For the first time, the pads come on, and some new stars emerge
“Tough, smart, disciplined has been beat into my head my entire life.” New Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores has quickly cultivated a mantra in Miami, and everything he says and does is with that adage in mind.
Asked what it means to play disciplined football, Flores responded in a manner that almost seemed rehearsed. “A team that doesn’t beat itself, a team that stays poised when it’s chippy and when they’re tired,” Flores said.
Every player in the National Football League is talented, but it’s the work ethic and drive that turns a good player into a superstar. “To maximize your potential you have to show the determination, grit, and discipline to work harder. Especially when you’re tired. When it’s hot, and you have to fight through it.”
Three days into practice, and it’s abundantly clear — this team has taken on the personality of the head coach. His energy and strict structure permeates through the coaching staff, throughout the roster, and the organization.
The practice structure and script is finely orchestrated to achieve maximum efficiency, and keep players engaged. Drill periods are brief. Players bounce from drill-to-drill with minimal downtime.
As has been the case all week, particular periods are the focus of the day. The team will split off into these drills, then gather for team periods, and then return to the specific fundamental drills. Players that may have struggled in the team period will get specific teaching sessions from their position coaches.
With players donning full pads for the first time, the focus of the day was about the basics of the game. “The stuff you learn in Pop Warner,” Flores said. “Shoulders over knees, knees over toes. You can never forget about the physicality of the game. You can’t make the tackle until you defeat the block.”
Tackling, blocking and defeating blocks; that was the message of the day. The team opened with blocking drills all across the field. A fun moment, the receivers were acting as dummies for their position mates in these drills. One such event brought Trenton Irwin in to block Jakeem Grant. Irwin nailed the hand placement and lifted Grant like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.
Game on! After a pair of difficult days, Josh Rosen was the best of the group; though it could’ve come as a default happenstance. Rosen’s struggles from day’s one and two spilled over into the individual and one-on-one portions of practice. In the same drill I discussed yesterday — throwing to stationary targets — Rosen put his first ball on the outside knee cap of the coach. Then, in combination route drills he threw a pick, missed a middle-of-the-field read, and had some more accuracy issues.
Rosen responded in a big way in the team and red zone periods. There’s no question about who throws the prettiest ball in this room. When Rosen gets his mechanics aligned, he drives the ball with elite-level spin and velocity. The concern is that these mechanics come-and-go too often. As I detailed in the Book On Josh Rosen scouting report this offseason, the leg-drive and hip-rotation both sometimes vanish, causing Rosen to open his front shoulder and lose power on his passes.
Rosen put on a touch-passing clinic, however. He picked up a pair of touchdowns that most quarterbacks probably aren’t hitting — one an over route to the pylon to Irwin; another on a wheel at the pylon to Nick O’Leary between an underneath corner and a rotating safety.
Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled from the first throw as well. The ball was coming out of his hand wobbly at times, he turned it over, and was sent to the T.N.T. wall, after receiving a tongue-lashing from Coach Flores. The cause of the verbal abuse came when Fitzpatrick and Chris Reed flubbed a quarterback-center exchange (more on the OL reps later). Maybe it was the pads, maybe it was an off-day, but Fitz just didn’t have the command on the ball (accuracy) today.
The difference can essentially be boiled down to this:
Rosen has the more talented, live arm. Fitzpatrick’s trust in his eyes and reads are on another level. The gap between the two in the latter category is greater than the gap in the former; especially considering Rosen’s accuracy digressions.
I’ve neglected this group through the first two days because it’s difficult to get a good idea without the pads on. A nightmare goal line session to end practice — more on that on the defensive units — put an ominous cloud over what was an otherwise solid day from the group.
Chris Reed kicked ass in a veritable package of assignments, including some work at center. He looks the part of, not just a starting NFL guard, but an above average one. Jesse Davis operates well in space too, this has the makings of the best guard pairing the Dolphins have featured in some time.
Jordan Mills had a nice day including a nice block off the edge to spring a Kalen Ballage touchdown run. The nice thing about being here is the opportunity to see effort-level and how the guys interact with one another. The final period of the day was a hurry-up drill where the offense ran a play, and then the punt team sprinted onto the field. Mills beat everybody off the field — everybody. A nice finish to a promising day.
Daniel Kilgore had his best day as well. He looks healthy and ready to go after missing 12 games last season. His presence on the inside likely has an impact on this next bit.
The cohesion of the group appears to be ahead of where last year’s line was — even into the season. The protection slides, picking up blitzes, passing off…the first-team line might be best suited to stay as it has been when the season kicks off.
