The mind often wanders during the armpit of the offseason. And, if you’re like Travis and myself, whose baseball team’s irrelevancy will only be overshadowed by the heat during the dog days of summer, your mind REALLY starts to wander. About the Miami Dolphins, naturally.
While it’d be nice to have dreams of Brian Flores hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, that’s not where mind has gone. At least not yet, as I do really like Brian Flores and the staff he’s assembled. There are big concerns, of course: Is Steve Ross really going to see this rebuild through, or will the Dolphins be big spenders this offseason? Is our franchise quarterback on the roster now? What is really in a hot dog? Valid questions, yes, but mine are more precisely focused on the defensive side of the football.
I have specific concerns at each level of the defense and examining those is how I chose to cope with my football withdraw. Let’s look at each of them.
1) How many of Miami’s incumbent Defensive Linemen will take to the style of play in the Brian Flores defense?
Let’s start by acknowledging that the real strength of this defense is that it is amorphic. There are no defined personnel grouping or schematic packages that have to be played on a weekly basis. If you remember my deep dive piece, we detailed that in 2018 the Patriots most frequently used 4-2-5, 3-3-5, and 3-2-6 packages. None of those are the antiquated 4-3 or 3-4 packages, which the Patriots used a grand total of 97 and 13 snaps respectively.
Because of this change, Miami’s defensive linemen will be asked to play in multiple ways, not just attacking vertically up the field as Miami did in the Wide-9 under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke the past three seasons. Miami’s defensive linemen will, at times, have to play down (horizontally) the line of scrimmage. At times they’ll have to attack a gap vertically*. At times they’ll have to read-and-react. At times, a DE or NT may have to two-gap (not the whole line, just one or two players at a time, given the formation and play design).
*Quick aside. I feel like this is worth mentioning at this point. Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) did a FANTASTIC breakdown of the Patriots defense against the Rams in the Super Bowl. And yes, the Patriots did task their D-linemen with attacking vertically up the field. Pay attention to what they did, and how they did it, and who they used as an edge defender that wasn’t named Hightower or Van Noy.
I think by now 99% of Dolfans have seen just about every highlight clip of Christian Wilkins at Clemson, and we know he can likely do most what I listed above. Really, two-gapping is the one thing I’d question, but I don’t think he’s who they’d have in mind to ask to do that anyway. Personally, I think that role likely ends up belonging to Joey Mbu. I’m more concerned with Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor and Akeem Spence.
If you follow Travis on Twitter and/or read his piece about Vincent Taylor from earlier this week, there’s a great example of what it means to play horizontally down the line in one of his tweets:
In the clip Taylor is able to make the play on the screen despite lining up from the backside, playing 3-technique. This is a prime example of being able to play horizontally down the line.
I highlight this because of the contrast in styles from the Wide-9. Miami’s D-linemen will be asked to do this a lot more in this Patriots-rooted scheme. That’s not to say this is a 2-gap scheme, it isn’t, but there will be times that the 1-technique or nose tackle (shade/zero-technique) is asked to 2-gap. There will also be times when a 2-gap responsibility falls to one of the two linebackers likely to be on the field. More on that later.
In this clip below, from Pro Football Focus (@PFF), you’ll see one example of another concern. Davon Godchaux likely figures to be the guy tasked with replicating what Malcom Brown did for the Patriots as their primary 1-technique DT. In this clip, Godchaux slants at the snap into Detroit’s LG Frank Ragnow, a player that both Travis and I liked a lot and gets taken for a ride.
Also, note on this play that Jerome Baker is the SAM backer on the offense’s left side. He wins with is first step off the snap, but is easily stymied by TE Luke Willson, a foreboding sign of a concern we may be faced with this year.
As I mentioned before, there are going to be a lot of personnel packages and formations used in this defense, so it will be up to Patrick Graham and Marion Hobby to figure out which roles each player is suited for, and how they’re best used. At this point in time, if I were to create analogous roles, my guess would be:
Malcom Brown ==> Davon Godchaux
Lawrence Guy ==> Christian Wilkins
Adam Butler ==> Vincent Taylor, Akeem Spence
Danny Shelton ==> TBD out of a group of Joey Mbu, Jamiyus Pittman and Cory Thomas
Miami doesn’t have as much size and power as the Patriots across the board. The challenge for the players and coaches, once roles are determined, is how do they use a bit more athleticism and quickness to make up for a lack in power up front?
