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Miami Dolphins

Reassessing Defensive Concerns

Kevin Dern



We’re nearing the halfway point of the 2019 season and quite a lot has changed since my last piece in July.  Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, Kiko Alonso, Vincent Taylor, T.J. McDonald are all gone.  Miami sits at 0-6 staring at the grim possibility of going 0-16.  Fear not Dolfans, if that happens, there are one or Tua things on the horizon that look big and bright.  So, to help us get there, I thought I’d reassess my own article.  I wrote and published this on July 5th, so that’s the context we’re looking at.

Before we dive into the specific concerns I laid out, I think it needs to be said that Brian Flores and his staff, for the most part, seem to have Miami’s defense playing nearly as well as they could, given what they have to work with.  Aside from getting bamboozled by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Week 1, Miami’s defense is noticeably different from what we saw during the Adam Gase era:

1) Through seven week (6 games for Miami) they’ve got the third fewest penalties in the league

2) Aside from the Ravens game, we haven’t seen breakdowns in coverage and miscommunication on the scale we saw in 2017 and 2018.

3) You can see the framework of what Flores and Patrick Graham are trying to do; this is a smart, physical and disciplined defense.  It’s just devoid of talent at too many positions.

While we’re at it, a brief note on the scheme.  This isn’t my style, but I’m going to firmly plant the victory flag on detailing the type of defense Miami is running.  We saw a lot of lazy takes this offseason about Miami running a 3-4.  They’ve done this pretty minimally, mostly against run-heavy looks like Pittsburgh the other night.  If you’ve studied the Patriots and either Matt Patricia or Brian Flores’ iterations of the defense, you’d know the 3-4 was used very, very minimally (just 13 snaps in 2018).  Miami’s defense is very much what the Patriots were running in 2018 – a multiple, sometimes amorphic, sub-packaged-based defense system where we’re seeing a lot of 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 looks with varying personnel.  If you need a refresher, I wrote about it back in February.

Now, onto the specific concerns I addressed back in July.

As a refresher, those concerns were:

– How many of Miami’s incumbent Defensive Linemen will take to the style of play in the Brian Flores defense?

 – Can the Dolphins aggregately create analogs for Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, or are we shopping aggressively in 2020?

– Who is Miami’s Patrick Chung?

1. Reassessing the D-line.
Starting at the beginning with the defensive line, my primary concern was how many of Miami’s incumbent D-linemen would stick within the scheme, and how would they compensate for not having as many powerful linemen.

The answer? Miami’s front office and coaching staff essentially took a sledgehammer to the Defensive Line Room.  Gone are: Akeem Spence – a starter in 2018, Vincent Taylor – key rotational player in 2018, and one of the stars of camp in Adolphus Washington.  We also saw them say goodbye to potential NT types in Joey Mbu and Jamiyus Pittman.

The remains from 2018 are just Davon Godchaux and Charles Harris.  And, it seems very likely that Harris’s ship will probably sail this offseason as well.

That being said, we’ve seen some good moments.  One of the questions marks that rookie Christian Wilkins carried into the NFL, and Miami’s defense in particular, was his ability to be physical at the point and play with power.  His track record at Clemson showed he made a lot of plays using his quickness and athleticism to get around blocks. So far this year we’ve seen him do a nice job simply going through players.  Here’s a clip of him at 3-technique against the Redskins, blasting through Brandon Scherff to allow Raekwon McMillan to make the stop.

We see it again here against the Cowboys’ Zack Martin.×720/cAlU9-7W2Q5pX4Q-.mp4?tag=10

Early-season pick up Taco Charlton has also provided some nice moments.  Against the Steelers on Monday night he was able to set a “pick” on David DeCastro to allow Jerome Baker to loop outside as the pair teamed up for a strip-sack of Mason Rudolph.

We’ve also seen Vince Biegel play well as an edge defender in pass-rush situations, including notching his first career sack against none other than Tom Brady.

Overall though, Miami’s defensive line has been more about the additions they’ve made during cut weekend and in-season.  We’ve seen the likes of Avery Moss, Taco Charlton and Vince Biegel start games, and some nice contributions from John Jenkins.  None were with Miami heading into 2019, and I imagine Miami will continue to build in the trenches this offseason.

2. Can Miami create analogs for Hightower and Van Noy?
The answer here thus far is no.  Miami hasn’t been able to.  What they’ve done is piece together some of those roles, but to a degree.  Vince Biegel was acquired via trade just before the season and appears to have been the most successful at replicating a role befit for a Patriots linebacker.  In short, they’ve essentially given him a pseudo Dont’a Hightower role.  He’s been able to play as an edge backer and has been a nifty 3rd down pass-rusher.  But he doesn’t play off-the-ball the way Hightower does.

