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Miami Dolphins 2019 Training Camp Guide – Running Backs

Travis Wingfield

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

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Tight Ends
Wide Receivers
Offensive Line
Defensive Interior
Defensive Edge
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties
Specialists
Game-By-Game Predictions Part 1

Prologue:

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

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

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

Running Backs

Overview:

Far and away the most accomplished position group of the last half-decade, the Dolphins regularly uncover gems in the backfield. Gone is 2018’s lead-man (Frank Gore), as the focus shifts to fourth-year back Kenyan Drake. Behind Drake is a bevy of young, unproven players with versatile skill sets.

Therein lies the chief trait of backs in the new scheme — versatility. All three phases are a requirement to play in this multiple-package offense that will feature a fullback for the first time since the 2012 season.

Running Game Coordinator and Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville incorporated more variety in Miami’s ground-attack in 2018, his first year with the Dolphins. Studesville is one of two coaching holdovers from the previous regime, and with good reason.

Under Studesville’s tutelage, Gore posted his highest yards-per-carry average in seven years, Drake eclipsed 1,000 yards-from-scrimmage with 10 touchdowns, and Brandon Bolden ran the to the tune of 11.2 yards-per-carry. The ‘Phins — collectively — ranked seventh in the NFL in yards-per-carry.

Kenyan Drake 3 years of service (4th in MIA)
Jersey: 32
College: Alabama
Opening Day Age: 25.7
Contract Details: 1 Year Remaining, $2M total, $0 guaranteed

Drake’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

Part of a two-headed monster that carried the Dolphin offense in 2018, Drake was afforded minimal scoring opportunities (15 touches in the red zone), yet he still found pay dirt 10 times. A threat to score from anywhere on the field, Drake averaged 5.8 yards-per-touch with scoring plays of 54, 52, 33, 22, and 28 yards.

A report from ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe tells us that Drake has been given the task of studying James White’s role in the New England offense — a job that suits a back with Drake’s pass catching prowess. An increased workload, and unquestioned number-one-back status could lead to a monster season — in a contract year — for the star of the Miami Miracle.

2019 Projected Role: Starting back, 1a option, 65% snap-taker

Kalen Ballage 1 year of service (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 27
College: Arizona State
Opening Day Age: 23.6
Contract Details: 3 Years Remaining, $2M total, $0 guaranteed

Ballage’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

A supremely talented back that never produced to the level of expectation in college, Ballage was a standout at the 2018 Senior Bowl. There, his ability to run inside, outside, catch passes, and play the trigger-man in the wildcat cemented his mid-round draft status.

Ballage saw an increased workload down the stretch with 66 of his 92 snaps coming in the final three weeks last season. His highlight play was a 75-yard touchdown scamper in week 15, but the advanced metrics were not kind to Ballage. He went down on first contact on 43 of his 45 touches.

The new scheme should favor Ballage’s style as a multi-faceted back — especially with the integration of the I-formation, and off-set-I, behind a fullback.

2019 Projected Role: Rotating #2 back, 1b option, 40% snap-taker

Myles Gaskin Rookie
Jersey: 37
College: Washington
Opening Day Age: 22.7
Contract Details: 4 Years Remaining, $2.6M total, $90k guaranteed

Gaskin’s Film Study by Locked On Dolphins

A production-machine in college, Gaskin’s measurables aren’t eye-popping, but he squeezes the most out of every carry with a throwback style. With four years of 1,200-plus rushing yards, Gaskin is diverse enough to run zone or man (power) concepts.

Gaskin was an afterthought in Washington’s passing game, but he’s an adept pass protector with experience in the wildcat, pistol, from the gun and in a traditional pro-style set.

2019 Projected Role: Specific package back, 10% snap-taker

Mark Walton 1 year of service (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 9
College: Miami
Opening Day Age: 22.5
Contract Details: 1 Year Remaining (ERFA), $495k total, $0 guaranteed

Registering more arrests (3) than yards-per-carry (2.4) during his rookie season, Walton returns home to Miami for his last chance at a professional career. Walton flashed big-time ability, coupled with elite production, in his one complete season as a starter in college.

Brian Flores has a soft spot for players fighting to earn second chances. With the right direction from leadership, Walton has an opportunity to give the Dolphins a significant return on a no-risk investment.

2019 Projected Role: Specific package back, 5% snap-taker

Kenneth Farrow 1 year of service (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 34
College: Houston
Opening Day Age: 26.5
Contract Details: 2 Years Remaining (RFA), $1.2M total, $0 guaranteed

The compactly built Farrow earned considerable playing time his rookie year in 2016, but hasn’t taken a regular season snap since. Signing from the defunct AAF, Farrow carved out his niche as a short-yardage back and touchdown maker. Farrow has a pre-existing relationship with the Dolphins coaching staff; he spent the 2018 season with the Patriots practice squad.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

Patrick Laird Rookie
Jersey: 42
College: California
Opening Day Age: 24.0
Contract Details: 3 Years Remaining, $1.8M total, $0 guaranteed

Continuing a theme of high-character acquisitions, Laird is a self-made football player. He walked on at Cal and enjoyed a breakout junior campaign with 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns. Undrafted, Laird will have to defy the odds again to crack Miami’s opening day roster.

