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Know The Enemy – New England Patriots

Travis Wingfield

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As the NFL comes to its summer crawl, we’re going to be looking into each of the Miami Dolphins’ 2018 opponents leading up to training camp.

Go to:
Week 1 vs. Tennessee 
Week 2 @ New York Jets
Week 3 vs. Oakland

New England Patriots – Weeks 4 (Foxboro) and 14 (Miami)

2017 Recap: (13-3, AFC East Champions – Playoffs 2-1; Beat TEN and JAX, lost to PHI)

Writing a New England Patriots blog must be the most redundant job in sports. Off-season adversity, .500 record in September, rip off wins in bunches and eventually find yourself still in contention in Late-January.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

2017 was a microcosm of the Bill Belichick Patriots. Panic erupts over one or two losses before the greatest coach-quarterback-pairing in the history of the sport find themselves playing on the game’s grandest stage. The only relatively dubious feature of the Patriots unprecedented run is the record in Super Bowls – which fell to 5-3 five months ago.

You don’t arrive in the land of nitpicking a .600 winning percentage in the most difficult football game ever conceived without playing terrific defense. Despite some moving parts and challenges with personnel in the front-seven, Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense found a way to keep points off the scoreboard, as is annual practice.

On the other side, Tom Brady continues to defy the laws of time – he’s playing the best football of his career in tandem with arguably the NFL’s all-time greatest tight end, Rob Gronkowski.

2017 League-Ranks:

 

Scoring Offense 2nd
Rushing Offense 10th
Passing Offense 2nd
Scoring Defense 5th
Rushing Defense 20th
Passing Defense 30th
Turnover Differential 11th

 

2018 Coaching Changes:

 A winning environment cultivates successful individuals. As it has done so many times before, the Bill Belichick coaching tree grew when Matt Patricia was hired for the big chair in Detroit. It was set to double before Josh McDaniels weaseled out of his commitment to Indianapolis in the 11thhour.

McDaniels is back with the offensive staff unchanged. Patricia’s vacated position remains unfilled with the rest of 2017’s defensive staff intact as well.

2018 Notable Roster Changes:

 

Newcomer Role / Projected Snap Count
DE Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta) Starter / 60%
RB Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati) Backup/Short-Yardage / 20%
WR Jordan Matthews (Buffalo) Backup / 30%
TE Troy Niklas (Arizona) 3rd TE / 20%
DT Danny Shelton (Cleveland) Starter / 43.73%
WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland) Backup/Return-Specialist / 42.66%
OT Trent Brown (San Francisco) Starter / 60.91%

 

 

Departed Role / Snaps Played
CB Malcolm Butler (Tennessee) Starter / 97.83%
LT Nate Solder (NY Giants) Starter / 97.81%
RB Dion Lewis (Tennessee) RB 1b / 35.56%
OT Cameron Fleming (Dallas) Swing Tackle / 32.4%
WR Danny Amendola (Miami) Starter / 49.87%
S Johnson Bademosi (Houston) Backup / 20.19% (62.97 special teams)

 

Projected Cornerstones (75%+ snap takers) – 2017 PFF Positional Rank:

QB Tom Brady – 1st/ 40
WR Julian Edelman – DNP (2016 – 44th/ 119)
TE Rob Gronkowski – 1st/ 72
DE Trey Flowers – 28th/ 110
LB Dont’a Hightower – DNP (2016 – 14th/ 88)
CB Stephone Gilmore –  31st/ 120
CB Jason McCourty – 17th/ 120
S Devin McCourty – 31st/ 89
S Patrick Chung – 28th/ 89
S Duron Harmon – 23rd/ 89

The Other Key Contributors:

Continuously ahead of the curve the Patriots rely on rotation more than any team in the NFL. Half of their cornerstone players are in the defensive backfield, a consequence of the plethora of dime packages employed.

Duron Harmon, the team’s dime safety, took 66.2% of the defensive snaps. While that number is shy of the requisite 75% cornerstone percentage, he’s a starter in this defense. Eric Rowe will compete with Jason McCourty for the other perimeter corner job and rookie Duke Dawson could win the nickel job and play extensively right away.

Fellow rookies Sony Michel and Isaiah Wynn figure into the running back and offensive line equations respectively. Michel is a shifty, pass-catching dynamo that offers a glove-like fit for the match-up-centric offense of the Pats and position-diverse Wynn has a tough line-up to crack in front of him.

Newcomers Adrian Clayborne and Danny Shelton figure heavily into the defensive line rotation with Malcolm Brown and Lawrence Guy. Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bently will get a crack of a share of reps at linebacker.

This team is full of hockey-line style position groups that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Tale of the Tape:

Offense: 

The first scheme on the schedule that won’t be entering year-one, the Dolphins can go back into the archive to study the Patriots. However, no team reinvents itself quite like Belichick’s Pats.

Dec 11, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaves the field after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly constructing variations of previous offensive schemes every year, one thing remains constant: New England loves to create and exploit match-ups. Not afraid to nickel-and-dime a defense, Tom Brady can kill the opposition with a million cuts.

The ability to remain versatile across all personnel packages creates issues in communication and conditioning for unsuspecting defenses. Stuck in base? Brady flexes out his back and throws a five-yard hitch for an easy completion. Bring on the sub-packages? He’ll run the football right at you.

