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Miami Dolphins

Potential Injuries Miami Cannot Afford in 2018

Travis Wingfield

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Potentially fatal blows –

The “next man up” adage serves as a sort of juxtaposition in the NFL. On one hand, rosters are expected to prove flush with talent beyond the starters. Yet, on the other, each team has an Achilles’ Heel that would sink even the Brad Pitt’s of the league.

Miami weren’t alone in enduring a lost 2017 season. While Green Bay and Houston saw their franchise quarterbacks play a handful of games, the Dolphins were without Ryan Tannehill for every snap of an agonizing year.

Russell Wilson played all 16 for Seattle, but the debilitation of the team’s hallmark defense saw a five-year playoff streak come to an end.

The construction of the Dolphins’ 2018 roster could, by-and-large, mitigate the damage done over the course of a grueling fall, except at one position… again.

Philadelphia’s short-term success with a backup quarterback throws a cog into what has been the norm for decades – lose your signal caller, lose your season.

No team epitomizes that theory better than Adam Gase’s Dolphins. The presence of David Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty not only makes Ryan Tannehill the most important person in the organization, his health is the key to fielding a competitive outfit.

That much we know. In year’s past, an injury to the o-line would cripple the entire offense. Losing Jarvis Landry or Jay Ajayi would compromise the make-up of the Miami’s attack. With a deeper group full of capable of fill-ins, Gase and Chris Grier have assembled a better contingency plan in the nightmare-event that last August repeats itself.

Still, in a game predicated on finite resources, no roster is safe from the dreaded injury-bug. These are the top five players Miami can least afford to lose in 2018.

1.) Raekwon McMillan
Expected team LB total snap count – 2,200
Miami Dolphins Projected Linebacker Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Raekwon McMillan MIKE/Primary ‘Backer 1,000
Kiko Alonso (36/39) Base ‘Backer 500
Jerome Baker Nickel ‘Backer 500
Terence Garvin Pass Down Specialist 150
Chase Allen Run Down Specialist 50
Stephone Anthony Depth 0

*PFF Grade not included is the player didn’t play enough to qualify.

Miami ran arguably the most antiquated defense in the league in 2017. Linebackers taking 2,523 snaps was near the league’s highest for the position, ushering in extra defensive backs at an alarmingly low rate.

Moving forward, that should change. Six defensive backs all worthy of playing-time will create more flexibility. Gone are the days of linebackers taking 15-yard spot drops or playing man-up in the slot.

Still, the importance of Raekwon McMillan can’t be overstated. My personal expectations were tempered coming into his rookie-year, but the details of the Pete Thamel Yahoo story raised the standard.

Quickly earning the job as the MIKE ‘backer last camp, his season-ending ACL-injury threw the entire position into a state of flux.

McMillan’s return is expected to be greeted with a heavy work-load. Ideally, he’ll eat half of the projected snap-total on his own. If he goes down again, Kiko Alonso is elevated to that role, Jerome Baker gets thrown into the fire, and one player from the depth group (Terence Garvin, Stephone Anthony, Chase Allen) will be promoted to a more prominent role.

2.) Laremy Tunsil
Expected LT Snap Count – 1,000
Miami Dolphins Projected Left Tackle Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade Role Projected Snap Count
Laremy Tunsil (72/83) Starter 1,000
Sam Young (44/83) Swing Tackle 0
Eric Smith Emergency Tackle (PS) 0

*PS denotes practice squad

Sep 17, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Laremy Tunsil’s two years in Miami have been something of an enigma. A premier left tackle in college, Tunsil spent his rookie season at guard where he acquitted himself nicely. His second season was a struggle, but his traits lead ‘Phins fans to believe the LT position is locked down for the foreseeable future.

A smooth kick-slide, a natural bender and exceptional feet, Tunsil’s production didn’t match the potential in 2017. The disaster season was spearheaded by penalties and the left side’s complete inability to pick up stunts. The hope is that a steady veteran (Josh Sitton) manning Tunsil’s inside post will precede a dramatic improvement.

Tunsil has been largely dependable as a pro (three games missed in two years). But in the event of another shower incident, the Dolphins can go to Sam Young in a pinch.

Extended time, however, could signal a serious problem for Miami. Young, better suited to play right tackle, had his struggles with elite rushers in 2017. Aside from abuse issued by Von Miller and Khalil Mack, Young was a capable backup.

3.) Bobby McCain
Expected Nickel Snap Count – 750
Miami Dolphins Projected Nickel Corner Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Bobby McCain (59/120) Nickel Corner 750
Minkah Fitzpatrick Free Safety/Backup Nickel 150 (as a nickel)
Torry McTyer Depth 0
Jalen Davis Depth 0

The eyes immediately jump to the impressive backup listed behind McCain, but it’s the ripple effect of the secondary that earns nickel a spot on this list.