2) Can the Dolphins aggregately create analogs for Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, or are we shopping aggressively in 2020?
If you’ve been paying attention this offseason, you’d know that John Congemi reported on “The Audible” that Raekwon McMillan told him that he met with Coach Flores and was instructed to watch film of Dont’a Hightower. You’d also know from a small cadre of sources that Jerome Baker has reportedly been told to watch tape of Kyle Van Noy.
On the surface most Dolfans appear to like and agree with this line of thinking permeating out of Davie. It makes sense, logically. Miami’s two up-and-coming young linebackers ready to be the key cogs on the second level of the defense. But, let’s examine those roles a bit closer. One adage that a lot of Dolfans have gotten used to over the past three seasons is that 3-down linebackers are guys who can stop the run and can cover. That’s not the case with this new defense. New England, at least in recent vintages, have used guys who can stop the run and can rush the passer. That’s not really Baker or McMillan.
Let’s start with the Dont’a Hightower ==> Raekwon McMillan comparison. Hightower is a big, physical, versatile player for the Patriots who is capable of playing off the ball as a MLB, on the edge as a SAM LB, and even playing as a stand-up or traditional DE with his hand in the dirt. I think that Raekwon McMillan is capable of fulfilling about 2/3 of this role.
We know he’s a pretty capable run-stopper as an off-ball MLB. Take your pick from this video from Young Mayo on YouTube. We know he can do that; he was one of the better run-stopping LBs in the league last year. He can also play inserted in gap, as you’ll see on this play against the Jets last year where he nets a TFL:
But we’ve seen the Patriots use Dont’a Hightower in a number of ways that we didn’t see McMillan in during the 2018 season. Here’s an example of Hightower pass-rushing when he’s lined up inserted in the B gap as essentially a 3-techinque against the Rams in the Super Bowl. This GIF is courtesy of SB Nation.
This is something that I think McMillan can learn/be taught to do. Same with this where we see Hightower closer to the line of scrimmage playing the run.
Where I think Miami will have to adjust is finding someone who can do the things Hightower can do as an edge player. In this GIF, again courtesy of SB Nation, Hightower is essentially a DE player. He uses a long-arm move to basically walk Rams RT Rob Havenstein back into Jared Goff’s lap and forcing Goff to hurry his throw into a bad incompletion. I DON’T think this is something Miami will do with McMillan.
So, what’s the solution? Well, this is where I think guys like Andrew Van Ginkel, Charles Harris, Jayrone Elliott and perhaps Nate Orchard could come into play. I think Miami can use Raekwon McMillan in some of the same coverage responsibilities. But I think Miami’s going to have to figure out an alternative to using McMillan as a 3rd down pass-rusher.
We’ve seen some things from Jayrone Elliott as an edge defender back when he was with the Green Bay Packers in 2014-16. He also led the defunct AAF in sacks earlier this year with 7.5 in 8 games. If Charles Harris is ever going to prove his worth, he’ll likely have opportunities as a stand-up pass-rusher in this defense. He said so himself on “The Audible” last week. More on Van Ginkel in a minute.
To sum up McMillan, I think he’s got a chance to emerge as the leader of this defense and prove to be a key cog in the front seven. Things may not look pretty at the beginning – which will likely be the case with the whole defense (see Detroit’s defensive improvement over the course of 2018 under Matt Patricia for reference) – but I think Raekwon will ultimately become the player I think he can be. The caveat here will be that Miami’s staff will have to be okay with using multiple players to piece together that Dont’a Hightower role, which is something that wasn’t always in line with the corporate way of thinking in Foxboro. But I’m confident in McMillan’s abilities and that he’ll take a shine to this new defense.
As for Jerome Baker, he had an impressive rookie season last year. But this new role will likely prove to have some foreign aspects to it for him. Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly. If he’s being asked to replicate the things Kyle Van Noy does, he’s at a size disadvantage.
Van Noy goes 6’3” 250lbs and has 31 5/8” arms, whereas Baker is 6’1” 225lbs and has a similar arm length at 31 ½” arms.
There are formations, like the 3-3-5 with a Bear front, where the Patriots put Kyle Van Noy as an off-ball MLB (Hightower and John Simon are usually outside in this look). That role isn’t too dissimilar to how Miami used Jerome Baker last year, so there’s fit there. Same with a traditional 4-3 look, which the Patriots used a total of 97 times last year, so there’s some snaps for Baker. But Kyle Van Noy is often lined up on the edge, like a 3-4 OLB’s alignment. Can Jerome Baker do those things?