All of this ingenuity and mastery from the quarterback, then you factor in one of the league’s most uncoverable weapons and the offense is nearly unstoppable.

To play running back in this scheme requires pass catching prowess. The stable was already crowded with cross-trained skilled players, then it added Sony Michel. Michel is my pick for offensive rookie of the year for the same reasons I selected Alvin Kamara for the same award last year.

Julian Edelman is difficult to cover in a short-areas, but he will miss the first meeting with Miami due to a suspension. The Dolphins solved the puzzle to the Pats receivers last year in the Monday night win. Pressing to disrupt the timing and creating early pressure on Brady are the keys.

Offensive line coaching legend Dante Scarnecchia built a fortress in front of Brady. The tackle positions are solid, but the trio in the interior (Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason) is among the league’s best (14th, 4thand 8thamong their position groups on PFF).

Defense:

Just like the offense, the defense mixes it up as well as any program in the league. Playing with light fronts and loaded backfields, the Patriots scheme is built around corners and safeties that can cover and tackle.

Getting the glue to the front-seven back in 2018 should improve the worst yards-allowed-rank in the Belichick era. Dont’a Hightower is a unique blend of an off-the-ball ‘backer and a polished edge-rusher. His return allows the Pats to vary coverages between their big-nickel and dime packages.

Going back to the days of Vince Wilfork, Belichick loves plopping beef at the nose tackle position to disrupt the point-of-attack. Malcom Brown is something of an immovable object. Adrian Clayborne and Danny Shelton jump into the rotation looking to bolster the New England interior pass rush.

The defensive ends in this scheme are diluted a tad. With the variety of fronts, their jobs are typical of an interior defensive lineman – eat up blocks and sustaining gap-integrity. Trey Flowers is the front-man of a group that gets Derrick Rivers back from an injury that took away his rookie season.

No one does more with less than Belichick. No matter how many yards it allows, the Patriot defense always limits red zone production and takes the football away. With reinforcements on the way in 2018, there is no reason to expect that to change.

Match-Up with Miami:

The Dolphins were essentially the only team to figure out the Patriots offense in 2017. Playing a more physical brand of football on the perimeter and the spacing of the wide-9 created tougher passing lanes for Brady.

As always, the key is to create pressure from multiple channels on number-12. The Dolphins supped-up defense could get more creative with a Patriots-like blueprint of putting more defensive backs on to the field.

Opposed to allowing the likes of Kiko Alonso to become isolated on a back, perhaps T.J. McDonald sinks into a quasi-linebacker role. The problem most teams run into with this plan is the negative hit to the run-defense. Miami’s larger, more physically imposing DBs can support in the run game just as well as they defend the pass.

With the Patriots offensive line stout in the middle, a heavy-rush off the edge with Cam Wake, Robert Quinn and Charles Harris, while challenging the quick-hitting passing game, is the best recipe for success. And blitzing Brady remains out of the question – that’s when he’s at his best.

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) and free safety Michael Thomas (31) provide pass coverage on New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) on a pass play in the end zone during the second quarter of an NFL football game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby McCain versus Julian Edelman in the second match-up figures to be the headliner. Minkah Fitzpatrick could potentially be the answer to the decade-long question of ‘who’s got Gronk?’

Offensively, for the Dolphins, the key is Ryan Tanenhill not taking the cheese. Mixing up coverages requires the quarterback to prep a little extra, but identifying post-snap rotation and the Patriots’ penchant for under-cutting routes becomes paramount – giving Brady extra possessions by turning it over is not an option.

Kenyan Drake was key to victory in the 2017 meeting in Miami. Creating balance and throwing the football to the back is a viable option to get the Patriots out of their comfort zone.

Miami can handle the pass rush of the Patriots, but Tannehill has to be on his A-game to beat this team.

Trap Game Potential:

The Patriots have a game four days after the first match-up with Miami. But playing the lowly Colts, off a non-conference game in Detroit, should hone New England’s focus into where it needs to be.

This game is sandwiched between the Oakland and Cincinnati games for the Dolphins. There’s no reason to look ahead.

The week-14 match-up is conveniently scheduled between games with Minnesota and Pittsburgh for the Patriots – there’s Miami’s chance to catch the Pats napping in South Florida yet again. 

Week-Four in a Nutshell:

While the Dolphins have more success against the Patriots than any other team, beating Brady in Foxboro doesn’t happen. Literally. Ever.

And while the best time to pick off the Pats is early in the season, playing against that quarterback, that coach and the “atmosphere” of New England never bodes well for the road team.

Miami will be severe underdogs in the week-four game and have to play perfect to win. As for the December game in Miami, crazier things have happened.

And they seem to happen just about every year when these two teams get together.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Setting the Edge: Miami’s New Additions Up Front

Kevin Dern

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It’s no secret that Miami’s defense was bad last year. The Dolphins ranked 32nd in the league in points allowed, mostly due to giving up 102 points in the first two games alone. Their run defense, which was an eyesore under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke during the Adam Gase tenure remained problematic in Brian Flores’s first year. Miami gave up 135.4 yards per game, 27th in the league, and 4.2 yards per carry, 22nd in the league. Not good.

