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Miami Dolphins

Raekwon McMillan – Miami’s Front Seven Lynchpin

Travis Wingfield

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Why Brian Flores is giving the keys to his defense to a 23-year-old linebacker

The transition from college football star to impact professional isn’t an easy one – much less so when returning from an anterior crucial ligament tear. History casts an ominous light on players working back from major reconstructive surgery – devastating injuries that erase entire rookie seasons.

A slow start for Miami’s second-year Linebacker, Raekwon McMillan, ushered in doubt among Dolphins fans at a pivotal position, the proverbial quarterback of the defense. As he laid on the warm August turf at Hard Rock Stadium, following a seemingly innocuous punt coverage play, in an even more senseless exhibition game, the former Buckeye captain had to wonder, “why me?”

It was the first time in his football career McMillan had ever been hurt in a football game – and it would cost him the entirety of the 2017 season.

Early on in what was essentially his rookie season, McMillan didn’t look like the same sure-tackler that dominated at Ohio State (per Pro Football Focus, McMillan missed only 23 of his 268 attempts during his three years at OSU), his run-fits screamed not-ready-for-primetime, and his work in pass-coverage left plenty to be desired. But, as the year went along, McMillan showcased the white knuckle brand of ball that made him a second-round draft pick.

Merely 13 months removed from the ACL injury, McMillan led all NFL linebackers in run stops (PFF stat for stops within two yards of the LOS) from week-five to the end of the 2018 season.

The strong finish was indicative of two inarguable things:

1.) Study habits, and his commitment to the rehab process, would prepare McMillan for a second opportunity to kick start his professional career.

It’s no surprise Brian Flores and Patrick Graham think highly enough of the third-year ‘backer to entrust him in a similar role to that of New England’s Dont’a Hightower – communication has been a buzzword of Flores and Chris Grier this offseason. Flashback to training camp 2017 – then Head Coach, Adam Gase, praised McMillan for his ability to lead and communicate the defense.

That leadership prowess pre-dates McMillan’s professional career. Jerome Baker has been praising McMillan’s football acumen back to their days together in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s very easy playing alongside Raekwon and [Chris] Worley,” Baker said at OSU’s media day prior to the Fiesta Bowl. “Their ability alone is really a blessing. It’s made it easier on my confidence. They’re always telling me I can do it.

And

2.) McMillan was finally healthy.

From a column penned by The Palm Beach PostsJoe Schad last December:

“At the beginning of the year I was still hobbling around, after games, after practice,” McMillan said. I was hurting a lot. I still had to do rehab, but by week 7 or, I didn’t have to go to rehab any more. I just let it rest and I was able to move a little bit faster. The first time I knew, OK, I’m all right now was the Houston game, where I ran down Lamar Miller and caught him. That was the first time I opened up in like a year.”

Player’s speak is often that, run-of-the-mill lip service. But McMillan’s admissions were backed by the data – he graded as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best run-defender in the NFL from that Houston game onward.

Playing 831 snaps (76% of Miami’s defensive total) and all 16 games, McMillan’s role promises to increase the impressive 23-year-old’s scope of duties in 2019 – not for his work in coverage, but rather the aforementioned Hightower role.

In a recent interview with John Congemi on The Audible Podcast, McMillan revealed Brian Flores’ recommendation that he watch Hightower’s tape in preparation for his role in the new defensive scheme.

What exactly does the Hightower role entail? It’s one of the more unique linebacker mantles in the league. The defensive hero of Super Bowl 51’s pre-snap alignment for 2018 reads as follows:

 

Pre-Snap Alignment 2018 Snaps (% of total defensive snaps)
Off-Ball (Traditional) 486 (51.4%)
Defensive Line 427 (45.2%)

 

Those distinctions typically differentiate an edge-rusher position and a true MIKE pre-snap alignment. At 6-3, 260 pounds, Hightower is a smidge bigger than McMillan (who goes 6-2, 250).

McMillan’s 2018 splits went as follows:

Pre-Snap Alignment 2018 Snaps (% of defensive snaps)
Off-Ball (Traditional) 773 (93.0%)
Defensive Line 2 (.002%)

 

McMillan’s ability to blitz off the edge, or up the middle, is largely an unknown to this point – at least as far as his PFF data tells us.

Pass Rush Reps:

Player 2018 Pass Rush Reps (% of defensive snaps)
Hightower 287 (30.3%)
McMillan 31 (3.7%)

 

Hightower isn’t a refined technician with moves and counter-moves on top of an explosive get-off – far from it. It’s his gap discipline, penchant for identifying the protection set-up, and false-step-free-footwork that gave New England a return to the tune of a 16% pass rush productivity from Hightower in 2018.

With only 31 reps, there isn’t a lot to on from McMillan’s blitzing skill set as a pro, but we can use other clips as indicators for his quick-key, instinctive brand of ball (second video).