As we saw in the Davon Godchaux GIF earlier, Baker’s going to have to bring more to the party if he’s to set the edge when lined up on the LOS, as Van Noy does in these two examples. The first is from @PFF.
You can see Van Noy get a bit overwhelmed at the snap here, but he’s able to recover and make the tackle. Ask yourself. Can Jerome Baker do this?
Can Jerome Baker actually rush the pass from an inserted position or on the edge, or is he just an effective blitzer? That’s another question I wonder about with Baker as we’ve never seen him try and swipe hands, dip and rip, use a long arm or an arm-over, etc. You can see Kyle Van Noy get home for a sack in the AFC Championship Game here, courtesy of @PFF
Without diving in too deep, what I’m getting at is can we really rely on Jerome Baker to play a lot of snaps on the edge, as Van Noy did? I’m not so sure. But, there are workarounds for this. One of them is highlight in Evan Lazar’s brilliant piece about the Patriots use of simulated pressures.
You can read that piece here: https://www.clnsmedia.com/patriots-defense-simulated-pressure-renaissance/ and there are video clips within illustrate how Miami could get more of Baker in pass-rush situations when not inserted in a gap or lined up on the edge of the defense.
My concern here could be assuaged if Miami is able to find a palatable way to use Andrew Van Ginkel in a lot of the Van Noy 3rd down pass-rush roles. Andrew Van Ginkel played for Jim Leonhard at Wisconsin. Leonhard was a Jet under Rex Ryan, whose defense uses a lot of 3-man D-line pressures. Don’t ask how I got down this wormhole, but you can see a copy of the Jets playbook on Nick Saban’s desk in this video: https://youtu.be/Ne_Y_vXk6js?t=26 at the :26 mark. Kudos to Rob Ezell on his Saban impression.
What I’m getting at here is that Saban and Belichick are pals. I wonder if a lot of the pass-rush games we saw out of the Patriots late last year don’t have at least some roots in some of Rex Ryan’s pressure packages. I’ve seen a PDF of Rex Ryan’s 2011 Jets Defensive Playbook. A lot of their pressure packages are rooted in the 3-2-6 formation, something that New England commonly used last year under Brian Flores. Could Miami’s relationships to Belichick (Flores) and Rex Ryan (Patrick Graham who worked under Mike Pettine) and their scouting of Wisconsin products (Deiter, Van Ginkel) have helped them to unearth something here?
Back to Van Ginkel, perhaps he can tag-team with Jerome Baker to complete the Kyle Van Noy role. We’ve seen Kyle Van Noy cover the flats in similar fashion to this play.
And this play here looks an awful lot like a lot of the pass-rush games we saw the Patriots use with Hightower and Van Noy during their playoff run. Also, it’s worth noting that Miami’s new D-line Coach Marion Hobby, who was in Jacksonville prior to heading south, coached a lot of E-T and T-E pass-rush games in Jacksonville. He also helped recruit Christian Wilkins to Clemson . But here are two examples of Van Ginkel pass-rushing that looks eerily similar to some things we saw the Patriots do with Kyle Van Noy this postseason.
So, you can sort of see some things piling up here in terms of how Andrew Van Ginkel could be used. And, honestly, I think a solution might end up being that Jerome Baker ends up playing 600-700 snaps and Van Ginkel ends up playing 200-300 snaps (assuming an average of 1,000 plays) throughout the year. While fans of “Bake” may not like to hear it, I think if the staff is willing to piece-meal together the Kyle Van Noy role as well, then this would be a viable solution in my opinion.
I think the ultimate question as it relates to both of the primary LB roles becomes, is this coaching able and willing to adjust and use multiple players, perhaps up to 4 different key players, to put these two roles together? If not, then Miami will have to overhaul the LB unit not too far down the road.
3) Who is Miami’s Patrick Chung?
“Patrick has always been really good — smart, works hard, does whatever you ask him to do, understands the team concept and is a versatile player, so he can do a lot of different things,” Belichick said.
“Whatever you ask him to do he embraces it and works at it and does the best he can. Obviously as we all gain experience it helps us going forward when we can build off those, and I think like any player that’s played a number of years like he has, you learn a little bit every year.