Miami’s pass defense wasn’t sterling by any means. Injuries to Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain hurt. Trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t help. But I think we all can appreciate that Miami’s passing defense progressed throughout the year despite having to field a secondary that consisted of: Eric Rowe playing two positions, Nik Needham, Ryan Lewis, Ken Webster, Tae Hayes, Nate Brooks, Adrian Colbert, Walt Aikens, and Montre Hartage at various points.

The Dolphins will have a hopefully healthy Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain back. They signed the premier free agent corner in Byron Jones, drafted Noah Igbinoghene in the first round and drafted Brandon Jones in the third. They also signed safeties Clayton Fejedelem and Kavon Frazier, who have some starting experience in the past with Cincinnati and Dallas respectively. Things are pointing up more solidly in the back end of the defense.

But what about the additions to the front?

The interior players from last season remain largely intact with Davon Godchaux, Christian Wilkins, Jerome Baker, and Raekwon McMillan all returning. Zach Sieler only played in three games but looks promising and his Week 16 performance against the Bengals was arguably the best game for a Miami defensive lineman since Cameron Wake was still on the roster. Kyle Van Noy will likely play a good chunk of his snaps off the ball, as he did under Brian Flores in 2018. Elandon Roberts will at the very least be good depth up the middle.

And the edges of the defense?

First, I think it’s important to distinguish that Miami uses both defensive ends and outside linebackers as edge defenders in different formations. So, to label them all as EDGE players, as seems to be common practice these days, is a bit misleading as it relates to the Dolphins defense. My purpose for this article is to breakdown how the Dolphins got better on the edges this offseason and what we can expect from them in 2020.  Here’s whose on the roster right now:

Defensive Ends
Shaq Lawson
Avery Moss
Emmanuel Ogbah
Jason Strowbridge
Curtis Weaver

*Emmanuel Ogbah, Jason Strowbridge and Shaq Lawson all can play tighter techniques to the ball when called upon (ex: 3, 4i, 4 and in some cases 0).

Outside Linebackers
Vince Biegel
Trent Harris
Andrew Van Ginkel
Kyle Van Noy

*Kyle Van Noy will very likely see snaps off-the-ball as a traditional ILB in addition to edge reps as an OLB. Biegel and Van Ginkel will also get snaps as stand-up DEs (ex: standup 5 or 6 tech in a 3-3-5 Bear front)

If you’ve read my articles on LockedOn before, you’ll know that I believe we’ll see Brian Flores defense really take shape this year. When Flores ran the Patriots defense in 2018, his most used formations were the 4-2-5 (307 snaps), 3-3-5 (226 snaps), 3-2-6 (132 snaps), and 4-3 (97 snaps). Last year’s use of the 3-4 I think was more built out of necessity. Miami’s edge players were bad at setting the edge, and with their ever-changing personnel I think Patrick Graham used more 3-4 looks because it was easier to coordinate. I think this year, with the improved personnel, we’ll see more of what Brian Flores was running in New England in 2018.

One note to consider is that prior to the bye week, we saw more examples of the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 formations, often with the same personnel. Below are several screenshots from Miami’s games in Weeks 1-3.

Standard 4-2-5
DL:  Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins Harris
LB:  Baker, Eguavoen

3-3-5 formation with 4-2-5 personnel
D-line: Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins, Charlton (OLB)
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

3-2-6 formation with three DEs (Ruby)
D-line: Biegel, C. Harris, Moss
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

4-3 Over
D-line: Moss, Wilkins, Godchaux, C. Harris
LBs: Eguavoen, McMillan, Baker

* Note Miami will play under and even looks out of 4-3 personnel.

Let’s get one thing straight. Miami’s defense is very multiple. They will play these formations with non-traditional personnel. For example, if we go back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense, watch their Sunday Night Game against the Packers. New England opens that game with 4-2-5 personnel but using three DEs in the grouping. They used Trey Flowers as a 3-technique on 1st and 2nd downs that drive. Miami will do similar things, for instance, they had Taco Charlton line up as an OLB in their 3-3-5 look seen above.

My gut feeling is that this year, Miami’s defense will more closely resemble the 2018 Patriots in terms of what they deploy, both in formations and in personnel packages, than it will resemble anything Miami ran last year post-bye week.

For a more in-depth look at that, I’ll reference you to this piece I wrote in February of 2019 shortly after Brian Flores was hired. Inside the Film Room.

The remainder of this piece will cover the following additions Miami made this offseason and how they will fit: Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy, Jason Strowbridge, and Curtis Weaver.

As a whole, this group should give Miami much improve ability up front on the edges of the defense. Primarily, Ogbah, Lawson, Van Noy and Strowbridge should provide an immediate shot in the arm for the run defense. The first three and Curtis Weaver should all prove to be better pass-rushers than anyone Miami deployed on the edge last year, be it a DE or OLB.

Emmanuel Ogbah
First things first about Ogbah. He’s big. And he’s long. At 6’4” 275lbs he’s got 35.5” arms and 10” hands. He’s got power and some explosiveness – 35.5” vert and 121” broad jumps. These are things to note about him. Ogbah was having a really nice year with the Chiefs notching 5.5 sacks before an injury cut short his 2019 campaign. He uses that length and power really well to set the edge against the run, and those long arms have come in handy as he’s got 20 career deflected passes.

