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Linebackers: The Importance Of The Dolphins’ Deepest Group

Chris Kowalewski

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Dolphins fans have become accustomed to seeing it every week. 

The big play being given up. 

The converted 3rd down. 

The porous defense and loose coverage. 

Raise your hand if you can remember the last time the Dolphins had a defense which ranked in the top 10 in terms of yardage allowed.

I’ll wait…

If you’re there at the back with your hand in the air itching to shout about the days of Zach Thomas you’re not too far off.

Although Zach Thomas left the team in 2007, the Dolphins have not had a defensive unit which ranked in the top 10 for yards allowed since 2010, in which they managed an impressive 6th in the league. Whilst yardage was largely controlled, points were less so and they ended the year ranked 14th. Offensively, points scored counterbalanced any defensive success as the team finished in the lowly 30th spot.

Whilst the Dolphins’ offensive struggles have been charted and noted since the turn of the millennium, we’ll try to focus on the defensive group and how the Dolphins can try to return through respectability and back towards top-tier status with a lens focused on the talents of the linebackers.

The linebackers in 2010 were Karlos Dansby (78 tackles), Koa Misi (29 tackles) and Channing Crowder (33 tackles) with Cameron Wake leading the way with 14 sacks and stalwart safety Yeremiah Bell racking up 83 solo tackles.

For Dolfans, it may bring back fond memories as quite an impressive and promising group, but casting an eye back over the defensive statistics, it quickly becomes clear that for the best part of a decade the Dolphins have floundered between average and awful when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.

YEAR RANK (Points Allowed) RANK (Yards Allowed)
2010 14th 6th
2011 6th 15th
2012 7th 21st
2013 8th 21st
2014 20th 12th
2015 19th 25th
2016 18th 29th
2017 29th 16th
2018 27th 29th

The rankings for yardage and points allowed are particularly difficult to digest considering the defensive investments which the Dolphins had made over those years to try and plug the abyssal gaps in its defense with the costly signings of Ndamukong Suh (2015 – 6 years, $114m), Philip Wheeler (2013 – 5 years, $25m) and Dannell Ellerbe (2013 – 5 years, $35m), failed or underwhelming draft picks and whilst simultaneously attempting to manage and get the most out of the elite talents of a one-man-wrecking-crew in Cameron Wake.

The Dolphins have since been driven and guided by the ‘offensive minds’ of Joe Phibin and Adam Gase and whilst the hiring of Brian Flores now comes with a predominantly defensive background, he has a hand in all aspects of team-building and leadership and is looking to revamp the defensive scheme and lock down opposing teams once and for all..

It is inevitable and understandable that comparisons will ultimately be drawn and assumptions made from what we known about our North Eastern foes, due to the presence of a significant chunk of their coaching staff having recently transitioned to the warmer climes of Miami. With a proven track record in New England, the importance of the linebacking group cannot be understated and it is a system which Flores hopes to install in South Florida

As with any Belichick-based defense, the linebackers played a significant role in the success of the scheme as a whole and the 2018 group gave up a respectable 20.3 points per game which (similar to the 2010 Dolphins) was good enough for 6th in the NFL and saw them through to a superb performance under the direction of Coach Flores in the Super Bowl.

Flores himself, as a significant part of that success, clearly took pride in ensuring the focus of the players was strong upon their ability to stop the run, create pressure on the quarterback and provide coverage over the middle of the field. Too many times have Dolfans cursed at their TV sets watching linebacker get beaten for an easy 3rd down conversion, with opposing receivers and running backs seemingly free to graze on the pastures in the middle of the field on each snap.  It has become Flores’ primary mission to shut that down.

As the Dolphins took to the field on Thursday night for their first taste of 2019 pre-season football it offered the first glimpse into how Flores and Defensive Co-Ordinator Patrick Graham are likely to run Miami’s defensive scheme and how they intend on getting the most out of their players. As expected, the ‘base defense’ of 4-3/3-4 has evolved and the Dolphins lined up predominantly in 4-2-5 with a sprinkling of 3-2-6 and 3-3-5. It’s something which the Patriots have done very successfully during their reign of terror. 

The on-field display didn’t reveal everything we can expect (or at least hope for) from the 2019 Dolphins in terms of pass rush and QB pressure, but it is still far too early for any coach to show their hand. Regardless, training camp and Thursday’s performance have highlighted some reasons for hope as well as (more importantly) areas in need of work and following the game Coach Flores was the first to pound the table for at least one major improvement:

“I thought tackling was an issue, a major issue. And it’s something that we’ll work on, it’s something that we talk about. Tackling, communication, defending the deep part of the field. It wasn’t good enough. When you don’t tackle well you’re going to give up yardage. It’s as simple as that. That’s something we’ll spend a lot of time on.”