That first team line goes: Tunsil-Reed-Kilgore-Davis-Mills
Michael Deiter has been working in at left guard, right guard, and an occasional rep at center. He told me after practice that he basically only plays center when Dan [Kilgore] needs a breather. I followed up by asking him about his versatility in college and if he had a preferred position. Deiter doesn’t prefer a specific position, but he enjoys playing on the interior opposed to tackle.
The second team line wasn’t as effective and featured some shuffling. Newcomer Will Holden had a nice block on a pull, and name-UDFA Shaq Calhoun was beaten badly for a sack by Akeem Spence.
The goal line stands at the end of practice wrapped up a solid day from this group. Spence was active, Vincent Taylor and Adolphus Washington knifed into the backfield several times, Davon Godchaux continues to play with one of the best pad-levels in football, and the edge position stood out both in good and bad ways.
Despite a couple of gaffes off the edge in the running game, the candidates for the five-tech position made some noise. Tank Carradine has been very effective thus far, and Charles Harris is playing faster and with more confidence. Harris made the play of the day when he worked down the line-of-scrimmage, after Godchaux blew the play up inside, and put a stick on the ball carrier resulting in a tackle-for-loss.
Minkah Fitzpatrick LOVED this — more on him in a minute.
Dewayne Hendrix versus Jonathan Ledbetter has quickly become one of my favorite battles of camp. I’d wager that at least one of them is on the opening day roster. Hendrix roasted Jaryd Jones-Smith for a would be sack in the team period.
Christian Wilkins has been quite so far. His best play came with a reaming, however. Wilkins blew by the line with his signature quickness, but didn’t finish the rep as the ball-carrier took it outside. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham came unglued after the fact.
The term starter is probably an antiquated word in this defense. The package will determine the line-up, and one such lineup saw Wilkins and Carradine bookending Spence and Godcaux on the inside.
Sam Eguavoen raised eyebrows when he opened with the first-team in practice number one. Then he did it again on day-two, and was right there again on day-three.
The former CFL star really got people chirping with his performance today.
In the initial period, Eguavoen embodied the things Flores alluded to in his media availability. The ‘backer met the lead back in the hole, smacked him in the mouth, came off the block, and wrapped up the back. That hit set a tone for the rest of the practice.
In addition to taking to the defensive scheme with innate instincts early, he was on the first team in red-zone seven-on-seven, he was out there with the ones on goal line, and he made plays in nearly every portion — he’s been a star of camp so far.
As is the case with the defensive line, the linebackers will likely be package-based. Jerome Baker continues to open practice with Eguavoen, but varying fronts change bodies out.
Raekwon McMillan looks like the same player attacking downhill against the run, and Kiko Alonso figures to use his reckless abandon and aggressiveness as a strength in this defense.
Alonso ran into a not-so-welcomed foe again, however — coverage. The ‘backers faced up on the running backs in coverage in one-on-ones and Alonso attacked Kalen Ballage downhill. Ballage cooked the veteran on the rep.
We’ve speculated all offseason about the use the Patriots style of committing bodies to gaps to force the offense into throwing against the aggressive press coverage. This brings linebackers down on the ball, off the edge, with one off-ball linebacker placed over the center (five yards off) — that was McMillan.
Without offering much detail, Chase Allen has found some unique roles in the defense. The same is true of T.J. McDonald.
Nate Orchard was pinned in a couple of times working the edge in the run-game.
Just about everybody from the first-team snatched a pick today. Bobby McCain undercut Rosen, Eric Rowe took down an under-thrown fade route to Devante Parker, and Xavien Howard pulled one down after matching Kenny Stills step-for-step up the perimeter. Howard almost nabbed another in seven-on-seven when he came off his man and robbed a seam route (looked just like the first INT in the Colts game last year).
An interception was about the only thing missing from Minkah Fitzpatrick’s practice resume on the day. The “defensive player” as I’m calling him — because pigeonholing him at one position is simply not accurate — not only handles his coverage responsibilities like an all-pro, he’s involved in the running game.
Turn on Patriots film and you’ll see safeties coming down with particular gap responsibilities in the run-game, and while this might be best suited for Reshad Jones, Fitzpatrick is certainly going to be the lynchpin in this regard, and many other aspects of the defense. I can’t say one negative thing about Miami’s 2018 first-rounder — he and superstardom are on a collision course for one another.
The same press and mirror drills happened again — that’s been a daily occurrence.
Tyler Patmon has had a nice start to camp. He’s savvy when it comes to using the sideline as an extra defender.
The punt teams worked out on the near field for the first time and we received a good, consistent look at the players involved. Anytime Walt Aikens is involved, you know the surrounding parts are being considered for work.