In this first clip, you’ll see Ogbah (#90) at LDE for the Chiefs. His play recognition here is excellent as he feels the tackle release to setup for a screen. Ogbah slows his rush immediately and looks to get into the pass lane. The Jaguars had a double screen called and Foles goes the opposite way.

Clip number two shows Ogbah’s ability to affect the passing lanes. His rush against Ronnie Stanley seems a bit off, and I think this may have been a game-planned spy attempt as the Chiefs blitz a corner from that side. If it’s not, then Ogbah has good recognition to stop his rush and drop into the passing lane and get his hands up to deflect Lamar Jackson’s pass for an incompletion.

Against the Packers, Ogbah showcases his length and speed in this pass-rush. He uses his long arms well to engage Bryan Bulaga in a bull-rush move. He’s able to start to turn the corner and executes a rip move to free himself and sack Aaron Rodgers.

In our final clip of Emmanuel Ogbah, we’ll see him against the Vikings. Here he’s able to set a hard edge against LT Riley Rieff and he’s able to get upfield enough to force Dalvin Cook to cut inside into traffic where he’s stopped for a short gain.

Overall, Ogbah’s a guy that is going to set a hard edge and has some pass-rush ability. While I get that Dolfans may be upset that 91 isn’t “retired” the way 54 and 99 are, I think it’s fitting as he’ll be deployed like how the Patriots deployed their #91 Deatrich Wise. Ogbah can play on the edge all three downs. He’s long enough and strong enough to play tighter techniques inside. There are a number of reps of him at a 4i-technique being able to stop the run. It wouldn’t surprise me if Miami tries to utilize him as an inside rusher on 3rd downs, much like the Patriots did with Wise. The plus for Ogbah is that he’s a better athlete. He’ll be able to collect some wins as a pass-rusher from 6, 7 and 9 technique looks on 1st and 2nd downs in addition to setting the edge against the run.

Shaq Lawson
Another player coached by Marion Hobby here. Shaq is a player that’s had an odd start to his career. Drafted by the Rex Ryan coached Bills, he wasn’t a super scheme fit there and dealt with some injuries. Starting only 17 career games, none in 2019, Lawson carved out a nice niche for himself in the rotation-happy Bills D-line last year. My thought is that he is going to get opportunities to replicate some of the looks that Trey Flowers did for the Patriots and continues to be put in with the Lions, coached by Matt Patricia, who runs another Patriot-styled scheme.

Our first clip of Shaq is against the Dolphins in Week 11. He’s going to be lined up outside RT Jesse Davis in what you’d call a wide-5 technique. Lawson’s a bit slow off the snap, but he’s able to make himself small and is able to cross Jesse Davis’s face with a quick swipe move and makes a tackle for no gain.

The second clip isn’t necessarily a great pass-rush rep, but the reason I want to showcase it is because of where Lawson’s aligned. He’s in a 3-technique look against RG Evan Boehm. Lawson does a nice job hand-fighting with Boehm, eventually getting free inside despite giving up more than 50lbs to Boehm. This is important because Miami incorporates a lot of the 3-3-5 looks and 3-2-6 looks in passing situations that necessitate DEs being able to play inside. A lot of the pass-rush games, which we’ll see when I talk about Kyle Van Noy, come from a wider edge player coming around into the backside A or B gap. Lawson’s ability to get push in the pocket here is key in executing those games, and in this rep he’s able to get in Fitzpatrick’s face to help force an incompletion.

We’ll move to Buffalo’s week 12 matchup against the Broncos for our next rep. Part of the pass-rush games that is so important in this defense it the ability for players to be able to rush inside and get into A and B gaps. Here Lawson is lined up in a 4-technique over Broncos LT Garrett Boles. He gets a good jump on the snap and is able to cross into the backside A gap, beating the LG across his face to get middle pressure and a sack against Brandon Allen.

Our final clip of Shaq Lawson comes from the Bills vs. Patriots Game in Week 16. You probably already know what it is. Lawson’s lined up in a 5-technique and reads the fake jet sweep play and is able to stop Sony Michel for a big loss. He’s able to fight inside of the double-team block by the LT and WR from a nasty split. This shows Lawson’s get-off and is play recognition skill. He makes a great play tracking this down from inside. At worst, even if he misses the tackle, he’s mucked the play long enough for the CB to be able to force this back inside where it’s going to get a very minimal gain if anything.

Overall, I think Emmanuel Ogbah might end up being the better of the two DEs signed for Miami. Especially at the start. But I think there’s more to unlock with Shaq Lawson. If Marion Hobby can get him to work on his explosiveness of the snap and getting that more consistent, that will go a long way toward helping him. He’s a strong end capable of lining up in tight techniques like 3, 4i and 4. He’s shown ability to rush interior gaps, and that ability may lend itself to doing some, let’s say unique, things that Trey Flowers got to do with the Patriots, like playing a 0-technique in some of their LB heavy nickel looks and in their “playground”/radar defense. While I’m not sure Lawson will get looks like that off the bat, I think that’s something feasible down the road a bit if he can make his get-off more consistent and continue to develop his hand fighting abilities.