Fitzpatrick is a more than capable replacement, but taking him out of the free safety role puts Miami back in the same bind it was in last season. Limiting the versatility and causing a litany of coverage concerns, Miami is criminally thin at slot corner.

McCain broke out in 2017 ranking 9thamong slot corners in passer-rating-against. He enters a contract year in 2018 and his pay depends on his health, as well as sustaining last year’s performance.

4.) Minkah Fitzpatrick
Expected FS Snap Count – 1,000
Miami Dolphins Projected Free Safety Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Minkah Fitzpatrick Never Leaves the Field 1,000
T.J. McDonald (59/89) Dime Safety/Pseudo-LB 300
Maurice Smith Depth 0
Walt Aikens Depth 0

Similar to losing McCain, a Fitzpatrick injury puts Miami’s defense right back into 2017. The experiment with Reshad Jones and his poor man’s carbon-copy, T.J. McDonald, worked so poorly that Miami spent the 11thpick on the draft to rectify the problem.

Although at a drastically reduced rate, McDonald will play in 2018. The 300 projected snaps could increase if Miami gets exotic with different packages or desperate because of injuries.

5.) Cameron Wake
Expected DE Snap Count – 2,450
Miami Dolphins Projected Defensive End Depth Chart

 

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Charles Harris (30/64) Starter 600
Cameron Wake (19/64) Starter/Pass Rush Specialist 550
Robert Quinn (43/46) Pass Rush Specialist 500
William Hayes (14/64) Run Defense Specialist 450
Andre Branch (57/64) Depth/Pass Rush 150
Cameron Malveaux Depth 50

The overall projected snap count increases from the idea that the Dolphins will continue to kick their ends inside on nickel downs.

October 21, 2017 - Miami Gardens, Florida, U.S. - Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) celebrates a fourth-quarter sack at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, October 22, 2017. Final score: Miami Dolphins 31, New York Jets 28 (Photo by Andres Leiva/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

October 21, 2017 – Miami Gardens, Florida, U.S. – (Photo by Andres Leiva/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

While Miami’s roster is talented and deep at this position, removing Wake’s production takes the group from a dominant force to mere paper tigers. Wake has been a picture of consistency and one of the more under-valued edge-rushers in NFL history.

Regularly a menace to opposing right tackles and a double-digit sack artist, Wake’s track record is the only sure-fire resume in this bunch. The hope that Robert Quinn finds rejuvenation in a defense that complements his skillset, or that Charles Harris takes a quantum leap, is just that – hope.

While losing Kenny Stills or Reshad Jones would be crushing, the Dolphins have competent aid at both receiver and strong safety. Miami’s offensive line has assembled its deepest group in more than a decade. The running backs are interchangeable, not from a skill stand-point, but from a functionally point-of-view.

And though Cameron Wake is listed in the integral players column, the Dolphins’ army of edge-rushers provide more relief than in the past. Tannehill and McMillan returning from season-ending-injuries, while simultaneously holding down two essential roles on this incarnation of Miami Dolphins’ football, is cause for concern.

Surviving August without catastrophic injuries would automatically vault 2018’s training camp to superior ground of 2017’s pre-season.

*Knocks on wood

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Pillaging the Pats

Travis Wingfield

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Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins

De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.

A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.

*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.

If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.

By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.

 

Coach (Year Left New England) Additional Migrating Staffers
Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame) 0
Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland) 0
Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets) 0
Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver) 0
Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State) 0
Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit) 0

 

Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:

1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.

2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.

That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.

It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.

Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.

There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.

Enter Patrick Graham.

It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.

Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.

Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.

And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.

For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.

We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.

The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.

This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.

In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).

The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.

Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.

The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.

Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.

The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.

The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.

Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.

The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.

Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.

These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.

The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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It is that time of year again.  Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.

It’s mock draft season!  Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…

Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:

 

Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy.  Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.

Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”.  Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.

 

CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams.  It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.

For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection.  In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.

 

The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma

Now it’s getting exciting!  There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray.  As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.

Some question if he will be available at #13.  As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched.  Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size.  Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier.  Murray will be no exception.

2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring.  If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.

 

Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship.  Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.

Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs.  He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback.  Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.

 

Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.  

What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available.  Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.

Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald).  Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.

 

SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke

It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback.  Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach.  Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill?  There are other options out there at a cheaper price.

When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.

All that said, it’s the NFL draft.  Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out.  Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential?  I just don’t see it with Jones.

 


 

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13.  Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.

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