“I’m sure he has done that the last couple of years, but that was never an issue for him like having trouble learning or assignments or things like that. That’s never been an issue with him.” – This was Bill Belichick on Patrick Chung. Belichick also called him one of the best players in the NFL.
Chung is certainly a critical cog in the Patriots defense. He starts at strong safety, but also plays a lot as their third LB, plays in the slot, and has also at times been used as a free safety.
Courtesy of Anchor Sports Network, this GIF shows Chung lined up as the edge defender on the LOS against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Essentially he’s almost playing like a 3-4 OLB would, as he takes on the blocker and makes the stop on C.J. Anderson.
I wanted to show this first. I think Travis and I are in agreement that Minkah Fitzpatrick is probably slated to be more Devin McCourty than he is Patrick Chung, though there may be a few circumstances where it’s appropriate. In totality I feel like using Minkah in the way Chung was used in the GIF above, I don’t think you could say that you’re maximizing his skillset. Perhaps I’ll do a Devin McCourty è Minkah Fitzpatrick comparison before we get into the bulk of training camp and the preseason. We also have been learning that Bobby McCain is, for the moment, being tried in the Duron Harmon third safety role. This role is being a middle-of-the field 3rd down safety with occasional split-safety duties.
So, with that in mind, who is Miami’s Patrick Chung for 2019? Quite frankly, I’m not sure. Gun to my head I’d start with Reshad Jones. Contract and potentially being traded aside, I think Jones’s prior experience is something Miami might be able to lean on, having played in the box quite a bit under Matt Burke in 2018. My question with Jones would be is he assignment-sound enough?
For example, would Reshad Jones play the gap here and throw himself into an oncoming FB? After another shoulder surgery? GIF courtesy of Deadspin.
As much as I love Reshad Jones, I’m honestly not sure if you can rely on him to do those things. Jones can still certainly make plays and is nowhere near as bad as a lot of Dolfans make him out to be despite being on the “Back 9” of his career. If Reshad Jones isn’t in line to try and take on the Patrick Chung role, then perhaps he’s going to be more of a traditional split safety.
Is it T.J. McDonald? Barry Jackson reported back this spring that Miami had T.J. McDonald drop 15lbs to get down to 215lbs, which coincidentally is the same weight as Patrick Chung, and Reshad Jones for that matter.
McDonald, who played a lot more SS last year for Miami than Jones did, also has experience playing in the box as a LB for the Rams during the Jeff Fisher era, prior to joining the Dolphins.
In this GIF, courtesy of Steelers Depot, you can see McDonald (#25) lined up on the edge, taking on the block and making the tackle against Washington.
Of course, we’ve also seen T.J. McDonald take a lot of poor angles, especially in run defense. He’s also not as athletic as Reshad Jones is, even when playing in the box, Jones is noticeably faster. So, there’s a give and take with each one. Jones is more dynamic, but less assignment-sound in my opinion, where McDonald will do what he’s asked, but the athleticism isn’t always there.
Long-term, I think this is a position Miami will have to address via free agency or the Draft. For this season, we may very well see all three safeties – Fitzpatrick, Jones and McDonald – get reps doing things that Patrick Chung did for the Patriots.
Overall, these three concerns stick out the most to me in terms of what Miami’s defense could have to deal with this season. The whole team is in a transition year in Brian Flores’ debut season. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami’s defense gave themselves a “transition” season. It’s imperative that Miami sift through the defensive players on the roster and determine which ones are going to be parts of the future and which ones aren’t. There’s also a possibility we see a transition with the scheme itself.
Miami’s got some personnel deficiencies. We don’t know if Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker will be our version of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy respectively. Nor do we know who will be our Patrick Chung. And we clearly don’t have a Trey Flowers. With those things factored, perhaps we’ll see Miami play more Diamond/Ruby looks (image courtesy of @JamesALight)
These fronts are pretty similar to what Miami’s Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham was versed in last year with the Packers. But, I think more use of the 3-3-5, 3-2-6, and 2-4-5 formations – all which can be executed out of different personnel groupings, as the Patriots frequently displayed last year – may provide a good springboard in a transition year until Miami can further beef up it’s defensive line, defensive ends in particular.
In the end, these are my personal points that could become concerns during the season. Time will tell if these are real, or if I’ve spent too much time in the sun during the dog days of summer.