Kyle Van Noy
The Dolphins had to, HAD TO get better on the edges of the defense. Case in point they signed two DEs and drafted two more. Brian Flores spoke after the Draft about how players not filling the stat sheet doesn’t mean they had a bad game.  I believe that was in reference to Miami drafting Raekwon Davis. But it could be applied to Kyle Van Noy.

Van Noy may be the most important free agent signing and his impact will likely be rivaled only by Byron Jones for the hidden benefits they bring to the defense.  Why do I say this? It’s because of the many different things Brian Flores and Josh Boyer will be able to do on defense because of Van Noy.

First, he’s able to play ILB, and play it quite well. He can do this in 4-2-5 looks where he’s paired with someone. He can do it in 3-3-5 looks where he’s the guy.

Here you can see him lined up behind Adam Butler in a 3-3-5 look. The interesting thing to note here is that the Patriots had 4-2-5 personnel on the field with Deatrich Wise, Butler and Adrian Clayborn up front. They used Trey Flowers as an OLB in this look opposite Dont’a Hightower.

You want him to rush off the edge? No problem. Here in this GIF you can see the Patriots “playground” defense. Van Noy will be on the left side and rushes outside the left tackle.

In this clip against Dallas from 2019, we’ll see the Patriots in a 2-4-5 look (which is a 4-man front, but with OLBs instead of DEs. Miami rain this a lot against Philly and in Week 17 against the Patriots last year). Jason Witten shifts over to Van Noy’s side and Kyle is able use his arms, get extension and maintain good leverage to set the edge and help with the tackle as other defenders arrive to make the stop. Textbook!

Going back in time to 2018 against the Vikings, I want to give you two plays that were back-to-back in the game. First, we see Van Noy lined up over the RT. At the snap he’s going to drop into the short middle and read Kirk Cousins. He follows Cousins’ eyes to TE Kyle Rudolph and Van Noy just sits down in the zone right in front of him and Adam Butler gets a sack. That’s a hidden play there because Rudolph was open until Van Noy flowed that way.

But the real treat to Van Noy’s game is his prowess with pass-rush games. This is the very next play. The Patriots are in their 3-2-6 look, Diamond, but have RE Adrian Clayborn lined up head-up on TE Kyle Rudolph, whose got a short split. Clayborn helps reroute him at the snap then rushes (something we could see Ogbah and Lawson do?). But watch Van Noy here. He’s going to be lined up off-ball over the Vikings RT. He feints a rush upfield, stops and then loops around to the backside A gap. Adam Butler and Dont’a Hightower crash towards the strongside to effectively set “picks” (Ogbah, Lawson, Raekwon Davis, Wilkins) to allow Van Noy the free run at Cousins. Van Noy unloads on him and forces an incompletion.

He doesn’t notch a tackle, sack or pass deflection. Merely a pressure here. But his ability do run these pass-rush games is OUTSTANDING. Watch the 2018 AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl victories.

Want one more? Okay, fine you’ve got me! This is in the Super Bowl victory over the Rams on a 3rd down in the first half. The Patriots are lined up in a 4-2-5 look, their marble concept (DB inserted over the nasty split or TE) and Van Noy is the MLB. He simply sits in the underneath zone and takes away two different receivers – almost like a spy. Then Jared Goff scrambles and Van Noy explodes to chase him down for a 14 yard loss on a sack!

I expect Kyle Van Noy to be featured in multiple roles in this defense. Remember the picture of Miami’s 4-2-5 look way at the beginning? He can play either LB spot in that look – outside where Eguavoen is or as the MLB where Jerome Baker is. He can play ILB in 3-3-5 looks. He can set the edge as an OLB in 2-4-5 looks. You can use him in all manner of ways in pass-rush games. And regardless of where he plays, he’s very smart! You’re going to get good reps out of him. Knowing this system already will likely propel him into a leadership role on the defense, which in my view, will help younger guys like Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and Andrew Van Ginkel. He can make sure they’re on top of their alignments and assignments and give them a living, breathing example of what it means to be a smart, tough and physical player. Do I sound like Coach Flores yet?

Jason Strowbridge
If you’ve followed me on Twitter leading up to the Draft, you know I’ve mentioned Strowbridge frequently as someone I’ve liked for Miami. And getting him in the 5th round is a bit of a steal in my opinion. He took on a role as a DT and 3-4 DE at North Carolina, getting minimal reps as a DE in a four man D-line. With the Dolphins, I think he’ll slot into the same position as Emmanuel Ogbah and be a part of the rotation behind him.

His experience playing tighter techniques as a Tar Heel will be one thing Miami will likely try to build on in pass-rush packages. Here’s a clip from Voch Lombardi’s film review of the Senior Bowl with Strowbridge rushing as a 3-technique.

Our next clip of Strowbridge comes from the Tar Heels Bowl Game against Temple. We’ll see Strowbridge lined up at LDE in a 4-man line. He’s able to use an arm over move to defeat the TE and uses his explosion to get into the gap ahead of the pulling guard and help make a TFL.