Laird’s best path to a career in the league is in the mold of Brandon Bolden — a special teams ace.

2019 Projected Role: Camp cut

Chandler Cox Fullback – Rookie
Jersey: 38
College: Auburn
Opening Day Age: 23.1
Contract Details: 4 Years Remaining, $2.5M total, $90K guaranteed

A lot is expected of Miami’s seventh-round pick. Coach Flores has consistently reiterated his desire to play with a fullback, and Cox is the only player on the roster with that position distinction.

Pigeonholing Cox as a fullback is a mistake, however. He functioned as a tight end, H-back, and even played quarterback for a few snaps at Auburn. He’s an intelligent, throwback player that will execute all of his assignments and force defenders into business decisions at the second-level.

2019 Projected Role: Fullback, 25% snap-taker

2019 Dolphins Running Backs at a Glance:

Running backs are valued commodities in New England, and it’s likely that trend travels to Miami with the Patriot influence on the new staff. New England targeted backs in the passing game on 33% of early-down plays, and relied on James White with the same frequency of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.

Drake’s abilities as a runner and pass-catcher will challenge O’Shea’s creativity, but Kenyan will need to revert to his 2017 pass protection ways for the staff to demonstrate confidence in the fourth-year back; the same is true for the entirety of the backfield.

The timeshare bears watching. Drake never carried the load — outside of his five-game stretch in 2017 — and the game plans will be match-up based. The Dolphins have to like what they have with Drake, Ballage, and the contingency of backs vying for duties behind the 1-2-punch.

This may well be Miami’s best position group.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins go back to the 2017 first round defensive end well, claim Charlton from waivers

The 2017 Dolphins were, sadly, one of the more anticipated teams this organization has assembled in recent memory. Fresh off a surprise 10-win season, heading into year-two of the new system, and bevy of players returning from injury had fans feeling optimistic.

Patching up the perceived holes on the roster — like the defensive end position — started with an atrocious Andre Branch extension, and ended on the draft’s opening night with a handful of edge rusher prospects ripe for picking.

Derek Barnett came off the board before Miami could pluck the future Super Bowl hero, but everyone else was available. Jonathan Allen was selected five picks ahead of the Dolphins, but he was billed more as a three and five-technique inside player, not a true edge rusher.

That left Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tak McKinley and T.J. Watt. Two of those players are off to sterling starts in their young careers — the other two are nearing their respective last legs, and both are now Miami Dolphins.

Charlton received his release from the Cowboys earlier this week after an under-whelming 34-game stay in Big D. Taco’s snap count is revealing of the feeling about the player among the Dallas staff.

 

Year Taco Charlton Defensive Snaps Played (% of Cowboys’ Defensive Snaps)
2017 399 (38.2%)
2018 401 (39.2%)
2019 0

 

A 40-percent snap-taker is typically indicative of one of two things for an edge player. He’s either a situational savant — whether that’s to support the run game or pin his ears back and get after the quarterback — or that he’s the second option in the rotation, A.K.A. a backup.

Charlton’s production suggests that he was the latter, and only because of his draft status. His descent into a game day inactive signaled the end of his time with the club that drafted him.

Rumors of a trade were speculated as the reason Charlton was a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games, but Head Coach Jason Garrett referred to the numbers game. “We have 10 guys on the active roster on the defensive line and we dressed eight for the game. It felt like the guys we had up there gave us the best chance,” Garrett said via a report from Bloggin’ The Boys.

Still, we have 800 reps to look at to figure out where it went wrong for Charlton, and if he possesses a legitimate shot to fit this scheme and carve out spot in the future plans of the NFL’s most steadfast rebuild operation.

First, let’s start with the type of player Charlton was supposed to be coming out of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.

The Dolphins are a team that adheres strongly to prototypes all over the field, but particularly in the trenches. Explosive metrics aren’t nearly as important as length, strength, read-and-react skillsets, intelligence to process and execute a variety of roles (stunts, twists, slants, picks), and most importantly, playing with heavy hands.

His fit begins with his build. At 6’6’’, 270-pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Charlton looks like plenty of defensive ends in a Brian Flores (Bill Belichick defense) before him. Charlton doesn’t check off all those boxes from the previous paragraph, but he hits enough of the buzz words to justify a flier.

This from Lance Zierlein of NFL Media.