Miami Dolphins 2019 Training Camp Guide – Safeties
Over the next two weeks, Locked On Dolphins will bring you your one-stop shop for all things Miami Dolphins 2019 training camp
Game-By-Game Predictions Part 1 – 7/24 (Part 2 coming in September)
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.
Cross-training promises to serve as the buzz phrase of this rendition of Dolphins camp. No position offers more dual functionality than safety, especially in a defense undergoing sweeping schematic changes.
In the past, the safety spots have been directionally based, opposed to the traditional strong and free distinctions. This round-peg-in-a-square-hole philosophy led to frustration; so much so that Miami’s longest-tenured defensive player pulled himself from a game last November.
Now, these safeties will have specific roles designated to suit their respective strengths. The universal trait of the group will be the ability to come down and cover the slot, tight ends, and running backs.
Tony Oden is one of two holdovers from the previous staff. Oden has been coaching defensive backs since 1996, including a GA stop at Brian Flores’ alma mater Boston College.
Reshad Jones – 9 years of service (10th in MIA)
Opening Day Age: 31.5
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $35M total, $13M guaranteed
Jones’ absence was the story of voluntary organized team activities. Amidst rampant trade rumors, Jones was present for mandatory work and an understanding has, apparently, been achieved between he and Coach Flores.
Jones is still a punishing hitter that excels defending both the strong and weak-side C-gaps on the defense. This scheme will put him back in a familiar situation playing in close to the line-of-scrimmage and sending him on a variety of run and pass blitzes. Jones played single-high, 20 yards off the ball, far too often last season.
Declining coverage ability, the occasional poor angle, and considerable medical concerns all add up to an uncertain future for Jones in Miami. The age and contract aren’t doing Jones’ long-term prospects any favors either.
Gotta love Reshad Jones. pic.twitter.com/gUs18ktATh
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 24, 2017
2019 Projected Role: Strong Safety, 100% snap-taker
Bobby McCain – 4 years of service (5th in MIA)
Opening Day Age: 26.0
Contract Details: 4 years remaining, $22M total, $9M guaranteed
After a stellar 2017 season, injuries and position changes led to a down year for McCain. Among the game’s best slot corners two years ago, McCain was rewarded with a new contract, but he was outplayed in the slot by 2018 rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick. In 2019, the two could be interchangeable working in slot coverage and as a single-high safety (as well as two-deep looks).
This scheme utilizes three safeties the majority of the defense’s snaps. McCain could serve as the middle of the field man in those three-safety packages, and come down in two-slot looks for man-coverage responsibilities.
McCain is a terrific leader, astute tackler, and an occasionally effective blitzer.
Let’s start it off with Bobby McCain. Man up with one of the game’s best. Engages, breaks it up – this is teaching tape. pic.twitter.com/aDEHjNBtFf
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 6, 2017
2019 Projected Role: Free Safety, Slot Corner 85% snap-taker
T.J. McDonald – 6 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Opening Day Age: 28.4
Contract Details: 3 years remaining, $17M total, $3.6M guaranteed
With one more year of guaranteed salary, McDonald needs to successfully transition into a new role to have a future in Miami. Inexplicably taking the job previously manned by Reshad Jones, McDonald’s inclusion into the defense wasn’t a positive one.
No longer among the top four, or even five, defensive backs on the roster, McDonald will come onto the field in sub-packages. He’s effective working downhill and should provide Miami’s dime package with a quality tackler and sound cover-man in the underneath shell.
McDonald robs Darnold on the INT. pic.twitter.com/J1Mc5jjusB
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 18, 2018
2019 Projected Role: Third Safety, Dime Linebacker (Dollar) 60% snap-taker
Maurice Smith – 2 years of service (3rd in MIA)
Opening Day Age: 24.3
Contract Details: 1 year remaining, $645K total, $0 guaranteed
It’s difficult to assess Smith’s value the last couple of years. He rarely made it onto the field, but that could just be another indictment of incompetent coaching. At his best, Smith plays the robber role, dislodges footballs, and steps in front of intermediate passes.
With 10 players acquired in the secondary since Smith arrived in Miami, he has an uphill battle to fend off the newcomers for a job.
2019 Projected Role: Camp cut
2019 Dolphins Safeties at a Glance:
The decision to forego any acquisitions at safety this offseason was surprising. The most important position in the defense, Miami comes up a couple of bodies short unless McCain’s conversion is a success. He’s a bit undersized for the position, but he offers the instincts, tackling, and ball skills to provide some promise.