In this clip against Virginia Tech he’s able to use quickly recognize that both the RG and RT down block and he’s able to get inside of the TE who’s trying to reach him and gets inside of the backside guard pulling. That play recognition is key and he’s able to make a tackle for no gain. Strowbridge doesn’t always exhibit the greatest get off/explosiveness off the snap, but when he does, his eyes take him to the ball well.

In our final clip, we’re looking at something subtle that I think the Dolphins will appreciate. Remember Kyle Van Noy’s pass-rush against the Vikings from above? Well, it’s plays like this from the front line that allow those pass-rush games to happen. Here we see Strowbridge lined up at 3-technique to the near side. He rushes from the B gap to the A gap and is able to occupy the RG and the C, allowing the LB to have a free run at the QB. While the LB fails to make the sack, you can see how this translates to what Miami will be wanting to do.

Jason Strowbridge will need some coaching up, there’s no denying that. But his length, power and experience playing tighter techniques will come in handy. I think his workload will steadily increase as the season moves on. But at first, I think he can help spell Ogbah at Big DE in 4-man lines and might give Miami something as an interior player on 3rd down pass-rush packages.

Curtis Weaver
I think most people are aware of the “good player, bad body” stigma that Curtis Weaver’s carried throughout the Draft process. Daniel Jeremiah said as much when Miami selected him. Weaver could be a tremendous value pick for the Dolphins. I haven’t seen Boise State a lot, but Weaver seems to be strictly a stand-up DE, and I’d think that he’d be that for Miami starting off. Think Chris Long at the end of his run with the Patriots. Weaver can be a 3rd down pass-rusher right off the bat. But I think he’ll need to learn to play the run better in order to earn more snaps.

In our first clip we’ll see that Air Force brings a wing-back into pitch phase to fake an option play. Weaver is the stand-up DE nearest to us. He’s able to read that the motion player isn’t getting the ball before he fully steps into his rush. He uses a rip move to get around the RT and does a nice job turning his rush path into the QB.

This clip showcases Weaver’s strength. Here he’s able to split a double team for a sack.

In the final clip with Curtis Weaver, we’ll see him use his length to set the edge against the run. Marion Hobby will be charged with coaxing this ability out of him more consistently. But when he does, this will help him see more reps.

How all these pieces come together should be very fun to watch. Miami now has a pair of Big DEs – Ogbah and Strowbridge and a pair of Rush ends in Lawson and Weaver. Kyle Van Noy will be playing himself. We’ll also likely see guys like Vince Biegel, Andrew Van Ginkel and Raekwon McMillan get some snaps on the edge as Brian Flowers wasn’t shy about having those three play on the edge last year.

Another added benefit to this, could be that we see Christian Wilkin’s pass-rush potential unlocked more in his second season. With some of these new edge additions able to rush from multiple spots, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wilkins benefit on twists across the line.

While I won’t make any predictions on which of these guys leads the Dolphins in sacks, I will make two others:

1) These edge defenders will help Miami’s run defense improve. A lot.

2) In terms of pass-rush and the totality of the defense, this group of guys will allow Brian Flores and Josh Boyer to run the defense the way they want to and not be constrained into boiling it down like they did in 2019.

That final point is something we as Dolfans should all be very excited about! #FinsUp

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Scouting Reports

Face of the Franchise Series: Best of the Rest

Travis Wingfield

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Two decades removed from his retirement, the Miami Dolphins are still in-search of Dan Marino’s replacement

Tua Tagovailoa Scouting Report
Jake Fromm Scouting Report
Justin Herbert Scouting Report
Jordan Love Scouting Report
Best of the Rest

Foreword:

7,094 days, 308 games. That arduous, ceaseless waiting period spans the time from Dan Marino’s last buckle of the chin strap, to present day. The Packers and Colts were fortunate enough to hand the ball from one legend to another without skipping a beat. For Dolphins fans, Marino’s retirement coincides not only with the turn of the century, but with the downturn of the once winningest franchise in professional sports.

Chad Pennington’s 2008 MVP runner-up season sits a mere blip on the radar of futility. Ryan Tannehill teased fans for five years before an injury brought all hope to a fiery end. Daunte Culpepper was the worst consolation prize ever contrived and John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White each qualify as second-round busts.

The misery feels perpetual yet, somehow, not defeating. At least the Dolphins got the bat off the shoulder this offseason by taking a crack at Josh Rosen, but his rookie tape leaves plenty to be desired. A first-round signal-caller is the odds-on-favorite for Miami in next April’s draft; a class brimming with quarterback talent.

If patience truly is a virtue, then Dolphins fans have waited long enough. The collective has earned the right to unanimously appoint the next hero of professional football in South Florida. No more arguments, no more debates; just an unequivocal beast of a quarterback capable of willing the aqua and orange to victory on any given Sunday.

The same way #13 did for so many years.

Over the summer we will look at the top quarterback prospects entering the 2019 college football season.

Now, for the group battling to infiltrate the top four QBs — the best of the rest.

The Best of the Rest

Any prospect with professional aspirations would prefer to enter his final college season with considerable fanfare and expectations. More attention equals more eyeballs, and more eyeballs equals more opportunity to make an impression.