That immediate get-off and quickness would’ve suited him better in Miami’s wide-9 alignment under Matt Burke. The length will benefit him, especially as he forces tackles to quickly get into their pass sets. The challenge will be developing a secondary move to work back inside and underneath the tackle.

The glowing praise for his twist, bend, and lower-body control will serve him well in a defense that will stunt, stunt, and stunt some more.

Most of all, the length will help him excel in this scheme as a run defender. To lock out and hold the point of attack are keys, and those are areas that put Charlton on the map as a first-round prospect.

The weaknesses from that blurb are alarming. Getting washed out of his gap by power and allowing blockers into his frame will earn him a quick ticket right out of town — those are the departments where the surprise cuts in Nate Orchard and Dewayne Hendrix struggled.

Lack of consistency, takes plays off, needs a coach that will push him — those are the final takeaways from Zierlein’s conversation with an anonymous AFC Executive.

If there’s any one thing you can point to with Flores as far as his football acumen — this excludes leadership and communication — it’s his ability to coach football (novel idea, huh?) This feels like a Flores pet project.

Let’s get into some of Charlton’s Dallas tenure, starting with his metrics from Pro Football Focus.

Charlton has 38 total pressures in his two years as a pro (4 sacks, 8 hits, 26 hurries). He compiled those numbers on 464 pass rush reps, a pressure on 8.2% of his pass rush snaps — not good. His 4.1 weighted pass rush productivity mark in 2018 ranked 132ndamong all edge rushers.

Charlton missed four tackles on 34 opportunities — an 11.8 missed tackle percentage, also not good. He made 23 run-stops on 346 snaps against the ground game. That mark — 6.6% — landed Charlton at 73rd among edge defenders in 2018, and 143rd in 2017.

The majority of Charlton’s work came from the right side of the defensive line (position vacated by Robert Quinn, currently held by a cast of many in Miami). Charlton lined up for pass rushing situations on the right side for 67.3% of his total reps.

Now, for the tape.

If Charlton can piece together the finer points of his game and develop a better arsenal or rush moves, he’ll stick as a building block. The decreased workload this year, his lack of production dating back to college, and inconsistencies makes one wonder about the drive and work habits.

We’ll quickly find out about the character of Charlton. If he embraces this opportunity, it’s a great landing spot for him. If not, he’ll be back on the unemployment line in short order.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton

Chris Kowalewski

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Only minutes after the Miami Dolphins’ Week 2 loss against the Patriots, Head Coach Brian Flores maintained that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback… “Right now”.

By Thursday afternoon, it became clear that “right now” had passed as Josh Rosen was announced to take over the starting QB position ahead of Miami’s first road trip this Sunday against the Cowboys.

Fans had caught intermittent glimpses of Rosen’s abilities through the preseason and he has seen the field during replacement duty in Weeks 1 and 2, so far completing 8/21 passes for 102 yards, 2 INTs and a 38.1% completion percentage.

While Rosen has not yet led the Dolphins to regular season points, the second year passer will find his opportunity to do so in Dallas and the Dolphins will be able to make further evaluation of 2018’s tenth overall pick.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s veteran standing and experience had given him the early advantage, but the time has arrived in for the Dolphins to see what the future may bring – if anything – for Josh Rosen in Miami.

Whilst the national attention seems to be focused on Chris Grier’s rebuild of the roster, the Dolphins have claimed former first round pick, DE Taco Charlton, released by the Cowboys on Wednesday.

Charlton was the Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection in 2017, having played in 27 games (7 starts) and registered 4.0 sacks and 47 combined tackles.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins Search to Stop the Bleeding in Big D

Who: Dolphins (0-2) at Cowboys (2-0)
When: Sunday September 22, 1:00 PM East
Where: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX
Weather: Dome
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +21

The hits keep coming for Miami. Another prominent fixture of the roster has been jettisoned, and another loaded team is on the docket for the downtrodden Dolphins.

This current iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is akin to what Miami hopes to build in a couple years’ time — stout trench play, emerging young quarterback, and star-studded skill positions.

Three touchdown underdogs for the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are introducing college point-spreads into the National Football League. Miami’s 19-point home handicap last week was the biggest such spread for a host team since the 2007 season, and the Dolphins are now channeling the 2013 Broncos-Jaguars game that climbed up over 25 points before betting closed.

The Dolphins were far more competitive last week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. Contributions from star Cornerback Xavien Howard, upstart Linebacker Jerome Baker, and surprising recent addition Vince Biegel were the silver linings in the 43-point thrashing; we’re looking for more of those in Dallas.

The Scheme:

Offense:

The switch from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore might’ve been the biggest upgrade in the NFL this offseason. Moore, a coach’s son that made it to the NFL for his cerebral prowess at the quarterback position, is dressing up Dallas’ offense with disguise, misdirection, and tendency breakers.

