If he takes off in this capacity, once the games begin to count, this Miami receiving corps looks much more imposing.

7. Sam Eguavoen – Canadian Pipeline Still Flowing

Minor warts in Eguavoen’s game show up periodically, but his strengths far outweigh the parts of his game Miami will look to mask. He’s plenty adept at defending the edge, rushing the quarterback, and dropping into coverage.

The ability to close down on an underneath pass, but also fall off 15-yards downfield, is the type of versatility needed for a modern-day linebacker.

8. Bobby McCain – Experiment No More, He’s a Safety

Watch the broadcast version of a Miami preseason game and you might miss McCain altogether. He’s typically 12-20-yards off the football, but the opposition’s lack of interest in trying anything vertical is a testament to McCain’s quick acclimation.

All camp long, McCain was working on reading route concepts, flipping the hips, and taking proper angles in help-coverage. He has the makeup to do it, and so far it’s working out.

9. Mike Gesicki – Playing to his Strengths

Some writers suggest that Gesicki is falling out of favor, but I see a player doing exactly what he was drafted to do. He’s flexing out into the slot, in plus-splits (outside the numbers) and he’s uncovering with regularity in the passing game.

He’s only played a handful of snaps, and he’s created separation on all five of his preseason targets. Gesicki caught three of them, while the other two were misfires from the quarterback.

10. Jonathan Ledbetter – Aptitude for the Scheme

Eye-discipline, heavy hands, stout at the point-of-attack — you’ll often hear these phrases when the coaches discuss the prototype for defensive linemen. Ledbetter plays with his hands in front of his eyes, keeps his pad-level low, strikes first, and adheres to his responsibilities in the two-gap scheme.

11. Jason Sanders – Money in the Bank

If he missed kicks in training camp, I didn’t see them. Every time Sanders lines it up, he’s right down the fairway. This was true on hid 45- and 49-yard kicks on a soaked playing surface on Friday, as well as his 48- and 23-yard kicks in the preseason opener.Sanders added angled kickoffs to his game, and has been placing those chip shots precisely into the coffin corner.

Things that are Just Things:

12. Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun First-Team – Tipping the Offensive Plan

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that this pair of rookies have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both players frequently create push in the running game, but are a bit of a coin-flip in regards to pass protection.

Brian Flores spoke all offseason about his affinity for running the ball, and starting the rookies — — over a player like Chris Reed — serves as a pretty sound indicator for that preference. Our next bullet point speaks a similar language.

13. Chandler Cox – 21-Personnel Back in Miami

“Defending a fullback in the running game is a difficult thing for a linebacker to do.” That was Coach Flores’ comment back in minicamp when asked about the Chandler Cox selection. Miami has to play small-ball this year to find wins, and that means staying on schedule offensively.

Cox has had his ups-and-downs, and Miami gives reps to Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary as potential backups, but it doesn’t end with a fullback-tailback combination — Miami has regularly shown 21-personnel with dual tailbacks.

14. Jesse Davis – Tackle Tryout

A tackle in college, and position-less mutt through his first two years as a pro, Davis settled into a seemingly permanent right guard position last season. That didn’t go particularly well, and now Miami will kick him back outside with mixed results.

Davis, occasionally vulnerable in pass-pro, is better in the running game. He’s athletic enough to execute a number of pulls (counter trey, play-side), and should benefit from help by the running backs since Tunsil blocks out the sun on the other side.

Discouraging Things:

15. Devante Parker – Minor Ailments

Another ripping and roaring start to camp has since plateaued, both because of his play and another minor injury that sidelined the former first-rounder. Even if Parker posts career numbers this season, can Miami really trust him? The two-year contract was wise in that it gives the Dolphins the extended evaluation before pulling the trigger on a big extension.

At this stage, the emergence of Preston Williams might make that point entirely moot.

16. Chris Reed – Any Day Now

Training as the primary backup center to Daniel Kilgore, the chances are very likely that Reed has to come off the bench at some point this season, but I expected more. He has the intelligence and instincts to play above replacement level between a competent center-tackle bookend, but he’s not recaptured his first-team status since his day-three demotion.

