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Miami Dolphins

Spurned Again – Miami Misses Out on Teddy Bridgewater

Travis Wingfield

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The Dolphins were left at the alter, once again, this time by renewed Saints Backup Quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Spurning the Saints after a handshake deal was reported on Monday, Teddy Bridgewater visited with the Dolphins on Wednesday, only to return to New Orleans to accept a contract to backup Drew Brees.

Bridgewater, a Miami native, flirted with the idea of a homecoming since his footing in Minnesota became uncertain. Following the 2016 catastrophic knee injury that would sideline the quarterback for nearly two full seasons, Bridgewater’s career went from promising, to rerouting down a more circuitous path.

Those flirtations, the breadcrumbs of hints, were laid out on Bridgewater’s Twitter account. We detailed that chain-of-events last October on Locked On Dolphins.

Granted mop-up duty in the fourth quarter of a Vikings blowout in 2017, and a week-17 spot start for Drew Bress last December, Bridgewater technically hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass since a playoff game in January 2016.

Bridgewater’s most impressive film came during last summer’s preseason. Taking the bulk of the workload for the New York Jets, the former Louisville Cardinal showcased the skill set that made him a 2014 first-round draft pick. Sean Payton and the Saints were so impressed that they sent the Jets a third-round pick just to secure Bridgewater’s services as a backup to Drew Brees.

You came here for the videos, let’s jump in:

Everything in sports starts with the feet. The light base and ability to smoothly transfer his weight allows him to escape rushers and bail out failed protection assignments.

Though preseason offenses are designed simplistically, the same principles for effectively playing quarterback apply. One of those traits is the ability to hold defenders with eye-manipulation and body-positioning. Here, Bridgewater holds the backside safety on the far hash to create a throwing lane up the seam to the boundary. The pass is dropped, but the touch and spin are clear strengths in Bridgewater’s pitch arsenal.

The most important trait a quarterback can possess is foot-to-eye synchronicity. Whatever the passer sees, he needs to be in a position to get the football up-and-out quickly, meaning the eyes need to be hard-wired to the feet. Here, Bridgewater eschews his option to the flat knowing this frees up his target to the corner. He finishes it off with a perfectly placed ball.

And another subtle move to clear the defender and move the sticks on fourth down.

Dolphins fans are tired of their quarterback succumbing to pressure. Bridgewater stares down the barrel of the gun just long enough to let the route develop. He takes a shot but picks up a chunk of yardage in the process.

Those clips divulge two encouraging facts.

1.) Bridgewater’s knee is structurally sound and at no further risk for injury (beyond the regular rigors of playing professional football).

2.) There was considerable growth, in the cerebral department, from his first two years in Minnesota till now. He clearly put in the time to sharpen his sword while he was recovering from the knee and rehabbing his value as a backup.

Now, this breakdown would be incomplete if we omitted the week-17 start against the Panthers. Bridgewater was somewhat dismissed for the performance because of the final score, as well as the box score, but the tape tells a different story.

New Orleans is a run-first team even when Drew Brees is in the lineup. Carolina’s first three possessions went for touchdowns covering 11, 9, and 16 plays with the shortest drive spanning 4:51 of game clock. The Saints, in an utterly meaningless game, went to halftime down 23-0.

Bridgewater was a pedestrian 14/22 (63.6%), for 118 yards (5.36 YPA), a touchdown and a pick. His 73.7 passer rating was more of a function of a poor team performance than the quarterback derailing the operation.

First, we get a look at Bridgewater’s mechanics on a play action naked boot with a layer’s concept. This clip showcases his mechanics the alignment of all parts working in unison.

On the next, series the Saints would turn the ball over on downs at the +10-yard-line. Bridgewater picked up a pair of third downs – one with his legs, and the next on a contested slant to Michael Thomas.

The turnover was a mistake by Bridgewater failing to recognize the hot route working in behind the MIKE blitz. Bridgewater fades and underthrows a back-pylon shot with an opportunity for a touchdown, or an easier throw for a first down underneath the closing safety.

Bridgewater was left to make chicken salad regularly, and was hung out to dry by a less-than-motivated team. Injuries forced third string Left Tackle Derick Newton into the game for 48 snaps, for instance, while New Orleans started backups at Left Guard, Right Guard, and Right Tackle.

The final game we’ll look at is Bridgewater’s last start in Minnesota. Playing against the Seahawks in frigid Minneapolis temperatures, the game was a defensive struggle. The Vikings, behind a stout defense, kept the game plan simple and protecting Bridgewater from harm’s way. That was the philosophy throughout Bridgewater’s two years as a starter with their dominant defense and strong ground-game.

This game is a big nothing-burger as far away as positive/negative takeaways re: Bridgewater.

There’s a correlation between the two quarterbacks the Dolphins expressed interest in, and the surprising emphasis on tight ends in free agency. Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor work best from under-center operating a play-action-based offense from 12-personnel.

In that week-17 game, the Saints ran 12-personnel with the greatest frequency (44% of all snaps). New Orleans’ second most popular package was 11-personnel, but 22-personnel and 21-personnel made more than occasional appearances.

Those groupings are defined as such:

11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR)
12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)
22 (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR)
21 (2 RB, 1 TE, 1 WR)

Pro Football Focus thought better of Teddy Bridgewater than traditional statistic did during his two-year starting stint with the Vikings. He graded 14th and 19th among all quarterbacks (a big jump from his passer rating ranks of 22nd and 21st).

All things told, this was likely Miami’s last chance at a positive outcome for Miami at the position. Out of range in the draft, and a slew of also-rans to choose from in free agency, Bridgewater, at the very least, offered a semblance of upside.

More importantly, he can keep the offense on schedule and prevent the Dolphins Defense from running out of gas come Halloween.

This signing would’ve definitely been bad news for the crowd hoping Miami would wait until 2020 to try to win another football game. Bridgewater would have made this team exponentially better than anything Jake Ruddock, Luke Falk, or the middle of the draft had to offer.

Bridgewater could’ve distributed the football to Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Kenyan Drake and the rest of the Miami skill guys with a grip-and-rip mentality to create big-play opportunities.

Bridgewater is a pass-first point guard with ability to hit the step-back jumper when necessary.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

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

Jason Hrina

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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

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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

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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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