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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://lockedondolph.wpengine.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://lockedondolph.wpengine.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

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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