The emergence began week-five in Cincinnati where McMillan showed the awareness to respect the hook zone on the delay, then quickly change direction and close on the ball carrier (second video).

The shallow nature of Matt Burke’s play calling in 2018 restricted McMillan. Primarily a four-man rush, with the occasional A-gap pressure look (which was a bluff nine times out of 10), McMillan was almost always in a back pedal; but it’s his work going forward that should have Dolphins fans optimistic about his growth – against both the run and pass.

This entire game is a business in projection. From media types, to league executives with final say, everyone’s aim is to act as an early investor who reaps the rewards of mega-returns. McMillan’s new role in Flores’ defense is a projection, but one that should provide confidence among Dolphins fans.

Where many players in his position have failed to overcome the long road back, McMillan is poised not only to make a career for himself, but to act as the lynchpin of Miami’s front seven.

@WingfieldNFL

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    MARK

    April 8, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Awesome breakdowns. Keep it up

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Miami Dolphins

The Levee Breaks in Jersey – Dolphins Giants Week 15 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins break record for most players used, blowout loss ensues

The entire Dolphins operation took a back seat to the A-block story of Eli Manning in his final start at MetLife Stadium. Although riddled with mistakes, Miami played a strong first half, but unraveled after the intermission. With a first half lead, the Dolphins were outscored 16-0 — and out-gained 187-19 — in the third quarter, with the Giants scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter as an encore.

Miami’s experimental season became tangibly explainable Sunday as the Dolphins gave its 80th-differnet player a snap. The previous record was 78 players in one single season. Miami’s roster is currently comprised of 23 undrafted free agents (43%, most in the NFL). The Dolphins made 74 roster moves since week one and have 17 players on injured reserve — both of those are second most in the NFL.

Stat Dolphins Giants
Total Yards 384 412
Rushing 122 138
Passing 262 274
3rd / 4th Down 4/16 (25%) 5/11 (45.5%)
Penalties 7 (42 yards) 4 (32 yards)
Sacks For 1 3
TOP 28:53 31:07

 

DolphinsGiants

The things that made Miami a competitive team for the last two months were of the “takes no talent” variety. Dropped passes, penalties, turnovers, missed field goals, even the occasional miss from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins simply are not good enough to overcome the many errors committed in the blowout loss.

Despite the majority of Miami’s six dropped passes occurring in the first half, Fitzpatrick compiled the most Dolphin passing yards in a single half (234 yards) since Ryan Tannehill’s 2015 game against Houston. The Dolphins moved the chains 14 times (also a season high), combing Fitzpatrick’s arm and legs; he is now the team leader in rushing yards for the 2019 season with 219 yards.

It would be completely understandable for the Dolphins to go into the proverbial tank these last two games. The final home date with Cincinnati on-deck, followed by a season finale in Foxboro, 3-13 looks to be more than a possibility, but rather a probability.

More on how that could affect the Dolphins draft positioning in the recap segment at the bottom of the page. Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterback

It looked like business for usual for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins offense early at the Meadowlands Sunday. He was ripping the Giants zone defense for chunk yardage, escaping pressure and moving the chains with his legs, but coming up short in the red zone for the second consecutive game.

Miami’s first two drives traveled 99 yards, but yielded no points. Fitzpatrick had two misses that cost Miami points. First, a back-shoulder fade to Devante Parker left too far inside led to a turnover-on-downs. Then, on a later 3rd down, Fitzpatrick underthrew Parker to allow the defensive back to break up the pass. Miami would punt, opposed a fresh set of downs from inside the Giants 35-yard-line.

The dagger occurred on a Fitzpatrick run that resulted in a lost fumble, though the officiating crew blew the call on the field and in replay. Miami dropped six passes — including a ball off the facemask in the end zone — so it’s difficult to put too much of the blame on the quarterback.

Running Backs

Patrick Laird has some moments, but the gaffes are a weekly occurrence. He dropped another pass, failed to win a one-on-one situation on a stretch run that resulted in a safety, and he gets beat in pass protection every game. His 18-yard run saved his average for a respectable 3.8 yards per rush on 12 carries.

Myles Gaskin had a similar, average-saving run. Gaskin popped a 27-yarder in garbage time to get to 43 yards on nine carries, but he too has his shortcomings in pass protection.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Devante Parker has been consistent as they come this season. In his first game off the new contract that is schedules to keep him in Miami through the 2023 season, Parker went for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including another win on a 50-50 ball (more apt to call them 70-30 balls with Parker in range).

Albert Wilson was involved in the plan to the tune of five receptions on eight targets for 59 yards. Wilson has the shifty quality in condensed spaces that will provide the Dolphins with two, highly-utilizable traits going forward: 1.) uncover quickly from the slot on two-way-goes, and 2.) key misdirection to open up space for the rest of the offense.