17. Jalen Davis – Not Picking Up Where He Left Off

One of the pleasant surprises of yester-year, Davis’ strong finish to the 2018 season has yet to carry over. He’s been buried on the third-team and is struggling to find success at that level. It might be another year on the practice squad before Davis — primarily a slot — can contribute.

18. Matt Haack – Bottom Barrel Punting Average

Punting is not something I’m claiming expertise in, but I know that Haack ranked 25thin average last season, and he’s currently 27ththis preseason. He has the ability to boom balls into the atmosphere, but the shanks are far too common.

Bad Things:

19. Offensive Line – Offensive

Aug 9, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo reacts during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The Colts defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not been good. It’s the one position with a considerable amount of stink — cumulatively spread about — on the roster. From firing the coach of the room, to the on-field execution, only one thing aspect is consistently coming up on the list of pros: 78. This is mostly an individual’s checklist, but this group needs its condemning.

20. Dave DeGuglielmo – Where’s the Expertise?

Firing Pat Flaherty was an upgrade, according to many. So far, DeGuglielmo’s group is failing to properly communicate and pass off games from the defense, there are blown protections each week, and the backup units are utterly futile. He wasn’t given a lot to work with, but DeGuglielmo’s returns have not been pretty — Miami QBs have been sacked seven times in two games.

21. Swing Tackle – Swing and a Miss

Jordan Mills was thrown into the fire for an absent Laremy Tunsil in week-one, and the returns were disastrous. Mills missed Thursday’s game; taking his place, former AAF player, Jaryd Jones-Smith. The results were the same. If Miami loses either of Tunsil or Davis, things could get ugly quickly.

22. Secondary – Paper Thin

Xavien Howard is an all-pro, Eric Rowe looks the part, Minkah Fitzpatrick is excellent in coverage, and the safety trio is capable. Beyond those six, there might not be enough competent players to get through the season. The Patriots defense (similar schemes) rolls double digit defensive backs into the game plan throughout the year — the Dolphins are several bodies short of being able to say the same thing.

23. Reshad Jones – Cashing Checks

Jones missed 10 games in 2016 for a shoulder injury. He played through another shoulder ailment in 2017 and did not have a good season. Last year, he missed two more games, and voluntarily removed himself from a third. This year, he skipped OTAs (the voluntary portion), and has missed more practices than he’s been a part of.

Jones was running with the second-team throughout those healthy days, and he’s perfectly content to do that at his current pay rate.

24. Kenyan Drake – Time is Running Thin

Drake’s explosive skill set, versatility, and big-play ability was on display throughout camp, but an injury puts everything on hold. Miami are being discrete about the severity of the injury, but in a contract-year, Drake needs a consistent, strong showing for 17 weeks.

25. Raekwon McMillan – More Health Concerns

McMillan entered camp as a second-team ‘backer, earned first-team work early in camp, but has been missing ever since with an injury. As youngsters around him emerge, McMillan’s lack of involvement casts a cloud of uncertainty over his position on this roster.

It’s pretty clear what this Dolphins team is going to be this season. A smart team that — hopefully — doesn’t beat itself, but comes up short on talent in key areas. The defense should improve considerably from last season, and the offense remains a major question mark.

The showing of the defense in Tampa Bay is a great step in that direction, and further help is on the way (no Howard, Jones, McDonald, McMillan, or Andrew Van Ginkel for that game). Regardless of what happens on offense, with Miami’s deep free agent pockets, war chest of draft picks, and desire for that coveted top-five drafted quarterback, a surge on defense would spell a successful 2019 season.

Things are trending in that direction.

@WingfieldNFL

 

 

 

 

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Lose in Tampa — Preseason Week 2 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins Defense Dominates, Offensive Futility Leads to Defeat

Stat Dolphins Buccaneers
Total Yards 280 312
Rushing 118 75
Passing 162 237
Penalties 13/122 8/81
3rd/4thDown 2/15 4/15
Sacks For 4 5
TOP 27:43 32:17

 

Did Not Play:

CB: Xavien Howard
WR: Devante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant
S: Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Walt Aikens
OL: Zach Sterup, Jordan Mills
LB: Kiko Alonso, Andrew Van Ginkel, Raekwon McMillan, Chase Allen, Quentin Poling
RB: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage

The Skinny

Which would you like first, the good news, or the bad news?

