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Miami Dolphins 2019 Training Camp Journal – Day 4 (July 28)

Travis Wingfield

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Sloppy practice results in harsh discipline, opportunity to set a precedent

The monotony of a NFL season can breed complacency — especially during the dog days of training camp. From the morning alarm, to lights out in the evening, the operation is one of repetition. Without sound leadership, players can slip through the cracks.

A key trait of leadership is consistency. Delivering an unwavering message, while maintaining an undeviating persona, is crucial for a quarterback to earn the respect of his teammates.

For a Head Coach, the imperative nature of that consistency is tenfold. And that’s who Brian Flores has been since his hiring back in February.

Toughness, fundamentals, and the will to compete regardless of the circumstances — those will be the staples of the Flores regime, for better or worse.

The second day of padded practice saw the team back in the South Florida heat drilling the same fundamentals from yesterday. Tackling, blocking, and defeating blocks. The rampant pace of each drill — some lasting less than five minutes — continues to keep the players active and moving about the practice field at Nova Southeastern University.

A watered down version of Oklahoma drills made two appearances on the day, and the goal line competition wrapped up the session for the second-consecutive day.

Perhaps it was the redundancy that made the team think it could coast through the final half-hour of practice, and into the first off-day of the season. Instead, that mentality was met with a harsh reminder that Brian Flores is all business.

Through the first three days of camp, individual players have made trips to the now infamous ‘Takes No Talent’ wall. On Sunday, however, the entire offensive unit made an excursion after multiple mistakes in the goal-line session.

The defense was sent packing on two separate occasions — one for a substitution error that saw the positional coaches join the players on the trek.

Flores spoke about the value of every minute during the work day, and he wasn’t about to let the team sleepwalk through the final moments under the grueling sunshine.

The new sheriff in town is developing a program that sets expectations, follows through on the standards of those expectations, and incorporates a rinse-repeat mentality until things are done the correct way.

Accountability isn’t the only drastic change under new management. Keeping tabs on Flores throughout the two-hour session is a difficult task. He spends time with each positional unit, but also finds the balance to allow the assistants to execute their jobs.

Quarterbacks

It’s probably best that the team is off tomorrow. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen can take the down time to learn from the first four days, and try to apply new lessons to correct mistakes — those mistakes were aplenty on Sunday.

Jul 25, 2019; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen (3) during practice drills at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start with Rosen. Once again, in the warm-up period, he was extremely erratic. On three consecutive throws against air, he located passes off the mark on a basic 10-yard out-routes. The first was on the back hip and uncatchable. The next was on the back shoulder, forcing the receiver to contort to make the grab. The third short-hopped the intended target.

This isn’t the type of thrower Josh Rosen is, not on air. Perhaps he’s adjusting to the humidity and all the sweat that comes with playing football in Miami in July — at the end of practice he removed and wrung out his wristbands; it looked like he was emptying a full 20-ounce bottle of water with each one — but he’s just not feeling it right now.

That is, at least until things go live. He improves in this area each day, and this corroborates what I saw on his tape with the Cardinals. He struggles with the routine, and then makes the splash plays on third-and-long and in the fourth quarter.

If the Dolphins start this version of Josh Rosen, Brian Flores risks undoing all the good groundwork he has laid over the last six months. Preaching competition does not coincide with playing this current version of Rosen on Sundays, no matter how bad you want to see his evaluation begin.

Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t any better. He was his usual sharp-self in the warm-ups, and he was once again on the field before anybody else, but his day was littered with mistakes. Missed throws will happen, but the number of failed exchanges is awfully strange for a 15-year veteran.

After the first team session, all other units returned to individual drills while the quarterbacks had a pow wow with Jerry Schuplinski (QB Coach) for at least five minutes. After regrouping, however, things did not get better.

Jake Rudock is doing his job just fine. His place on the roster is clear — he’s the scout team quarterback. He was sent to the side field to help throw passes to defensive backs while the other two quarterbacks were doing install on the near-field. He has a grasp on what’s expected of him and is every bit as valuable as a late-round developmental quarterback. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’s groomed as the long-term backup QB.

Tight Ends

This was an area of focus today for Flores, a position that will be important in this scheme. There are multiple alignments for these players from slot, flex, traditional Y, H-back, and even as a fullback.

The tight ends drilled blocking more than usual today, including Mike Gesicki. The second-year pro seems to have found some confidence in his game. He won a match up on Reshad Jones in one-on-one, nailing the hand placement, driving Jones’ shoulder pads up into his helmet.