Dallas varies it’s running scheme, but the talent to execute simple gap-schemes and power concepts allows Moore to get creative with the play action game. Cowboys players praise Moore for his nuance and emphasis on getting players in position to exhibit their best traits.

Scheming chunk-plays in the passing game, running the football to keep the offense on schedule, and devising red zone concepts to free up pass catchers in the condensed area already has Moore’s name circulating as the next hot head coaching candidate.

Defense:

On top of impeccable front-seven talent, the Cowboys borrow concepts from some of the most accomplished, revolutionary defensive schemes in the history of the league. Rod Marinelli still carries the title of Defensive Coordinator, but it’s a co-op with he and the up-and-coming Kris Richard.

With elements of the Tampa-2 from Marinelli’s days with the Bucs — and more recently in Chicago — fused with Richard’s rendition of the wildly popular scheme originated by Pete Carroll, Dallas is successful in a multitude of packages and pre-snap disguises.

Creating one-on-one rush opportunities from their elite pass rushers, while playing a variety of cover-3, 2, and 1 on the back-end, the Cowboys can apply pressure while dropping seven — the ultimate goal of every NFL defense.

Look for Chad O’Shea to attack this defense with more in-breaking routes. That means high-low and drive concepts (designed to displace zone coverage and attack the middle of cover-1 and Tampa-2 defenses) and seam shots with the Cowboys drop two deep.

The Players:

Offense:

Dak Prescott is off to an MVP-caliber beginning to his 2019 season. Prescott handles pressure in two ways — the type of pressure applied by ferocious fronts, and the pressure of big moments. He’s accurate, creates opportunities off-script, and allows Kellen Moore to utilize designed runs.

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Then there’s Zeke Elliot, who’s just getting rolling. Zeke, behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line with the healthy Travis Frederic, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, Dallas can line up and push teams off the football.

The Dolphins must get big showings from Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins to hold the point-of-attack and free up Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to meet Zeke in the hole.

Amari Cooper is one of the game’s best route runners, and he pairs that with size and speed. He’ll be a tough matchup for Miami, unless Xavien Howard wants to travel with the Cowboys play maker. That opens up another bag of worms, especially as Miami will be working in a new safety alongside corner-convert, Bobby McCain.

Jason Witten is back, but he serves mostly as an additional lineman and the forgotten man in the red zone (as far as the defense is concerned, Witten has two touchdowns already on plays that schemed him wide open). Michael Gallup will miss this game while the resurgent Randal Cobb will help keep the Miami defense honest horizontally in the misdirection game.

Defense:

Jaylon Smith leads the defense with his instinctive, urgent playing style that pairs well with uncommon physical traits. He and Leighton Vander Esch set the tone in the middle of the Dallas defense, and a lot of the scheme is designed to free these two up to wreak havoc. Smith’s athleticism allows Marinelli to keep the Tampa-2 concept alive.

Demarcus Lawrence is set to have a field day. Miami haven’t been able to block anybody this year, and now will have to handle one of the game’s best pass rushers against deafening crowd noise.

Byron Jones has fallen out of favor in Dallas. The dependable Jeff Heath, and the underrated Xavier Woods make it so, while Chidobe Awuzie locks down the opposition’s number one receiver. Dallas’ vulnerability in this position group from the perimeter corner position opposite Awuzie. Jones has been playing corner to pair with slot specialist Jourdan Lewis and Awuzie.

If Miami can create one-on-one passing opportunities into the boundary, look for O’Shea to attack vertically and hope to steal some points — the best bet here is likely Preston Williams.

The Medical:

The Concerns:

Quite literally all over the football field. Dallas can line up with power and milk the Dolphins defense dry. They can attack vertically, or in the controlled passing game with well-timed shot plays built into the offense, all on top of exceptional red zone production in the early going of 2019.

Demarcus Lawrence leads the team in pressures, but he’s only pulled the quarterback down once — that ties the team lead. This Cowboys pass rush is going to be champing at the bit to pad those stats, and there’s no reason to think Miami can handle the relentless pressure, even without blitzing.

The Opportunities:

Special teams might be the one area Miami can spark some magic. The Dolphins are off to a slow start in this department as well, but Jakeem Grant’s big-play ability will be needed if Miami are to pull the miracle upset.

Finding vertical shots — whether it’s Mike Gesicki splitting the Tampa-2, Preston Williams winning an outside release into the boundary without safety help, or getting a fly-by from Grant, Miami needs some fireworks.

The Projected Outcome:

The game plan came together defensively in the first half against the Patriots, but it’s a challenge for even the league’s best stop-units to carry a lifeless offense. Unless the Dolphins can finally sustain some drives and convert in the red zone, this game will get out of hand. It’s doubtful Miami can do that, so look for an aggressive offense that tries to hit the big play.

Dallas just has too much star power and excellent coordinators for Miami to pick them off — or even cover.

Dolphins 6
Cowboys 31

@WingfieldNFL

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