Jones’ role, and subsequent impact on the defense, is one of the more intriguing storylines of the year for the Dolphins.
With a lot of questions and fewer solutions, this group could be in for more changes next offseason.
Miami Dolphins sign cornerback Tyler Patmon
The Miami Dolphins have filled out the final roster spot by signing a familiar face: Tyler Patmon
After a Sunday night visit on July 21st, the Dolphins have officially signed cornerback Tyler Patmon. The corner was with the team during the 2015 season but failed to leave his mark during his first stint with the team.
Tyler Patmon has, however, managed to keep his career chugging along with time spent in Dallas in 2014 and 2015 and Jacksonville in 2017 and 2018.
The news was broken on Twitter by the official DEC Management account, who represents Patmon.
— DEC Management (@davidcanter) July 22, 2019
The team makes reference to Patmon’s first attempt with the team, but this time should be a better fit for Patmon considering the team’s roster makeup. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Patmon stands a better chance of getting a foothold and making an impact.
Tyler Patmon is also a special signing because of his being the 91st player under contract. The Dolphins have found some value in signing a player internationally, which has allowed them the ability to sign Patmon as a bonus player.
The Tyler Patmon the signing gives the Dolphins 91 players. Reminder that Durval Neto’s position on the roster allows Miami to keep the extra player courtesy of the Internarjonal Pathway Program roster exemption rule.
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) July 22, 2019
I can’t say for certain if Patmon will ultimately end up on the final 53-man roster. My initial inclination is that it’ll be an uphill battle, but stranger things have happened. He might be able to step in and make some waves with the experience he has over some of the younger defensive backs.
Remember The Dolphins (Part 3: The 2010s)
True. The final chapter of the Dolphins’ current decade has not yet been written.
At the dawn of the 2019 training camp, the stars of Miami’s 2019 Super Bowl Champion team have not yet emerged and had their names stamped into the NFL history books.
But going by on the widely-held assumption that the Miami Dolphins figure to be at the very bottom of the league in 2019, we’ll draw a line under the decade of the 2010’s as the Dolphins begin their ‘hard’ reboot to bring the franchise back to glory.
In this third part of our Remember The Dolphins series, we’ll trudge up some painful recent memories by taking a look back at the years 2010-2018 and try to pick out those individuals who perhaps deserve some more recognition for the part they played despite the team’s overall lack of success.
For the Miami Dolphins, the 2010’s was a decade filled with unfortunate drama. The Jonathan Martin bullying fiasco; Richie Incognito; the resulting ever-changing revolving doors which built the offensive line; Mike Pouncey’s “Free Hernandez” hat; Dion Jordan; overpaid Free Agents; terrible draft picks; Chris Foerster bringing his out-of-office habits into the team facility; Brent Grime’s wife; a queezy, litter-picking coach; Vontae Davis’ grandma; the “Go” and Go, Go” offense; Matt Burke’s incomprehensible defensive scheme; and last but by no means least, Adam Gase.
It was not exactly a fun-packed decade for fans.
From one year to the next, the 2010’s barraged the Dolphins with national embarrassment off the field and an on-field product which no one could quite figure out.
The 2010’s undoubtedly will be most remembered, for better or worse (depending on which side you sit) for the Ryan Tannehill years.
Landing in the NFL as a franchise’s heralded saviour is generally tough enough. But landing in a city already drowning in football mediocrity, with a fanbase tired of the lacklustre QB carousel and desperately thirsty for a leading passer under the scorching South Florida sunshine was inevitably going to be a recipe for division among fans.
Add in the ever-present shadow of Dan Marino and the unforeseen successes of other young QBs around the league and anything less than spectacular would be deemed a failure.
And that is the past decade of Dolphins in a nutshell…
Cameron Wake was nothing short of awesome as the team’s premier defensive player and remains a living legend, seemingly ready to finish his career in Tennessee. It’s scary to think that Wake spent 10 years with the Dolphins (2009-2018) in which he started 126/146 games, accumulated 98.0 sacks, 358 combined tackles, 97 tackles for loss and 213 QB hits. As Dolfans, we have just witnessed the end of the most successful Dolphins tale of the decade. But that alone was not enough to gain the team anything more than one playoff game.