Wilson’s start-stop ability, along with his prowess as a ball carrier could be a valuable piece in Chad O’Shea’s offense next season. He’ll have to be, in order to justify his retention at $8 million. The upside, for Miami, the commitment doesn’t extend beyond 2020. The team can certainly afford to keep Wilson on the books for another year and a better look at the player two full years removed from the hip injury.

Allen Hurns and Isaiah Ford were limited. Ford was the culprit of the facemask drop on a would-be touchdown in the second quarter, and Hurns only caught one pass. He was playing injured.

Mike Gesicki was involved early drawing matchups on the Giants safeties and linebackers. He had an opportunity on a takeoff against DeAndre Baker, but the pass was broken up. He caught four of eight for 47 yards. He continues to look more comfortable with each passing week.

Miami utilized plenty of offset 12-personnel formations (double tight ends inline to one side of the formation). Miami’s only semblance of a running game comes on stretch runs off this formation, and they do it in behind Clive Walford and Durham Smythe.

Walford was off to a sterling start, but two dropped passes quelled the strong showing. He and Smythe both hit a number of key blocks on Miami’s longer runs of the game.

Offensive Line

Miami shuffled the line throughout the day, and none of the combinations seemed to make improvements. Fitzpatrick was under siege, Miami failed to create any penetration on point-of-attack blocks, and another good scrambling day saved what otherwise could’ve been a shutout type of performance.

Michael Deiter’s issues are systemic at this point. He’s constantly off-balance, lacks conviction and confidence, and misses an assignment each time he’s out there. He looks good pulling and getting the second level, but that’s about where the praise stops.

Daniel Kilgore continues to demonstrate a lack of ability to do the things they want him to execute in this scheme. Reach blocks are an adventure, anchoring is a 50-50 proposition, and he rarely blows anybody off the ball.

Jesse Davis has quietly pieced together a better initial kick slide and pass set as a right tackle. He’s living up to his end of the bargain on those offset 12 runs to the right side.

Evan Brown, Shaq Calhoun and J’Marcus Webb were all difficult watches.

Defensive Line

Davon Godchaux has been the Devante Parker of the defense — consistently stable. Godchaux demonstrates his power with consistency, but he flashes big plays on a weekly basis with penetration. He made five more tackles Sunday, bringing his season total to 65.

Christian Wilkins is a poor man’s Godchaux in his rookie season. He too has the flash plays, but he’s not as consistent and can get moved a gap or two from time-to-time.

Taco Charlton was back after a healthy scratch a week ago. Taking Charles Harris’ spot, Taco made one tackle and saw a lot of runs go for big gains off his edge. The same was true on the other side against Avery Moss and the occasional outside ‘backer condensed inside to a six-technique.

Linebackers

Sam Eguavoen is piecing together a nice run. He came from the CFL as a standout in passing situations, and he’s been active doing just that. Falling into the hook zip and tipping footballs, applying pressure on the quarterback, and picking up a sack for the second straight week, Eguavoen is showcasing the goods to return as a sub package linebacker.

Jerome Baker had quite a day making plays. When he keys it and pulls the trigger, Baker is as disruptive as they come blowing up plays at the line-of-scrimmage. He used that speed to get into the hook zone for two plays on the ball, an interception and a PBU. He also made 12 tackles in the game.

Vince Biegel fell into the hook zone for a play of his own. Dropping in place of a blitzing Nik Needham, Biegel picked off the first pass of his career. He also continues to dent the edge and set up tackles as well as anyone on this defense.

Raekwon McMillan left the game with a hamstring injury. When he was out there, his impact was minimal. McMillan played all over the formation and tried to give Miami some help in more of a Sam ‘backer position.

Defensive Backs

It’s a mix mash of street free agents in the Miami secondary. For the fourth time this year, Miami signed a played on a Tuesday, then played him in the defensive backfield the following Sunday.

Nate Brooks was beaten up and down the field by fellow rookie Darius Slayton. Linden Stephens saw his first action as a Dolphins and made two tackles.

Eric Rowe made four tackles and continues to show his mettle in the box safety role. He’s definitely a fit going forward for that role.

Nik Needham had a day of peaks and valleys. He made an exceptional tackle on Saquon Barkley in space, but then came back and was juked badly by the former number-two overall pick. Needham got his hands on a ball that wound up going for a 51-yard touchdown. It was that kind of day for Needham and Miami.

Jomal Wiltz continues to show the competitiveness and tackling prowess that makes him a favorite to return as a sub package defensive back next season.

Recap

This game looked like a laugher early, in favor of the Dolphins. Despite three bad interceptions from Eli Manning, Miami continuously made errors that turned the game in favor of the home team.

Perhaps that result was best for Miami.