So as training camp continues to unfold and playbook installs continue to set themselves as second nature in the minds of the roster, let’s look at who Coach Flores (and the fans) will be looking at to improve the all-important linebacking unit in 2019.

At the top of the list is Jerome Baker, the promising second year player out of Ohio State. Over the course of his debut year, Baker has transitioned into the leader of the group, making the calls from his position and the expectation is on him to run the show on defense, making calls in both the running game and in coverage. Jerome Baker made strides throughout his rookie season and enters 2019 with a greater level of responsibility, greater swagger and greater trust from the defensive coaches – he is destined to have a big year if he can stay healthy. He is the leader of the defense will be a huge factor in their ability to generate pressure. He has electric burst and a high level of speed. Whether in practice or on the field, Baker seems to play at a different pace to everyone else around him leading the team in tackles in Thursday’s pre-season matchup. 

Entering his 3rd year in the NFL (yet only his 2nd with any regular season playing time due to an ACL tear in his rookie year) Raekwon McMillan is the setting himself to be the primary MLB in the Dolphins’ base defensive scheme. McMillan has however continued to struggle with ongoing injuries through training camp and did not see any action against the Falcons. His spot in camp has been replaced with heavy use of Sam Eguavoen – a practice monster who has also demonstrated power, speed and versatility to play multiple positions. Whilst hopes and expectations still remain equally high for McMillan, Sam Eguavoen’s practice reports have been very supportive and his confidence is expected to grow with continued playing time and reps – something which has clearly earned under Brian Flores’ close watch.

5th round rookie, Andrew Van Ginkel is a name to keep both eyes on. The Patriots had a habit of turning ‘no-name’ players into key playmakers and Van Ginkel could find himself occupying an important role as Flores’ scheme settles itself in South Beach. He is extremely versatile as a player and in a scheme which will undoubtedly change its face and adapt throughout the game, he could quickly find himself being an LBer who plays a lot of different positions and sees significant playing time. As well as bringing pressure from the edge, he has a nose for the football, can also transition inside and uses good recognition, speed and quickness in diagnosing and acting upon run plays. 

Another rookie, undrafted free agent TreWatson has been making a name for himself throughout training camp. With 4 tackles (2 solo) in his debut, Watson has shown throughout practice that he is a physical player with a good knack for disengaging himself from blocks and possesses a relentless pursuit. 

Terrill Hanks, a rookie at 6’2’’ and 241lbs is seemingly the fastest LB on the team and his 4 tackles (3 solo) against the Falcons showed coaches and fans alike that he has the speed and ability to make his presence felt on this team and provide depth to a group which will depend on versatility and flexibility. Hanks has an opportunity to make the most of his skills in chasing down players in pursuit as well as an ability to close the edge and makes plays in the backfield.

Whilst he continues to be listed as a starter on the ‘official’ depth chart, Kiko Alonso’s hold on the position is certainly under challenge by a group of young and hungry playmakers. But no-one should be complaining about the presence of competition on any level. Whilst Kiko received his fair share of criticism at times in coverage with his ‘boom-or-bust’ approach, it will be very interesting to see how he is used in a scheme which is without question going to be a much more tightly controlled than the recent defensive plans of Matt Burke. Alonso brings a level of leadership and hard-nosed playability to the young group, which only comes with veteran experience and the loosening of a few screws.

The group closes out its depth on with the return of backups Chase Allen (injured) Mike Hull (PUP), Quentin Poling and free agent addition Nick DeLuca. As they will continue to fight for playing time on the defense and special teams, a fact which has become a little lost in the franchise’s 2019 reboot is that the linebacker group could possibly be the deepest group on the field, outside of or even equalling the WR group – something which has been a complete rarity over the recent years.

No one should expect miracles as the team prepares to enter 2019, but don’t be surprised if you see those underwhelming defensive rankings rise and continue to steadily climb under Brian Flores and a speedy, young and talented defensive group.

Physically located across the pond, but mentally always in Miami. A qualified lawyer, NFL sponge, aspiring writer and self-proclaimed IKEA furniture construction expert, he’s looking ahead to a brighter future for the Dolphins after decades of wading in the depths of mediocrity. Always on the search for any excuse to talk all-things Dolphins.

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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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