Save for a handful of highlight performances in 2016 to drag Miami to the playoffs, including Jay Ajayi’s back-to-back 200 yard games and Andrew Franks’ overtime field goal over the Bills on Christmas Eve, the Dolphins continued their desperate struggle for success for another decade.
2010 started badly for Head Coach Tony Sparano, then entering his 3rd year. Chad Henne (301 of 490) threw for 3301 yards, 15 TDs and 19 INTs. The Dolphins had broken the bank to bring in WR, Brandon Marshall to help in Henne’s development and aid a struggling offense. Although Marshall hauled in 1014 yards, a lowly 3 TDs was the ultimate result. The Dolphins found themselves sitting at 30th in the league in points scored and achieved a 7-9 record.
Things didn’t exactly improve quickly, if at all.
2011 saw the firing of Coach Sparano who was temporarily replaced by defensive co-ordinator, Todd Bowles after a 4-9 start to finish 6-10.
2012 saw the arrival of Joe Philbin and rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill which produced a now-familiar 7-9 record. The QB/HC relationship lasted 3.5 years and left everyone a “little queezy”.
The Dolphins scraped .500 records in 2013 and 2014 before falling to 6-10 in 2015 under the final year of Philbin’s reign.
Nothing of note had begun to shine out from the shadows of mediocrity and the patience of Miami fans was beyond tested.
Enter, Adam Gase.
The Peyton-Manning-endorsed offensive ‘genius’ arrived in 2016 taking the Dolphins to the playoffs despite a season-ending knee injury to the starting QB. And whilst the victories of 2016 weren’t repeated, the rare taste of playoffs had bought Gase enough stature that even the team’s brightest stars weren’t safe from his methods and relationships continued to sour to the point of breaking and eventual trade.
Jarvis Landry had stolen headlines with some highlight-reel catches and was unanimously adored by the Dolphins fanbase. Jay Ajayi had bulldozed his way into the history books before his relationship with the head coach turned to ash. Both players were quickly gone, uncerimoniously – their departures embodying the Dolphins’ constant inability of retaining success.
A number of players publicly spoke out against Adam Gase, as prime examples of what the Dolphins had become at their core – divided, unstable and without direction.
But looking back over the dysfunction of the 2010’s, let’s try to pick a handful of names out of the rubble who (outside of the Miami Miracle) deserve to be looked at in a brighter, warmer light and be remembered despite the team’s on-field and off-field failures.
Position: Running Back
The Saints’ 2nd overall pick of the 2006 draft found his way to Miami in his 6th year, following a trade with the Saints in July 2011. That season, he provided a spark of electricity to Miami’s offense and rushed for 1000+ yards for the first time in his career and scored 6 rushing TDs with an average of 5.0 yards per carry. Bush remained with the Dolphins for 2 years (2011-2012) and despite having been labelled as injury prone during his time in New Orleans, managed to be a dependable on-field presence, rushing for 2072 yards and 12 TDs as a Dolphin, whilst hauling in a further 588 receiving yards and 3 TDs. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of The Week in 2011 following a 203 yard performance against the Buffalo Bills in Week 15.
Position: Running Back
The homegrown running back was drafted in the fourth round by the Dolphins in 2012 out of the University of Miami, sharing his rookie year with Reggie Bush. By his second season, Miller had adopted the starting role, but it wasn’t until 2014 when he really began to find his feet out of the Dolphins’ backfield. Miller’s totals of 1099 rushing yards and 8 TDs in 2014 remain his career highs, with a highlight 97 yard TD run against the Jets on 28 December 2014. Over the course of his 4 years in Miami, Miller started 48/61 games and rushed for 2930 yards and 19 TDs whilst catching 117 passes for 887 yards and a further 3 scores, before signing a 4-year $26m deal with the Houston Texans in March 2016.
Karlos Dansby came to Miami in 2010 after 6 years in the league with the Arizona Cardinals. His final 2 years in Arizona saw him tally 228 combined tackles including 17 for a loss, 5 sacks, 3 INTs and 3 forced fumbles. He was therefore a big-name target for the Dolphins in 2010 to help solidify the linebacker group under Tony Sparano. Dansby joined the Dolphins on a 5-year, $43m contract which (at the time) was the highest paid contract for an ILB in NFL history. In his 3 years at Miami, Dansby started 45/46 games and racked up 332 combined tackles, 1 INT, 5 forced fumbles and 6 sacks.