The Dolphins climb now to third in the 2020 NFL Draft. Miami leapfrogged Washington based on tie-breakers, as week 16 presents a pair of huge games in the race for better draft choices. Washington hosts the Giants while the Bengals visit Miami.

Winning one of the final two games would result in no worse than the fifth pick in the draft for the Fins, and Miami can climb all the way to second if the team finishes 3-13.

Whoever Miami deems as QB2 should be there for the taking. The Chase Young option will continue to compel the fan base, but his penchant for the up-field rush will likely make Miami pursue other avenues.

There’s a lot of time between now and the last weekend in April, including two more games. Brian Flores’ ability to get his team up for these final two could be telling.

Or maybe they won’t. It’s perfectly understandable if Miami are unable to mount a competitive fight in the final two weeks. The roster was depleted in every fashion imaginable (trades, cuts, injuries, player shutdowns), and even a good coaching staff has a breaking point.

The upshot for the 2019 season is that Miami secured a high draft pick and added a war chest of offseason resources. Perhaps best of all, the Dolphins now have surefire long-term fits that were largely unknowns just a few months prior.

Parker, Needham, Gesicki, Biegel, Rowe all emerged as surprise breakthrough players. Joining core parts like Godchaux, McMillan, Baker, and those returning from IR (Preston Williams, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain, Jakeem Grant, Jonathan Ledbetter), reinforcements are on the way for the 2020 season.

This season has been brutal. We’re eight quarters away from its conclusion, and the real season beginning. The 2020 Miami Dolphins offseason.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Extend DeVante Parker

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

One of the longest-tenured players on the team may very well be a Miami Dolphin for life.

According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, the Miami Dolphins have extended DeVante Parker through the 2023 season.

All of the details are still being flushed out, but the deal is a 4-year, $40m extension, with an $8m signing bonus (which is guaranteed).

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Parker will earn $4.5m guaranteed in 2020, and $7.7m guaranteed in 2021.

Parker signs this extension in the middle of a career year. His 55 catches are 1 shy of his career-high (56, 2016), his 882 receiving yards surpass his prior career-high by 138 yards (2016), and his 6 touchdowns are only 3 less than his career total coming into the 2019 season.

Whether it’s Chad O’Shea‘s offense, a shift in Quarterback mentality, or the receiver finally coming into his own, Parker has shown that he can be a #1 receiver in this offense. Though some fans may be hoping for DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham Jr. “elite”, the truth is, Parker isn’t that far behind.

His extension is in line with his production, and it’s fair to say that Parker’s potential still hasn’t been tapped. It’ll be interesting to see how much Parker builds off of his career-year, especially if the Dolphins can solidify their offensive line and give their receivers a chance to get open (more often).

Parker joins Ryan Tannehill and Mike Pouncey as the only other 1st-round picks drafted this decade to have signed an extension with the team.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins roster move round-up: Week 15 sees several more changes

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins Linden Stephens
Linden Stephens defending Los Angeles Rams tight end Johnny Mundt

MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – Miami Dolphins continue to change up the roster

The Miami Dolphins have continued their roster churning in Week 15, leading up to their prizefight against the New York Giants on December 15.

While it’s been a mainstay strategy for the Dolphins this year, to comb over the waiver wire and the free agency market, there was a significant uptick in waiver wire awards last, totaling four new players being claimed.

Last week’s claimed players included Trevor Davis, Mack Hollins, Zach Zenner, and Zach Sieler. Zenner’s Miami stint was short-lived; he was waived on Tuesday, December 10 to make room for the newest wave of Dolphins signees.

Along with Zenner’s release, the Miami Dolphins added cornerbacks Ken Webster and Ryan Lewis to the Injured Reserve list.

Those three transactions allowed the Dolphins to scoop a player from the New England Patriots’ practice squad, defensive back Nate Brooks, a second player from the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, linebacker Jamal Davis II, and a third player, offensive lineman Adam Pankey, who was waived by the Green Bay Packers.

Nate Brooks is a rookie defensive back that played at North Texas and has spent time with the Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.

Jamal Davis II is also a rookie. He entered the league from Akron. As mentioned above, he spent time with the Titans earlier this year before the Miami Dolphins signed him.

Adam Pankey is the most traveled player the Dolphins have added. Pankey went undrafted in 2017 out of West Virginia and has had two runs with the Packers and a short one with the Titans.

On December 7, cornerback Linden Stephens was added to the roster in a last-minute shuffle before the Dolphins-Jets game. Cornerback Chris Lammons was released to make room for Stephens on the squad, per Adam Beasley.

Stephens has had tenures with the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. He formerly played at Cincinnati in college.

In practice squad news, cornerback Rashard Causey was added to the group on December 12, per Safid Deen. Causey played college ball at UCF and has spent time with the Denver Broncos.

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