The strong winds and heavy rain Friday night impacted both offenses at Raymond James Stadium. The Dolphins and Bucs exchanged field goals and punts in an exhibition game that went 54 minutes before its first touchdown (each team scored in the final 3:35).

Defensively, the Dolphins showed their collective teeth with some creative blitzes, constant pressure, and sound coverage on the back0end without the team’s best player (Xavien Howard).

After a demotion to the second-team before Tuesday’s practice, Charles Harris responded with a monster game. The 2017 first-rounder picked up two sacks and four additional QB hits on the night.

CFL signing Sam Eguavoen flashed on a similar level. The linebacker forced a fumble, made a pair of run stops and got his hands on a deep in-cut after falling back into coverage.

Jerome Baker — as you see by the above video clip — answered our question in the preview piece about his blitzing prowess. Baker was a menace in all three phases once again.

On offense, it was a struggle for the ‘Phins. The quarterback battle suddenly leans in a new direction — albeit it coming by-way of default scenario — and the offensive line has gone beyond catastrophically awful.

Let’s go position-by-position.

Quarterback

Josh Rosen played the entire first half and effectively moved the ball on a couple of series. Still, some accuracy issues, a late read on fourth-and-goal from the two, and another woeful interceptable pass (which was dropped) undid a lot of the goods Rosen showcased.

Those “goods” featured adequate pocket mobility, improved body language, and a continued strong effort when the plays mattered most (third down, two-minute drill). Rosen often had to get off the spot, find a new passing avenue, reset, and deliver the ball.

Miami dropped multiple balls in their own right, further putting Rosen at a disadvantage. The body language and demeanor that Brian Flores criticized his young QB for was demonstrably better in this game. He battled through difficult conditions, a fierce pass rush, and once again delivered a scoring drive in the final two minutes.

Rosen — as it stands right now — deserves the opening day nod. Though it doesn’t appear he’s going to get it; Flores quickly announced Fitzpatrick as the starter for next week’s game vs. the Jaguars.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play hasn’t inspired a lot of hope if he is indeed declared the starter. Fitzpatrick matched Rosen’s poor decision making, and struggled with his own accuracy all night. The veteran was thrown to the wolves and was constantly under duress, but if you compare his second-team showing to Rosen’s effort last week, the youngin’ clearly won that battle.

It would be entirely disingenuous to leave this video out of the post-game column.

Jake Rudock threw an inexcusable interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, but responded with the go-ahead touchdown-and-two-point drive in the final moments.

Running Backs

Kenyan Drake is out with an injury and Kalen Ballage did not play. Mark Walton was the beneficiary with plenty of work in the first half, excelling particularly in the passing game. Walton stuck a big time blitz pickup on a five-man rush and caught a slant, from a plus-split- for a first down.

Walton is pretty clearly the third best back on the roster, though he bounced a goal-line run that was built for a B-gap lead.

Patrick Laird ran for 45 yards on six carries. He’s a patient runner with quality vision and enough burst to make his runs work. Myles Gaskin teamed up in a few two-back sets, but he didn’t have a lot of room to work with.

Kenneth Farrow busted a big run, but it was the result of a massive lane opened up by the Miami blocking on a split zone, backside dig-out.

Chandler Cox is mixed bag — and this feels redundant. He hit some nice lead blocks, but wound up on the ground too much again. He was hit with a holding penalty tonight as well.

Wide Receivers

Burn the wide out film from this one. Drops, minimal separation, failure to get clean releases against press — Miami’s deepest offensive position group did not hold up its end of the bargain in the loss.

Preston Williams had a dreadful night. He had at least two drops, both of which would’ve moved the chains. He nearly came down with another ridiculous highlight reel catch where he tipped the ball to himself, and brought it in at the pylon, but his foot was on the chalk.

Kenny Stills might’ve been credited with a drop on the first play of the game, though it’s unclear if the ball was tipped. He did, however, convert a third-and-short on a drag route. Stills came in short-motion to create a stack, and then won with a clean release.

Isaiah Ford and Brice Butler had the best nights among the group — they had two catches and moved the chains once each. Ford uncovered in the end zone on the fourth-and-two play, but Rosen was a beat late and a hair low.

