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Miami Dolphins

Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.

That’s all they can scheme around.

As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.

  • You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
  • You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
  • You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)

All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.

Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.

The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.

Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.

At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?

Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:

When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).

Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:

We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.

Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.

The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:

It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.

This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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Miami Dolphins

Chris Grier Updates Status of Miami Dolphins

Jason Hrina

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MiamiDolphins.com

Majority of the NFL General Managers met in Arizona for the NFL Meetings earlier this morning, and after some closed-door discussions, were available to the media.

While Chris Grier spoke candidly and somewhat transparently about the Miami Dolphins, it left us both relieved but slightly perplex.

As we’ll highlight below, Grier spoke of failed expectations and nonexistent success during his tenure with the team, specifically during the Ryan Tannehill era.

His demeanor and approach seems that of a remorseful man who has learned from his mistakes, but it still makes us wonder what Grier was really thinking or doing all of these years. Again, we’re convinced he didn’t have final say throughout his career, but was he just unable to create a convincing enough argument to counter Mike Tannenbaum or Adam Gase‘s desires? Did they not respect him enough? And if so, why?

A lot of this may just be our skepticism after watching such futility over the past 15+ years, but Grier’s comments still provide a shroud of mystery – even if what he’s trying to say is clear as day:

On Ryan Tannehill:

When asked to describe Tannehill’s 7-year career in Miami: “Inconsistent”

Grier was pressed further on how the organization came to a determination that they needed to move on from the Tannehill era and he was confident in his response; sticking with the ol’ company line of how he won’t “reveal” who determined what. But what stood out to me most was when the reporter mentioned that ‘(Grier) had a determination before he met with the organization (Brian FloresChad O’Shea, Jerry Schuplinski) but didn’t want to reveal what the determination was’.

Is it fair to say that Grier believed Tannehill was a worthy quarterback, as he stuck with Tannehill through 2016, again in 2017 when his knee was volatile and then again in 2018 when he was two knee surgeries removed and 7 years into his NFL career? Or do we blame Tannenbaum and Gase for these evaluations?

Grier went on to compliment Tannehill’s toughness, saying “he gave his heart and soul” to this team, but would then go on to admit that the team may have made a mistake in not drafting a quarterback to compete with Tannehill. Isn’t it Grier’s job to identify this talent and assist Tannebaum in building the roster?

When asked if he believed he made a mistake keeping Tannehill as the Dolphins quarterback for 7 years, he simply replied: “No.”

On the Roster:

What is Grier’s #1 roster concern: “Franchise quarterback.”

Outside of the obvious choice of a franchise quarterback? “What we’ve talked about from Day 1…the building blocks…the offensive and defensive line. Losing Ja’Wuan (James) was a big blow…creates another piece you need to fill…..but I would say the offensive and defensive line right now; building for the future.”

With the team’s sights set on 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miami trade down in the 2019 draft to try and acquire more draft picks to utilize on the trenches.

On the Tight Ends:

Not sure if someone is hearing the echos outside of Davie, but seems this staff is about to spend the offseason pumping up Miami’s tight ends. Previously, DeVante Parker received the annual award for “breakout player of the year” (only to never breakout), so we’ll see what this means for Mike Gesicki and company:

On “Tanking”:

“There’s no tanking”

On Ryan Fitzpatrick:

Chris Grier sees Ryan Fitzpatrick as “a bridge to a new quarterback (in 2019 or 2020)”. While also using Fitzpatrick as an example as to why Miami isn’t tanking.

This is more ‘general manager speak’ from Grier, who can’t sell a fanbase and lockerroom on openly losing – between integrity, sales and keeping his job, Grier has to maintain that Miami is “trying” in 2019. As we all know, Ryan Fitzpatrick gives off that illusion maybe a little too well, as Miami is vying for the #1 draft pick in 2020, not another year filled with 6 wins.

Seems Grier shares a similar sentiment about Fitzpatrick’s futility, as this comment was probably one of the most eye-opening (and, frankly, insulting) of the day:

On the NFL Draft:

Does Grier see himself drafting a QB in 2019 or 2020?

“(we are) looking into quarterback options in 2019 and in 2020.” And that “drafting a QB in both 2019 and 2020 is (also possible).”

On Xavien Howard:

Grier mentions that he has had “good talks with (Xavien Howard‘s) agent”, though a deal is still not close.

This seems like a public relations move on behalf of Grier in an attempt to defuse any negativity from the fanbase. He must understand that Howard is a budding star on a team devoid of stars this century – allowing Howard to walk will create immediate backlash; there’s no sense perpetuating that feeling now by acting like he’s above the contract talk.

