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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Training Camp Observations – 8/2

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Today, it was the first full-padded practice for the Miami Dolphins. It was finally our opportunity to see how this team would perform after an entire offseason of optimism.

And if you’re a fan of defense, they didn’t disappoint.

If you were hoping the offense suddenly found its stride, well, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.

Between inconsistent offensive line play and a lack of big plays from the offense, fans were humbled after expecting an offensive boom for the past few weeks.

Though none of this should discourage you as the season approaches. This is practice for a reason, and I would much rather the offense learn their identity now than take things easy for confidence’s sake.

Below are a few other things we gathered from training camp earlier today:

1) Will Jordan Phillips Finally Step Up?

We’ve watched him flash. We’ve watched him become a difference maker on the defensive line. But we’ve also wondered (very loudly) where Jordan Phillips is at times.

Yesterday, the only South Florida beat writer that every Dolphins fan has an opinion on made an innocent tweet wondering why Akeem Spence and Phillips were taking first team reps on the defensive line. Essentially, praising sophomore defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor for outperforming the veteran defensive tackles.

Phillips responded with a critique of his own, and it turned into a slight back-and-forth.

Truth is, what Omar Kelly said isn’t that bombastic. There are enough comments we can rip him for, but wondering why (2nd-round draft pick and 4th-year player) Jordan Phillips isn’t dominating more than Godchaux (5th-round) or Taylor (6th-round) is a valid critique.

Draft status isn’t everything, but Phillips was originally projected to be a first-round pick who fell due to NFL teams questioning his motor. He was selected for his value, rather than the necessity Miami had – especially when you watched Ryan Tannehill get crucified each game due to a poor offensive line.

So after three full seasons and a lot of questions, I’m not going to say Kelly’s comment was uncalled for. If anything, it was warranted.

That said, I love seeing Phillips angry. He has all of the components to be one of the league’s top defensive tackles, he just needs to put it all together.

Did he benefit from Ndamukong Suh being double-teamed? Is he only stepping up because this is a contract year?

Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It took Paul Soliai 4 seasons before coming into his own – earning a franchise tag in 2011 and a contract extension shortly after. Will Phillips do enough to warrant that extension or even price himself out of Miami’s market?

Signing Spence through 2019 gives the Dolphins some flexibility. Assuming Godchaux and Taylor continue to evolve, their performance through their first two seasons will make it a little easier for Miami to move on.

But the defensive tackle position is already thin as it is. Removing your most tenured defensive tackle only creates another hole.

The assumption is Andre Branch and Kiko Alonso will come off the books at the end of the 2018 season, so do the Dolphins use some of that salary relief on Phillips?

You already have so much tied into the defensive line. You can remove yourself from Robert Quinn‘s contract as well, but again, you’re now creating holes that need to be filled.

Jordan Phillips is going to be the team’s biggest enigma this season. As long as we don’t need to put his picture on a milk carton, it’ll be interesting to see what Miami does with him at the end of the season.

2) Ryan Tannehill Channels Jay Cutler’s Consistency

We’ve praised Ryan Tannehill for how well he’s performed this offseason, so it would be negligent to leave out that Tannehill did not have his best day of training camp.

Tannehill, who hadn’t had an interception while practice was open to the public (or reporters) for most of the offseason, has had 5 picks in the past 3 days.

Now, don’t look into the interceptions too much. Players are practicing new plays, new cadences, new audibles, and they’re trying to get acclimated to new players. Tannehill is experiencing real-time (kinda) football after being away from the game for so long and is trying to establish chemistry with all of his offensive weapons.

I expect interceptions to happen – especially if it means Tannehill is pushing himself. There’s no need to test this during the season; get it all out of the way now.

If the 3 interceptions today means Tannehill and Kenny Stills have gotten their deep-ball down, it was all worth it.

If the 3 interceptions today means Tannehill and DeVante Parker have their timing right, it was all worth it.

Mistakes aren’t ideal, but you’re looking to learn and grow from them. I don’t expect this trend to continue. If we’re hearing the same mistakes two weeks from now, then it’ll be time to panic. Until then, let the team grow.

3) X Does Not Mark The Spot

There’s no treasure chest under that ‘X’, just a whole lot of frustration and disappointment for opposing receivers.

Image Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Xavien Howard has stepped up tremendously in training camp, prominently shutting down each receiver he’s gone up against.

Sure, he’s let up a TD or two, but opposing quarterbacks will be wise to steer away from him in the regular season.

Howard came down with all 3 of Tannehill’s interceptions today, further contributing to the potential upcoming status as a lockdown corner.

Howard was elite at the end of last season, intercepting Trevor Siemian and Tom Brady twice in back-to-back games. He was asked to shadow each team’s elite receivers 1-on-1 and did an exceptional job of it.

In fact, if the entire secondary shows any kind of improvement, this team is going to be hard to pass against.

Besides Tyreek Hill‘s 108-yard receiving game in Week 16, the Dolphins secondary only allowed a 100-yard receiving game on two other occasions: Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers (Keenan Allen – 100 yards) and Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders (Jared Cook – 125 yards….and he’s not even a receiver!).