Additionally, Gesicki continues to get a lot of red zone work and is paying it off with touchdowns. Today he ran a pivot route from the slot for an easy score. If he can add that element to his leaping prowess he’ll put some points on the board.

The Nick O’LearyDurham Smythe battle is heating up. If we are to assume Dwayne Allen comes back to a job, then there might only be room for one of these two (could be the case since there will be a fullback on the roster).

Smythe won the battle today. O’Leary was on the ground too often and Smythe is such a natural Y that it’ll be hard to supplant him. Today showcased why he was a focal point of Notre Dame’s 2017 nation-leading ground game.

Every rep from Clive Walford looks slow. Chris Myarick is a project.

Defensive Backs

Bobby McCain proclaimed himself as a full-time safety on Saturday, and that was apparent on Sunday. Brian Flores’ defense utilizes a lot of single-high safety with the rest of the unit on the line-of-scrimmage. McCain is the only one acting as that single-high in those cover-1 looks.

We probably don’t even need to mention Minkah Fitzpatrick anymore; everything he does is exceptional. Still, he found a way to outdo himself. In the way Patrick Chung supports the running game with a specific gap responsibility in New England, Fitzpatrick came down to fill the B-gap on a red zone snap, fought through traffic, and met Patrick Laird in the hole knocking the rookie backwards.

When your 205-pound nickel corner is making linebacker-type plays, you’ve found a gem.

Let’s put Xavien Howard in that category as well. He’s the perfect pairing of physical dominance matched by instincts and play-making ability. It’s easy to see why nobody has picked off more passes in the league going back to December 2017 — he’s always finding the football.

Fitzpatrick isn’t the only defensive back seeing time up around the line-of-scrimmage. T.J. McDonald has been everywhere from $LB to coming off the edge as a blitzer. Maurice Smith got involved in this way too.

McDonald had one of the plays of the day when he contested a tight end zone throw that started off in Trenton Irwin’s possession, but McDonald wrestled it away from the rookie and spiked the ball in celebration.

The depth in the secondary is a concern. The pass catchers tend to feast on the rest of the roster.

Fortunately, Eric Rowe has had a nice three-day stretch following a difficult day-one. He’s been challenging the bigger bodied receivers (Brice Butler, Devante Parker, Preston Williams) and is having success doing so. He did have one coverage gaffe where he jumped the flat and left Williams all alone for a touchdown.

Running Backs

I’ve stayed somewhat subdued over the Kalen Ballage hype, but I think it’s time to buy in. He was a versatile weapon at Arizona State, and he showed the receiving skill set on a seemingly impossible diving touchdown catch in 7-on-7 against Sam Eguavoen.

Jun 4, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Mark Walton (left) blocks teammate Kalen Ballage (right) during practice drills at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

He’s among the contenders for the best body on the field and it shows in his ability to maintain balance through contact — he was a force today.

Quick aside — Ballage and Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville came onto the field together to begin practice. Both were laughing and smiling for the duration of the 100-yard walk to the other end of the field. They have a pre-existing relationship that dates back to Ballage’s high school days.

Kenyan Drake should not be forgotten about by any stretch. He ran with the first team during install just as much as Ballage and continues to work on both kick and punt return units.

Mark Walton had a tough day. He tripped and fell on a swing route when the TURF monster — not the turd monster — got the best of him. He and Myles Gaskin have been relatively quiet so far.

Defensive Line

Vincent Taylor is fulfilling the prophecy of my foretold breakout season – he’s a menace inside. I’ve seen him win with power, with quickness, and I’ve seen him stack and shed with relative ease. He’s taking to the new system well.

So is Davon Godchaux. The precedent set by these two monsters in the goal-line drills provides an energy source for the entire defense.

Christian Wilkins was in at fullback yet again, and was even sent to the wall with the offense at one point. He had his best day on defense, however, showing that signature quickness, but also adapting to the read-and-react style this defense wants to play.

Between these three, and a quality start to camp from Akeem Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Joey Mbu, the panic over Miami’s defensive line is premature. There is a lot of power inherent to this group and the multiplicity is vast.

Whether it’s playing the even (over) front, or the odd (under) front, the defensive has flexibility to operate from the required 1-tech or 2i shade on the backside, as well as the play-side 3-tech. In an odd front, the play-side tackle will line-up in the 1-tech and Miami is adequately stocked to operate in that front should they choose to do so.

Jonathan Ledbetter and Dewayne Hendrix both showed up on my timeline today. Another day down, another step towards one — or both — making the 53-man roster.