On Robert Quinn:

Essentially, talks seem to remain fluid with multiple teams (the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints have been the two teams we’ve heard about publicly). Grier made it seem like there may be additional suitors, but you have to wonder how much of that is a ploy to drive up Robert Quinn‘s price.

Grier also mentions that if the team “has to keep him, we will”, but I believe that’s the general manager side of him talking in hopes of maintaining leverage in any trade. A team rebuilding for 2020 isn’t looking to absorb a ~$11m cap hit in 2019.

Unfortunately for us, this guy wasn’t one of those GMs available:

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Miami Dolphins

Miami’s Primary Objective – The Secondary

Travis Wingfield

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Supplementing a strength vs. thinly spreading resources – Miami attacks its most important position in the defensive backfield

The hallmark of a championship roster in the National Football League is comprised of two ingredients – a quality quarterback, and a universally recognizable identity.

January’s final four offers the latest data point. Four top-shelf quarterbacks and four teams defined by dominant factions elsewhere on the 53-man roster. Whether it was Kansas City’s loaded play-making unit, New England’s swarming secondary, or the Saints and Rams relentless ground-game, each contender can point to one dependable, defining feature that carried these clubs to Lombardi’s doorstep.

The ultimate champion (New England Patriots) re-stocked the trophy case with its sixth Lombardi in 2018. The NFL’s anomaly for two decades is fueled by chameleon-like reinvention, while the other 31 compete amid a similar formula.

Four quarterbacks have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl dating back to the 2003 season. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, and one fluke showing by Joe Flacco comprises the entirety of Lamar Hunt trophies for the past 16 years. Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson; the NFC is no stranger to star power at the game’s most important position.

So we can all agree – the quarterback is the main course of the Super Bowl meal. The next fillet mignon served without a side dish will be the first, however.

Seattle’s Legion of Boom was one yard away from back-to-back titles. Denver’s dominant 2015 Super Bowl team was spearheaded by a pass rush that unleashed Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Malik Jackson from three separate angles. The saviors of the ’72 perfect season (2007 Giants) slowed a record-setting offense with a fierce four-man rush.

This is the portion of the article where we introduce Brian Flores’ Miami Dolphins.

We know that 2019 isn’t about collecting wins for the ‘Phins – it’s about building a foundation for continued success. A departure from the old model of patching together a 10-win team every two presidential terms.

The first step to this process is excepting that quarterback isn’t arriving this year. With Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins likely out of reach, Miami can shift its focus to the side dish – the identifying feature.

While other portions of the roster are under-cooked, the defensive backfield is only in need of a pinch of seasoning.

Xavien Howard is set to cash in with a mega-extension that will pay the lockdown cornerback more money than any player at his position. Minkah Fitzpatrick hit the ground running from the first game of his rookie campaign.

Supplementing Howard and Fitzpatrick is not only the easy choice, it’s easily executable. The strength of this year’s draft class is the vast number of elite defensive line prospects. Miami, picking 13th, falls just outside the range to land one of the surefire, instant-impact, front-seven players.

The next best feature of the 2019 rookie class is the glut of defensive backs that figures to come off the board in the 20-60 range. Box safeties, center fielders, perimeter corners and slot specialists; the time is now for Miami to go from “pretty good secondary,” to the league’s new no-fly zone as early as 2020.

The Draft Network’s cumulative big board has 10 defensive backs in its 20-60 range with three DBs in the top-20. The veritable side-dish offering is comparable to options available on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory – choices, choices, choices.

Miami’s new scheme is going to be defensive back driven – just as Flores had it in New England. He learned this philosophy from Bill Belichick who shares the same principles with Nick Saban. Create a pass rush with clever blitzes, games, and gap integrity, and lockdown the backend of the defense with solid cover-corners on the outside, safeties that can matchup in coverage, and range in man-free calls.

Patrick Chung is defined as the Patriots strong safety. He played 396 reps in man-coverage acting as a pseudo-cornerback in 2018.

Devin McCourty is New England’s free safety. He played 204 snaps in coverage as a corner.

Duron Harmon, the third safety, is strictly a sub-package middle-of-the-field patrolman – 526 of his 694 snaps were as the deep safety.

The three safeties accounted, respectively, for 85%, 96%, and 61% of the New England’s total defensive snaps in 2018

In Miami, Fitzpatrick is perfectly suited for one of these roles – likely the one occupied by McCourty. Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald don’t cover well enough to (46th and 75th graded coverage safeties by Pro Football Focus in 2018) to properly execute this defense.

With both veterans commanding large pay days in the coming years, and generally miscast in the defense, it’s safe to assume their futures are elsewhere.