With Bobby McCain the marquee name of the group, Cornell Armstrong, Nik Needham, Maurice Smith and Montre Hartage saw a lot of work in these periods.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Dolphins receiving group has been denigrated by the national media, and that’s a mistake on their part. Kenny Stills wins consistently, regardless of split, alignment, or route. Devante Parker looks strong and more competitive at the catch-point. Fool me three times, sure, but he’s playing hungry right now.
Albert Wilson had a limited day of work, but his fellow speedster, Jakeem Grant, continues to wow the crowd. His releases off the line-of-scrimmage are daily must-see action. He created a solid five yards of separation on Jalen Davis on one rep in a particular, but dropped the pass.
Grant consistently stacks the defensive back or puts them in the spin-cycle — Needham was a victim today.
Preston Williams had a nice practice. He got the best of NFL Network’s 55th-best player (Howard) in one-on-one. Williams is involved heavily in each portion, including some work as a gunner.
Trenton Irwin quietly makes plays every day, and he’s also back with Drake and Grant on punt return.
It was a quiet day from the tight ends in the passing game. The bulk of their work came in the ground game — understandable given the nature of today’s lessons. I’ll admit to not seeing a lot of Mike Gesicki action, but he wasn’t involved in the receiving game as much as he had been the first two days — possibly a concern given his penchant for struggling with contact.
Kalen Ballage continues to begin practice as the top back, but it’s more semantics than anything. The good news is that the Dolphins look to have two capable runners — Ballage was a perfect combination of explosive and patient. One run in particular saw him wait for Laremy Tunsil to gain leverage, throw a stutter step at the defense, and scamper into the end-zone from 14 yards out.
The knock on Ballage has been his poor vision — frankly, the most integral part to playing the position — but if he takes strides in that area, there’s no limit on how good he can potentially be.
Kenyan Drake scored a touchdown on an outside run and continues to get work on the punt return.
Undrafted free agent Patrick Laird had a nice day. He, like Ballage, showed some patience as a ball carrier and effectiveness in the passing game.
Chandler Cox is all gas no brakes. He either explodes the lead lane like a stick of dynamite, or winds up on the ground — very little in-between with him.
There are some plays I missed and some things I’m not permitted to discuss, but the day was a successful one from a team perspective. The pace of practice makes things difficult to track the entire thing, but also very entertaining for the fans.
Today had a little bit of everything. Highlight plays, big touchdowns, takeaways for the defense, quality communication, and varying packages on either side of the ball.
It hasn’t yet been announced if the pads will be back on for tomorrow’s work, but as always, I’ll be there with the Tweet machine running early and often.
Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts
As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.
The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.
We have been awarded CB Javaris Davis from Kansas City and have waived/non-football injury TE Michael Roberts. We have also placed the following players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: LS Blake Ferguson, DT Benito Jones and CB Cordrea Tankersley. pic.twitter.com/0l3CD2H4Rv
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) July 27, 2020
Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.
A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.
At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.
In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game
If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.
The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.
Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.
The Better Player Plays
With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.
In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?
We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.
Not only did Brian Flores refuse to do anything he felt would not give his team the best chance to win, and not only were free agents impressed, but they got their QB. They got Tua. A new era for the Miami Dolphins.
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 24, 2020
Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.
Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.
Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?
I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.
Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.
Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.
Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.
There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…
The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.
Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.
A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.
Yards & TDs Given Up Over The Past 2 Seasons
Richard Sherman 713 / 3
Byron Jones 981 / 5
Joe Haden 1,068 / 9
Tre White 1,087 / 2
Stephon Gilmore 1,117 / 5
Darius Slay 1,214 / 9
Marcus Peters 1,376 / 12
Jalen Ramsey 1,405 / 4
Marshon Lattimore 1,492 / 6
Jaire Alexander 1,649 / 8
— A Fan’s Edition (@AFansEdition) July 23, 2020
In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.
And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.
Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:
- Learn his way around the NFL
- Understand the playbook better
- Observe the game from the sideline
- Gain chemistry with his receivers
Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…
I’m Sure He’s Healthy…
Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.
While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.
The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.
Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.
Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.
The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.
Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen
After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.
According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.
Bears are trading TE Adam Shaheen to the Dolphins for a conditional 2021 sixth-round draft pick, per source with knowledge of the transaction.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 25, 2020
A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.
Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).
Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.
Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.
It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.
We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.
These Adam Shaheen receptions are all from the same drive. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see him more comfortable in year two coming from Ashland.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 12, 2018
- Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts July 27, 2020
- In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game July 27, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen July 25, 2020
- Miami Dolphins’ Jones and Howard land in top 10 CB rankings June 24, 2020
- Are the Dolphins Done Reshaping the Roster for 2020? May 19, 2020