That’s not to say that expectations are the only path to a Thursday night selection during the NFL’s three-day draft extravaganza. Far from it. With the ever-changing landscape of the college game, each of the last two draft classes saw unknown signal-callers rise from afterthought, to bells of the ball.

Baker Mayfield was — at best — a distant fourth behind Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen entering the 2017 college football season. Kyler Murray was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Oakland A’s and off the radar of NFL scouts entirely. Yet, a short eight months after college football’s opening Saturday, both were standing on the podium with the commissioner before any of their peers.

Tua Tagovailoa is the prohibitive favorite to earn the honorable distinction of first overall pick. Dominant performances at a prominent school will have that affect.

Justin Herbert’s rare physical skills have scouts fawning over Oregon football this fall, while Jordan Love will garner similar jaw-dropping attention.

Then there’s the polished and professional Jake Fromm.

These four quarterbacks will take the field next month and begin their (potentially) final chapters before their NFL dreams are realized.

So who is the pick the rocket up the draft board from seemingly nowhere? The options are vast, and we’ll cover them right now (in no particular order).

D’Eriq King – Houston – 5-11, 195 lbs. (Senior)

The aforementioned Kyler Murray, one year after Baker Mayfield paved the way, ushers in a new way of thinking in regards to projecting passers from college to the professional ranks. King is an electric dual-threat QB — evident by his 50 touchdowns in 2018 despite missing 2.5 games with an ankle injury.

K.J. Costello – Stanford – 6-5, 215 lbs. (Senior)

With ideal size and natural arm talent Costello is a threat to climb draft boards next spring. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he can alter his release points and vary the velocity and touch of his throws for the circumstance. Costello took a big jump in 2018, but needs another significant climb in the mechanical portion of the game to garner first round consideration.

Khalil Tate – Arizona – 6-2, 216 lbs. (Senior)

The transition from Rich Rodriguez’s to Kevin Sumlin impacted Tate in the worst way possible. With game-breaking, dual-threat talent that rivals Kyler Murray, Tate was asked to play more within the structure of a traditional drop back game last season. The result, a dramatic efficiency drop-off across the board. Tate is electrifying with his legs and more than adequate with the arm — he’s a sleeper pick to join Tagovailoa, Fromm, Herbert and Love.

Jacob Eason – Washington – 6-6, 230 lbs. (Senior)

Eason barely has more collegiate accolades than anyone reading this piece. He was a five-star recruit that missed two years due to injury and ineligibility after transferring; this after showing minimal promise as a true freshman at Georgia. Eason is long, and a tad gangly, but he’s an accurate thrower with ideal size for the position.

Sam Ehlinger – Texas – 6-3 235 lbs. (Junior)

Following the trend of athletic quarterbacks taking over professional football, Ehlinger is another prototype player. He’s a threat to score on the ground on any given play, but that’s something of a cover up for some mechanical and arm talent short comings. Ehlinger exploded at the end of the 2018 season, and he needs to continue on that trajectory to vault his draft stock beyond day-three.

Brian Lewerke – Michigan State 6-3, 215 lbs. – (Senior)

Adding Lewerke to this list feels a little disingenuous because I’m clenching to his sophomore season. His junior year at East Lansing was an unmitigated disaster, but the processing, anticipation, accuracy, and off-script prowess were enough for some pundits to tab Lewerke as QB1 heading into 2018.

Honorable Mention: Bryce Perkins (Virginia), Nathan Stanley (Iowa), Cole McDonald (Hawaii)

If expectations play out this season for the Dolphins, a first round quarterback is likely the result at the conclusion of year-one of the rebuild. The future employment of everybody associated with the Dolphins would then depend on getting that draft pick right (Brian Flores, Chris Grier, and the entire coaching and scouting staffs).

Due to the urgency and importance of this evaluation for the ‘Phins, we will be covering the college quarterback landscape throughout the 2019 season with weekly progress reports.

As always, Locked On Dolphins is your exclusive provider of analysis, commentary, and news on the Miami Dolphins.

Way Too Early 2019 QB Prospect Ranking

 

(Rank) Player School
(1) Jordan Love Utah State
(2) Tua Tagovailoa Alabama
(3) Jake Fromm Georgia
(4) Justin Herbert Oregon
(5) Khalil Tate Arizona
(6) D’Eriq King Houston
(7) K.J. Costello Stanford
(8) Jacob Eason Washington
(9) Brian Lewerke Michigan State
(10) Sam Ehlinger Texas

 

@WingfieldNFL

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Scouting Reports

Face of the Franchise Series: Jordan Love

Travis Wingfield

Published

on

Two decades removed from his retirement, the Miami Dolphins are still in-search of Dan Marino’s replacement

Tua Tagovailoa Scouting Report
Jake Fromm Scouting Report
Justin Herbert Scouting Report
Jordan Love Scouting Report
Best of the Rest – Next Week

Foreword:

7,094 days, 308 games. That arduous, ceaseless waiting period spans the time from Dan Marino’s last buckle of the chin strap, to present day. The Packers and Colts were fortunate enough to hand the ball from one legend to another without skipping a beat. For Dolphins fans, Marino’s retirement coincides not only with the turn of the century, but with the downturn of the once winningest franchise in professional sports.