This leaves the Dolphins with Howard, Fitzpatrick, Bobby McCain, and a bevy of unproven young corners in this ultra-important position group.

Hardly a Da Vinci Code riddle, Miami needs its Chung, Harmon, and a suitable corner opposite Howard. In 2019, again, since wins aren’t the primary objective, we’ll allow Eric Rowe first crack at the job with Cordrea Tankersley, Cornell Armstrong, Torry McTyer and Jalen Davis to compete for the right to replace Rowe if and when he suffers another injury.

Even less complex, Miami’s desire to trade out of the 13th pick is well-documented. Recouping an additional second-round pick, and sliding back into the 20’s is not only a possibility, it’s a probability this April.

And, with that, we devise this plan:

The Patrick Chung Role:

Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State – The human missile plays the game at a different speed while somehow staying in full control as a tackler. His angles are exceptional, he can blitz off the edge, and he’s more than adept at coming down to cover in single-high safety packages.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida – Rangier than Abram, CGJ excelled in man-coverage in 2018. He fits either of the two roles (Chung and Harmon) but his matchup coverage skills make it tough to take him off the field. Patriots Beat Writers are raving about his fit in the New England scheme, proving his value for Miami as well.

Nasir Adderley, Delaware – Like CGJ, Adderley has range to play the middle of the field, but he’s a first-round pick and 85% snaps type of player. Suited for either of these two roles, Adderley played cornerback in college so his matchup skills are right in-line with what Miami needs.

The Duron Harmon Role:

Juan Thornhill, Virginia – Thornhill won the combine with jaw-dropping jumping and timed metrics. His tape would suggest that he’s not the best fit for cover-1 but his closing speed and testing metrics showcase his elite deep-coverage. He, like Adderley, played cornerback early in his college career.

Deionte Thompson, Alabama – Speed, range, and elite ball skills put Thompson in-play here, but he takes the cheese a little too often.

Peaking at New England’s top defensive snap-takers in 2018, the thinking is clear. Defensive backs make up the majority of the reps on defense meaning we need bodies, a lot of them, on the back end.

 

Position Player 2018 Snaps
CB Stephone Gilmore 1014
FS Devin McCourty 1004
LB Kyle Van Noy 946
SS Patrick Chung 887
CB Jason McCourty 834
LB Dont’a Hightower 774
DE Trey Flowers 732
SAF Duron Harmon 636

 

Five of the top eight snap takers came from the secondary. Miami will undoubtedly need to find its Van Noy and Flowers, but we’ll tackle that later.

Give me Jonathan Abram and Juan Thornhill in the first two rounds, an extension for Howard, and utilizing Minkah Fitzpatrick as the Swiss Army Knife, and let’s go.

It’s Miami’s best defensive position (two blue chip players (X and Minkah)). It’s one of the draft’s deepest positions as far as scheme fits and immediate impact players. If the Dolphins can execute this plan, then drop the quarterback into the fold in 2020 with carefully placed free agents, this rebuild doesn’t have to be a three-year process. With 11 picks in the 2020 class, and likely more coming, supplementing the trenches comes a year later.

Even in this practice, we still have second and third-round picks to address the lines. Rounding out the two-day 2019 mock draft in this scenario gives us something like this:

  1. (24) S Johnathan Abram – Mississippi State
  2. (35) DE Chase Winovich – Michigan
  3. (48) S Juan Thornhill – Virginia
  4. (79) OLB Justin Hollins – Oregon

This plan allows Miami to find out what it has with its young corners, defensive linemen, and interior offensive linemen en route to finding the quarterback in 2020. If Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage are as formidable as I think they’ll be, this sounds like a vessel primed to be captained by Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

A running game is said to be the quarterback’s best friend, but a defense that can consistently keep the opposition around 20 points per game alleviates a lot of pressure of your young signal caller.

Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa, Jordan Love, whoever it is, asking the newly minted franchise quarterback to engineer three touchdown drives per game is the right recipe. It’s a recipe not just for immediate success, but sustained success.

Just as Stephen Ross wants it.

@WingfieldNFL

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Dolphins Quarterback Prospect Film Room: Dwayne Haskins

Travis Wingfield

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The entire industry of draft scouting is propped up by projection. Anybody can read a box score, point to a highlight reel, or regurgitate the words of any on-air analyst, but it’s the ability to identify traits, and room for growth within those traits, that makes for the best scouts.

Dwayne Haskins is the ultimate projection player – his one season as a starter at Ohio State suggests as much. Starting off the season with some less than impressive tape, Haskins turned it on during at the most crucial point of the Buckeyes season.