We’ve seen Miami split that role between Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen.  McMillan has been the best of the bunch in this regard, especially in terms of stopping the run.  But, we haven’t seen him very much on the edge or lined up inserted in gaps in pass-rush situations as a pick player.

Travis’s clip here demonstrates McMillan’s abilities to take on and disengage from blocks to make tackles.  In short, Raekwon McMillan’s role has been boiled down a bit and he’s been playing like David Harris did for the Pats a few seasons ago, or how they used Ja’Whaun Bentley last year before he was injured.  Essentially, McMillan’s got a role going forward, but it’s more a LB3 role than anything else:  run-stopper.

As for Jerome Baker, he’s not Kyle Van Noy.  Baker’s been destroyed as an edge linebacker this year.  Hopefully Biegel, the return of Van Ginkel and offseason additions make it so that you don’t have to worry about putting him there in 2020.  And that’s because he’s played fairly well as an off-ball LB, and his best game of the year came against the Steelers.  So what does that mean?

As we can see here from the preseason clip against Tampa, Baker can click and close when he’s off the ball.  He tackles fairly well, but struggles against blockers.  My thinking is that he and Raekwon McMillan will almost end up being subbed for each other in off-ball situations next year; McMillan in running situations, Baker in passing situations.  And you can have Jerome Baker involved as a blitzer.

But as far as either of them being Hightower or Van Noy, it’s not happening.  And that’s okay.  I don’t think Miami’s going to end up building a defense around either guy, but they can fill key roles on the team moving forward so long as it’s cost effective.  Translation: you’re probably not extending both guys, it’ll be one or the other…if that, depending on who your top two LBs are when the time comes.

3) Who is Miami’s Patrick Chung?
Who the hell would’ve thought that seven games into the season the answer would be Eric Rowe? Not you.  Not me.  Not anyone.  Miami dealt Minkah Fitzpatrick, thus wiping out that option.  Minkah got some snaps as that Patrick Chung hybrid LB/S position before whining his way to the Steel City.  T.J. McDonald was cut (never should’ve been extended before playing a snap in the first place.  I swear, this team.) before the season started.  And Reshad Jones has been injured and perhaps “injured” more often than not this year.  He’s seen some snaps in the box in that role and has made some plays.

You can see Coach Flo explaining to Reshad about situational football as it relates to the Redskins having Adrian Peterson in the game in what would normally be a passing situation and telling Reshad Jones to think run.  It’s hard to see in the clip, but Jones lines up on the edge and tracks down Peterson from the backside for a TFL.

But I think we all know that this year is likely Reshad’s last year as a Dolphin.  He’s had a tremendous career here, but the end is coming in the form of a total rebuild.  In Jones’s absence the past two weeks, we’ve seen Eric Rowe surprisingly fill in.  To my knowledge he didn’t play this role in New England when he was there (please, correct me if I’m wrong on this) though he did play some free safety for the Patriots.  So far, Rowe seems to have a grasp on what he’s supposed to be doing, but has missed some tackles.  You can see that here from the Monday Night game:

Suffice to say, I don’t think Eric Rowe is the answer here either.  Filling this spot is going to happen this offseason, and it may require a free agent signing or signings, plus a pick to do it.  It’s a very niche, but integral role, to this defense and takes someone with unique traits to fill it.  A part of me still wonders if Jerome Baker could play here if he slimmed down a bit, but Miami seems to have him working opposite that line of thought.

Each of the concerns has reared themselves in different ways.  Miami’s incumbent linemen, save for Davon Godchaux and the rookies Christian Wilkins and Jonathan Ledbetter (for a game) have be removed.  Avery Moss, John Jenkins, Robert Nkemdiche, Taco Charlton, and to a degree, Vince Biegel have been inserted.  And there’s certainly more work to be done here.

To this point Baker and McMillan have carved out roles, but they’re not the all-encompassing roles of Hightower or Van Noy.  Vince Biegel’s emergence has helped mitigate those shortcomings, but more work needs to be done at linebacker this offseason.  Miami needs their Van Noy or Devon Kennard in a bad way.  Keep an eye on LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson here.  Just saying.

The landscape at strong safety is about as barren as the New Mexico desert that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman drove their RV to in order to “cook”.  At this rate, Miami’s going to have to make a heavy investment here, and likely should do whatever they can to have Bobby McCain move back to slot corner, or off the roster altogether.  He’s not the free safety this scheme requires, though I could see this staff giving him one more year to earn/prove he can do that with better help in front of him and outside at corner.

For the remainder of this year, I think we as fans have to focus on the continued development of Christian Wilkins, Taco Charlton, Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker and Vince Biegel to see how best to utilize them in 2020.  Aside from Wilkins, who figures to garner a large role, what about the rest? We need to see these players pile up more individual wins over the remaining nine weeks.


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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina



Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski



As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

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

Jason Hrina



Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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