Position: Defensive Tackle
An absolute man-mountain, Paul Soliai was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. He became a staple on Miami’s defensive line and spent 7 years in Miami (2007-2013), working his way to a full-time starting spot in 2010. Soliai started 62 of 99 games in his Dolphins career and had a knack for swatting down passes with 12 deflections. A huge body in the middle of the Dolphins defense, Soliai was predominantly a space-eater but also racked up 117 solo tackles (160 combined) including 25 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. He signed with the Falcons in March 2014 and the Panthers in March 2016 before signed a one-day contract to retire as a Miami Dolphin on 19 April 2018.
Position: Wide Receiver
A productive fourth round pick of the Dolphins in 2009, Hartline spent 6 years in Miami (2009-2014). Hartline’s best years came in 2012/2013 following the arrival of Ryan Tannehill and he developed into something of a trusted safety blanket for the young QB and set a Dolphins franchise record for receiving yards (253) in Week 4 of 2012 against the Cardinals. With over 130 targets in each of those years, Hartline caught 150 passes for 2099 yards, but only 5 TDs which is an indication of the team’s lack of productivity in the red zone. Injured early in his career, Hartline started 69 of 92 games in Miami hauling in 4243 yards and 12 TDs with a catch rate of 57.1% and 8.1 yards per target. In the final game of 2014, Hartline suffered a PCL injury which ended his tenure at the Dolphins and a quick year in Cleveland saw the end of Hartline’s NFL career and he is now WR coach at Ohio State.
Position: Wide Receiver
Similar to Hartline (and more recently Jarvis Landry) Davone Bess spent his first NFL years with the Dolphins before being signed by the Cleveland Browns. Arriving with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Hawaii, Bess quickly exceeded expectations. He was primarily positioned at slot receiver until injury forced Greg Camarillo off the field. Bess finished his rookie year positioned 3rd amongst rookie WRs in receptions. During his time as a Dolphin, Bess hauled in 12 TDs and had dependable hands (63.8% catch ratio) with a 6.9 yards-per-target average and he amassed a total of 3447 yards receiving. Bess was traded to the Cleveland Browns in April 2013 before troubling issues saw him placed on the non-football illness list in December 2013 prior to a series of arrests.
After 4 years in Dallas and 2 years in San Diego, Kevin Burnett signed as a Miami Dolphin in July 2011. He started all 32 games at linebacker during his 2 years with Miami (2011-2012) and stole 1 Pick-6, had 5 sacks with 216 combined tackles and 15 TFLs. Although always the truest of professionals, the productive and dependable player was released following the mistake-riddled free agent signings of Darnell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler in March 2013.
Position: Defensive End
I liked Jared Odrick. Generally considered a surprising first round pick (28th overall) of the Miami Dolphins in 2010, he unfortunately suffered a foot injury in October 2010 cutting short his rookie season. Returning with a strong 2011 season, he registered 6 sacks and and an INT as a backup DE and didn’t take himself too seriously, evidence by his very odd Pee Wee Herman sack dance. Odrick spent 5 years in Miami (2010-2014) but suffered with injuries and started only 41 of 65 games. Alongside his INT, Odrick swatted down 11 passes and caused 3 forced fumbles, had 16.5 sacks and 129 combined tackles including 30 for a loss and 47 QB hits. Following his Dolphins career, Odrick spent 2 years in Jacksonville before his retirement after being placed on IR in December 2016.
A fifth round pick (145th overall) by the Dolphins in the 2010, Carroll was seen as a promising rookie and played a considerable amount on special teams. Fans will recall that during a kickoff return on 13 December 2010, Carroll was tripped over on the sidelines by the Jets’ strength and conditioning coach, Sal Alosi. Carroll was promoted to a starting role in 2012 and over the course of his 4 years in Miami he started 26 of 58 games, grabbed 5 INTs with 23 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 3 sacks. He racked up 123 combined tackles before signing a 2-year $5m contract with the Eagles in March 2014.
And there we have it.
At the dawn of the 2019 season, with the imminent start of training camp, the Dolphins now have an opportunity to write the decade’s final chapter.
Under the leadership of Head Coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins seek to change the story of their long-term mediocrity. With a young group of talented players ripe for development, we can only hope that many of them will seek to etch their names into the future of Dolphins’ history from 2020 and beyond.
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- Remember The Dolphins (Part 3: The 2010s) July 22, 2019
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