Saeed Blacknail uncovered for a big gainer and Trenton Irwin caught the two-point conversion on a wide open flat route.

Tight Ends

Nick O’Leary’s block sealed the edge on the long Farrow gallop. He caught one pass for five yards, and did his usual work blocking the edge in both the run and the pass game.

Mike Gesicki is showing continual signs of progress. He uncovered three times, caught two of the targets, and the third was considerably behind him on an open slant route.

Dewayne Allen committed a hold on a run from inside the five, and Durham Smythe had a 22-yard reception.

Offensive Line

Laremy Tunsil returned and showed Dolphins fans exactly why he needs an extension. The pay-day is coming, but the price goes up every time Tunsil gets isolated in protection and handles the task with ease. He’s so quick to gain depth and prevent speed rushes, or underneath moves — he’s elite.

The rest of the line…is not. Though Michael Deiter looked the part the majority of the night. He still has some reps where he bends at the waist, and is left to the vices of the man across from him, but he’s picking up combination blocks and playing sound, assignment football in this game. He was the next best behind Tunsil and reason for optimism on that left side.

Jesse Davis surrendered a sack when he overset, despite help available from the back, and lost on a counter move working inside.

It’s difficult to assign blame on some pressure looks, but Shaq Calhoun is often part of blown protections with a variety of right tackles. He does, however, continue to get adequate push in the running game.

The rest of the interior line was not good, Daniel Kilgore got taken for a couple of rides and communication issues continue to persist.

Miami’s search for a swing tackle is not going well. Jordan Mills was down tonight and his replacement — Jaryd Jones-Smith — was an absolute train wreck. He was consistently beat with a speed rush off the edge and just doesn’t have the quickness to play the left side.

Defensive Line

Coach Flores is going to test the mettle of his guys. He wants to put stress on a player, and when things appear to be coming together, take that strain up another notch.

For Charles Harris, perhaps this is exactly what the doctor ordered. Harris was a menace. He whipped starting Left Tackle Donovan Smith (video below) helping to end the Bucs first drive, and then went to work on poor backup tackle, Cole Boozer. Harris won with speed, with a counter moves, and he defended the run.

Welcome to the NFL, Christian Wilkins. The first-round pick was disruptive. Number 97 recorded his first sack, another bone-crushing hit on the quarterback, and consistent penetration all night long.

Davon Godchaux is bordering on the territory where we don’t need to mention him any more — he’s as steady as they come and a true power-player. He throws those hands and gets under his man with regularity.

Tank Carradine looks good pushing up field, chopping the tackles hands, and bending the edge. He disrupted a throw on his newly patented move, and laid a hit on the quarterback hit.

Jonathan Ledbetter checked in for some first-team work, and he continues to show why the coaches love him. He’s like Godchaux in the way he plays low, with heavy hands, and can really control the point-of-attack in the two-gap scheme.

Linebackers

Jerome Baker played 15 snaps last week, made five tackles, three for run-stuffs, but never blitzed. That changed tonight.

Baker has an innate sense for angles to the quarterback, coupled with a rare burst that allows him to effectively move the quarterback off the spot from any gap he rushes. He also continues to defend the edge as a run-stopper — he’s ultra-impressive.

So was Sam Eguavoen. With four splash plays in the first half — including a forced fumble — Eguavoen displayed everything that has earned him first-team work. He’s athletic enough to get 10-yards deep into a pass drop (one PBU from that position), he’s strong enough to stack the edge in the run-game (one TFL there), and he’s instinctive enough to knife between blocks between the tackles (another TFL there).

The 26-year-old rookie’s most impressive play came in coverage (second clip in the video below). Carrying coverage up the seam, locating the hook zone, and then quickly pulling the trigger as the ball goes out to the flat, Eguavoen punished the receiver and forced a turnover.

Nick Deluca played with the first-team. It’s pretty clear what he does well and how he fits in this defense. He can scrape the edge and assist in the run game — something Miami needs with the injuries at the position mounting.

 

Cornerbacks

Xavien Howard was held out of this one, probably because of the weather, but we got our first look at Eric Rowe. Rowe’s appearance was brief and not memorable one way or the other.