Howard played all 16 games last season after missing 8 games in 2016 recovering from a knee injury. Assuming he’s completely healthy, the nation should know the name Xavien Howard by the end of 2018.

Miscellaneous

William Hayes went down in the middle of practice with a leg/hamstring injury. Early thought is it’s a cramp. First order of Training Camp is to always get out healthy. Hoping it’s nothing more than a minor issue.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to be the general of this defense by Year 2. According to @3YardsPerCarry, Fitzpatrick was calling plays on the 2nd-team defense earlier today.

While Reshad Jones may be the team’s best defensive player, he isn’t as loud of a leader as one would like. If Fitzpatrick is comfortable enough to bark orders this early in his tenure, imagine how forthcoming he’ll be in Year 2.

-Right Tackle Ja’Wuan James sat out practice today with a muscle strain.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Place Jake Brendel on IR; Sign Hroniss Grasu

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Their players don’t just go on injured-reserve, they do it twice in the same season.

The Miami Dolphins official social media account announced that the team has placed center Jake Brendel on injured-reserve, ending his 2018 season. To fill the available roster spot, the Dolphins signed offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.

Brendel was first placed on injured-reserve with a calf injury prior to the start of the season. He was one of two players that received the IR tag with the ‘ability to return’; this meant that Brendel was eligible to return after Week 8. Since his return, Brendel started 3 games and was active for 4.

Earlier this week in practice, Brendel re-injured the same calf that originally put him on IR. Strategically speaking, we’re at the point in the season where players will be placed on IR simply due to the fact that they’re unable to recover in time to effectively play again this season. Miami has three games remaining and they essentially have to win out (or only lose to the Minnesota Vikings next week) if they want to make the playoffs. The team can’t afford to hold a roster spot hostage for a player who’s less-than 100%.

With Brendel hitting injured-reserve, the Dolphins now have 12 players out for the year.  It’s too bad we’re talking about the number of players on injured-reserve and not 12 Angry Men, because the only thing we can speculate at this point is how unlucky the Dolphins’ health has been this season.

The empty roster spot left by Brendel has been filled by former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.

Grasu was selected by the Bears with the 71st-overall pick (3rd-round) in the 2015 NFL draft. He started 8 games that season for Adam Gase‘s offense, but since then has only started 5. He played for the Bears from 2015-2017, though he missed the 2016 after being placed on injured-reserve. Grasu was signed by the Ravens this past September and was active for 3 games (making 1 start). He was released by the team on November 24th.

From one Hr to another: cheers, mate!

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Miami Dolphins

Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.

That’s all they can scheme around.

As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.

  • You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
  • You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
  • You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)

All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.

Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.

The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.

Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.

At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?

Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:

When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).

Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:

We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.

Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.

The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:

It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.

This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.

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Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill’s Late Season Surge is Nothing New

Travis Wingfield

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Adversity is the Dolphins QB’s Biggest Weapon

The divisive topic of tanking filters its way through the fan bases of all mediocre franchises. The discussion about whether it’s healthier to lose and climb the draft board, or to establish a winning culture, reverberates for the perpetual .500 purgatory of the NFL.

Every time Dolphins fans are ready to prepare for what’s next at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill rises from the ashes and plays at an elite level.

The statistics are there. After a 1-4 start and a sub-90 passer rating in 2016, fans turned to Notre Dame tape to scout DeShone Kizer. They peeped the ultra-exciting Patrick Mahomes making jaw-dropping off-script plays at Texas Tech.

All those discussions became moot when Tannehill ripped off a stretch of eight games in which Miami went 7-1. During that time, Tannehill posted a 101.5 passer rating and fell back into the good graces of Dolphins fans.

Bruce Arians’ famous quote preaches patience while installing a new scheme. “It takes about eight weeks before things start to become second nature.”

If that’s true, Tannehill has been ahead of that curve.

Two games ahead of the pace, Tannehill finds his groove in the sixth game. In a 2016 win over Pittsburgh, Tannehill posted his highest single game passer rating of the year, and would top that high-water mark four times in the next seven games.

The 2018 season is shaping up very similarly. After a strong start, then stumbling in games four and five, Tannehill is back with a vengeance.

The Dolphins are 2-1 since Tannehill’s return and the veteran, held together by duct tape and Band-Aids, is posting career highs. His passer rating post-return is a ridiculous 129.9. He’s averaging a smidge under 9 yards-per-pass. He’s completing a fraction under 70% of his passes and throwing touchdowns at clip of 11.7%.

The numbers. The wins. The quantifiable metrics are all fun and an easy shortcut to display Tannehill’s recent success, but the it’s the complete control of the offense that best showcases Tannehill’s growth.

Watch this video with the audio on to see an example of Tannehill’s command at the line-of-scrimmage.

Perhaps the time away from the game, and the return from a reconstructed knee, was a detriment to his development within this offense.

Tannehill is dealing with yet another injury, but if he wants to prove this theory, he has every opportunity. Miami can run the table and jump back into the post-season under Ryan Tannehill’s guidance.

After all, last time, he wasn’t healthy enough to finish what he started.

@WingfieldNFL

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