Nate Orchard might be better suited to play in a different scheme. He’s one of the better pure edge rushers in a defense that doesn’t value pure edge rushers. He’s been a liability setting the edge in the run-game.

There are mixed opinions about Charles Harris’ showing, but I’m on the positive side. I saw him win back-to-back individual pass rush drills, and then I saw him dent the edge in the run game in the team period. He’s playing faster and stronger.

Offensive Line

This was the first day I really isolated Laremy Tunsil, and I was quickly reminded why I hadn’t bothered before. In that same drill that brought success to Harris, Tunsil locked out any contender foolish enough to think they could beat the future all-pro.

Both Jonathan Woodard and Tank Carradine tried to win with speed, were forced to counter because of Tunsil’s patient, efficient kick-slide, then were promptly stonewalled working back underneath — child’s play for Tunsil.

It wasn’t the best day for Jesse Davis and Chris Reed. They were largely responsible for some of the interior penetration in the goal-line drill. The first-team interior defensive line won the day rather convincingly.

Daniel Kilgore is off to a good start. He’s been used in some creative ways and is the unquestioned leader of the interior line.

Jordan Mills’ issues are — unsurprisingly — the same. He’s often victimized by speed-rushes, including a blow-by by Charles Harris.

Michael Deiter received some individual instruction from Pat Flaherty (OL Coach) at the outset of practice. As he worked on his hand fighting, something else stood out. He’s a natural knee-bender that can maintain his balance when he gets into his pass set and drops the anchor.

Deiter has been working at left guard, but has also been working extensively on his snapping in between drills.

Linebackers

Raekwon McMillan was back with the first-team and he showed why he always belonged there. He made two plays, in close succession, where he knocked some heads in the running game. The first was an off-tackle run from Ballage where he keyed, beat the block outside, and tagged off.

May 25, 2017; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan (52) catches a pass during OTAs practice drills at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The next one resulted in a pop that the folks in West Palm heard. Down around the goal line, McMillan shot the B-gap and met the back at the line-of-scrimmage for a loud, no-gain. The entire unit came to his side to give him dap after a collective “oooooh” reaction from the stick.

Jerome Baker flew around all day. The defense opened up some of the blitz packages and Baker found himself coming free in the A-gap a couple of times. His first step and explosiveness really stands out.

It was more of the same from Sam Eguavoen. In addition to taking more first-team reps, he was with the specialists during individual drills working on tackling.

Chase Allen didn’t practice today, and Terrill Hanks was the beneficiary. Hanks offers the inside-outside versatility and showcased some edge-setting skills, as well as working backwards in coverage.

Wide Receivers

It was a difficult evaluation because of the quarterback play, but Kenny Stills was the best of the bunch. He may be known for his deep-speed, but he consistently finds soft spots in the zone, and he knows how to chase the defender’s blind spot.

Stills and Isaiah Ford stayed on the field after practice and worked on deep passing with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ford had his best day of camp so far that started off with a blow-by of rookie Montre Hartage for a long touchdown in one-on-one.

Preston Williams isn’t going to wow you with his ability to get in-and-out of breaks, but his catch radius is rather absurd. He continued to rebound balls in one-on-one drills, and has found a penchant for working the end-line in red zone. The Dolphins likely prefer his size in that area to put the football where it’s either a leaping touchdown, or an incomplete pass.

Recap

It was a sloppy practice that was permeated throughout the offense, but the tone was set by the quarterbacks — they must be better. This provides us a great opportunity to see how effective the staff can be in getting a bounce back showing from this group.

A lot of the install work brought new looks into the offense, and perhaps that was the cause for the struggle (unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to discuss what I saw, but you will see it in games down the road).

Eguavoen wasn’t alone in skipping the individual drills to work with the specialists — Chandler Cox did as well; he’s set for a pretty big role this year. Defensive back Chris Lammons has seen extended run with the special teams packages as well.

The stands were packed despite the considerable perception that this team won’t be competitive. Either folks are excited about football coming back, or they’re buying into the program Brian Flores is developing — as well they should be.

We’ve got another week’s worth of practice before the scrimmage next Saturday. If things continue to progress as they have so far, Dolphins fans should have patience, but also faith in this process.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ben Pierce

    July 28, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Travis, as a Dolfan on the West Coast this is an extremely helpful breakdown. You know your stuff and I appreciate it. I’ll look for you in future postings. God bless, Ben Pierce

    • Avatar

      Darrius

      July 28, 2019 at 9:45 pm

      Great article, please post just like this.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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…

Playoff Bound

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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

 

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