Cumulatively, Haskins’ stat sheet was other-worldly. One of three mega-impressive Heisman candidates (along with presumed 2019 first overall pick Kyler Murray, and overwhelming favorite to be the first pick in 2020, Tua Tagovailoa), Haskins rivalry game (Michigan)and post-season (Northwestern and Washington) numbers elevated him into that exclusive club back in December.

Haskins turns 22 a week following next month’s draft. His body composition tells an unfinished story. A simple glance at some remaining baby fat is quite the indicator that this young man hasn’t even fully developed. Haskins is a studious worker both in the classroom and in the weight room leaving plenty of meat on the bone for whichever coach gets his hands on this impressive quarterback.

The combine didn’t do any favors for Haskins’ stock. We’ll showcase his heavy feet in some clips momentarily, but his forty-yard dash was up there with the offensive linemen (5.07). Still, the ball jumps off his hand and that was the primary takeaway from his workouts both in Indianapolis and Columbus during his pro day.

Now the Head Coach at Ohio State, Ryan Day (Haskins’ Offensive Coordinator), has spoken at length about Haskins’ leadership. In this article written back in August, Day praises the growth Haskins showed going from backup to starter during the 2018 spring and summer process.

“His leadership had to step up and he’s done that,” Day said. “Throughout practice he’s gotten stronger, especially from the spring.”

Day made an appearance on the Move the Sticks podcast back on March 6 of this year. Asked about Day’s background as a quarterback and the challenges of getting young quarterbacks ready to play, Day responded with the following.

Mar 2, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins (QB05) throws a pass during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Paraphrasing – “So much of Dwayne coming on this year was done leading up to the season. Understanding of protections and defensive structure, how to attack coverages and how the footwork times up with the progressions.”

A point of contention on the Locked On Dolphins podcast (via Brian Flores and Chris Grier themselves) has focused on the mental aptitude of the quarterback. Day continues to glow about Haskins jump in that department during the 2018 season when Bucky Brooks asked what it is that makes Dwayne such a special talent.

“His innate accuracy is among the best I’ve ever seen and I was around Matt Ryan at Boston College. The anticipation and touch is similar. He has a great feel for what’s going on in front of him. He’s really embraced the classroom and I thought he did a really good job with that, especially late in the season. He doesn’t get rattled and nothing is too big for him.”

Brooks continued the questioning with an inquiry about Haskins ability to raise to the level of franchise quarterback, the biggest stage for a quarterback.

“He’ll do great. It’s not [going to] happen overnight. Every day I think he’ll learn something because you never fail, you either win or you learn and he’s done well with that approach.”

The next question brought back the most intriguing answer – it was framed, “what’s the one thing that you absolutely love about [Haskins] and what NFL teams will love about him when they dig down deep and meet him?”

Day responded, “His overall spirit. He’s been raised the right way, his heart is in the right place, he cares about the people around him and he wants to be great. He will be ready for everything you throw at him, that’s the kind of kid he is.”

There is a connection that links Haskins to Miami. Ryan Day mentioned being on the Boston College staff with Matt Ryan in the interview with the MTS podcast. Day’s coaching path rerouted away from BC from 2005 to 2007, but Day was a graduate assistant in 2003 while Dolphins Current Head Coach, Brian Flores, was a played for the Golden Eagles.

So what about Haskins film? That’s why you click on this link, so let’s dive in.

Michigan State Game (More videos inside Twitter thread)

Northwestern (More videos inside Twitter thread)

Purdue (More videos inside Twitter thread)

Cumulative Takeaways:

Strengths – Advanced from processing standpoint. Generates good spin via quality mechanics and torque both stationary and on the move. Can alter his release point when off-platform to maintain accuracy. Innate ability to recognize coverage and the routes designed to attack that coverage. Trusts his eyes and will play-off the defensive leverage against man, and plays with anticipation against zone coverage. Big time arm that opens up the entire playbook and forces the defense to cover the entire field.

Weaknesses – Mobility and throwing against pressure are not up to speed. Compromised pockets often alter his mechanics which can lead to over-throws and turnovers. No change of direction skills, often gets caught in quicksand in the pocket. Limited ability to step up and away from the rush.

Final Word – The potential for a quality starter is in there. He will only grow and improve with the more football he sees. If the right team drafts him (terrific offensive line and innovative play caller) he can become a star. If he goes into a situation with poor protection, he won’t make it to his second contract.

The Dolphins definitely should NOT trade up to draft Haskins. If he’s there at 13, it’s certainly worth considering, but the situation in Miami is not currently suitable for the things Haskins struggles with.

@WingfieldNFL

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