Jomal Wiltz, Nik Needham, and Minkah Fitzpatrick struggled. Tackling was an issue for the two slots while Needham was bested in coverage again.

Minkah Fitzpatrick did contribute with a gorgeous pass breakup early on against former Bama teammate O.J. Howard, but these missed tackles are new for him — there’s no reason to think he won’t clean it up.

Torry McTyer competed for the second straight game, and this time against the two’s. He’s taking well to the press-man scheme this defense prefers to run.

Safeties

Chris Lammons flashed time-and-time again. A prominent fixture on special teams, his #30 jersey showed up against the run, the pass, and one very impressive tackle on a screen pass.

Bobby McCain is so often out of frame that it’s difficult to identify him on the broadcast. He did, however, come up once in run support like a missile, and has done well to click-and-close in deep coverage.

Montre Hartage is running as the second-team deep safety. He missed a tackle on a big play in the screen game, but it was whistled back on a holding call.

Maurice Smith was active in the middle of the field. If Reshad Jones and/or T.J. McDonald aren’t back for the season opener, Smith might be called on to play significant reps.

Recap

This is the team I expected to see last week. Strong defensive effort, creative and complex scheme that overwhelms the offense with its disguise, and an offense that can’t get out of its own way.

After the dominant first-half effort by the defense, Flores kept prominent defenders (Harris, Fitzpatrick, Eguavoen) on the field, which felt odd.

The primary specialist unit continues to look the same. Cornell Armstrong, Nick Deluca, Terrill Hanks, Cox, Smith, Hartage, Wiltz, Fitzpatrick, Smythe, and Lammons remain focal points of the unit.

Miami took the lead with only 34 seconds to play, and Flores will certainly express his displeasure for the inability to close. Not to mention the absurd number of penalties. This was simply a sloppy game on Flores’ road debut.

Jason Sanders is a hell of a kicker. He drilled kicks right down the middle from 45 and 49-yards out on a sloppy playing surface.

Regardless of who starts under center, this team needs several things to function on that side of the ball. Kenyan Drake, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant need to get back, and Laremy Tunsil has to stay healthy.

All things told, Rosen has been making more out of a bad situation than Fitzpatrick, but the plan was probably to start the veteran on opening day all along — and we’re almost assured of that with the decision to start Fitz in the third preseason game.

Game Balls:

Charles Harris
Sam Eguavoen
Jerome Baker
Christian Wilkins
Patrick Laird

Don’t forget to check out the post-game recap on the Locked On Dolphins Podcast.

@WingfieldNFL

 

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins First-Half Jiffy Report v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shawn Digity

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USA Today Sports Miami Dolphins Preston Williams
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

Who are the Miami Dolphins’ risers and fallers in the first half of the second preseason game v. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Risers

Sam Eguavoen

The former CFL linebacker has continued to impress, and that was on full display during the first half. Eguavoen was shooting gaps and hitting the ball-carrier in the backfield.

He also was responsible for a forced fumble that was recovered by the Miami Dolphins. All arrows are pointing up for Eguavoen to make the roster and an impact for the team during the regular season.

Jerome Baker

Baker quickly made an impact as a blitzer as he rapidly got to Jameis Winston and at least got hits out of that exchange. While Baker needs to get stronger to bring down the quarterbacks and get sacks, it was a great sign to see Baker show this type of pressure.

Charles Harris

Have you noticed all the Risers are defensive players? Well, many of the defensive guys have flashed and surprised me so far in the game.

Harris showed some progression going into his third year, especially in this game. He showed improved hand-placement techniques and used it to get two sacks.

Fallers

Preston Williams

Williams had two major drops that could’ve been first downs. Williams has been a hot name for the past couple of weeks but has cooled down a little bit if this first half is any indication.

I don’t think it’s anything major; I’m sure he’ll get it cleaned up, but he’s fallen back down to Earth somewhat with the easy drops.

Williams did almost redeem himself with a nearly acrobatic touchdown catch but had just barely gone out of bounds.

Michael Deiter

It was only a matter of time before Deiter started struggling. He’s a still a rookie after all. He was responsible for a false start and got lucky that another was missed. It was just all-around rough for Deiter.

 

 

 

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