Chad Pennington’s 2008 MVP runner-up season sits a mere blip on the radar of futility. Ryan Tannehill teased fans for five years before an injury brought all hope to a fiery end. Daunte Culpepper was the worst consolation prize ever contrived and John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White each qualify as second-round busts.

The misery feels perpetual yet, somehow, not defeating. At least the Dolphins got the bat off the shoulder this offseason by taking a crack at Josh Rosen, but his rookie tape leaves plenty to be desired. A first-round signal-caller is the odds-on-favorite for Miami in next April’s draft; a class brimming with quarterback talent.

If patience truly is a virtue, then Dolphins fans have waited long enough. The collective has earned the right to unanimously appoint the next hero of professional football in South Florida. No more arguments, no more debates; just an unequivocal beast of a quarterback capable of willing the aqua and orange to victory on any given Sunday.

The same way #13 did for so many years.

Over the summer we will look at the top quarterback prospects entering the 2019 college football season.

Today takes us to a Group 5 school to look at the physically imposing Jordan Love.

Jordan Love 2018 Film Study

Playing at a group-of-five school will limit the exposure of any player, but it has become impossible to gloss over Utah State’s Jordan Love. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Love has the ideal build and makeup for the position. Some would argue that there’s a distinct advantage to playing outside of the nation’s powerhouse programs. Playing with a smaller program comes with unavoidable adversity that builds character and prepares the player for the challenges at the next level.

Heading into his junior season Love will face tremendous turnover on the roster and coaching staff.

The Utah State football program is under construction. In addition to playing for his third offensive coordinator, Love’s head coach is new, his top three receivers graduated, and his favorite tight end was drafted in April. That tight end, Dax Raymond, has a strong affinity for his former teammate.

“Anyone that watches, they know he’s a gamer and that’s the biggest thing I want in a quarterback personally,” Raymond said. “You sense the passion. He’s not out there just to throw the ball a couple of times, he’s out there to win.”

Love’s most recent OC and play caller, David Yost, slotted Love among the best quarterbacks he’s coached. “He’s right among them,” Yost said. “If he continues to progress with his skill set and his ability, he’s an NFL-level type quarterback as we go forward. That’s the expectation.”

That crop of quarterbacks includes Blaine Gabbert and Chase Daniel. All five of Yost’s QBs from his 12-year tenure at Missouri went on to play QB in the NFL.

When you see the traits — the perfect meld of school yard style honed in by prowess within the structure — you’ll see why Yost thought so highly of his former pupil.

Let’s get to the tape.

What Sets Love Apart:

Natural Thrower from Any Platform –

Some quarterbacks excel at drive throws and some are better at finessing the football. Some QBs are strictly confined to throwing from a clean pocket while others prefer getting on the move. Jordan Love is impervious to sacrificing accuracy under each of these circumstances. His arm has the natural elasticity to whip the football on-point from a variety of platforms and pass types.

Love has the shortstop trait that allows him to deliver accurate passes regardless of the arm-angle. Over the top, from the side, opening the gait on the move, it’s all the same to Love.

Quick Processing –

The majority of the video clips I made came from the season-opening game. Working under a brand new offensive system, Love showcased the ability to decipher coverage post-snap and beat the defense before it could rotate to plug windows.

Athleticism, Designed Runs and Goal Line Running Threat –

When the quarterback is a threat to run the football it puts another element in the mind of the defense. Love is just as big of a threat to sledgehammer the ball across the goal line — or in short-yardage — as and tailback or fullback. His big frame and aggressive style makes him a difficult tackle for any defensive back and plenty of linebackers.

Designed runs typically signal that the quarterback is adept at creating play off-script, and Love is no exception. He’s able to erase free rushers and create openings for his receivers down field as he surveys the coverage while attacking the line-of-scrimmage.

Focused Areas of Improvement:

Staying with the Play –

This is nitpicking, I want to acknowledge that. At times, Love will drift away from pressure rather than search for available escape routes. He tends to fall backwards hoping for something to uncover before he takes a sack and throws the ball away.

Of the four quarterbacks I watched, I had the toughest time finding areas of weakness in Love’s game.

Potential Fit with the Miami Dolphins:

We checked the leadership and character boxes in the initial category and we know Love is an accurate thrower. The one trait that Brian Flores and Chris Grier have mentioned this offseason that we haven’t covered with the other quarterbacks is athleticism and mobility. Justin Herbert has it, but Jordan Love is on another level.

For a team that wants to establish its identity as a tough, physical team, Jordan Love makes perfect sense. His presence can immensely upgrade the running game and force the defense to defend the entire field against both run and pass plays.

Conclusion:

Love vaulted to the top of my list of wants next offseason. I’m a sucker for the elite athletic traits and the big arm. If those inherent skills are married with a requisite level of processing, then that’s how superstars are born.

It’ll be a tall task for Love to supplant Tagovailoa, Fromm, and Herbert atop the QB prospect rankings list with a difficult set of circumstances at Utah State. Regardless, isolating the player for his traits and upside, no player in this class has more of the former than Jordan Love.

@WingfieldNFL

Up Next: Best of the Rest (Eason, King, Tate Ehlinger, Costello, Lewerke)

Additional Videos

No-look pass?

Easy transition from on-the-move to getting the ball up and out.

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