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The New New Miami – Part Two of Miami’s Off-Season Vision

Travis Wingfield

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Rebranding 2017’s failed pre-season moniker flies directly in the face of public criticism. Like the actual Miami Dolphins, this blog doesn’t shy away from unconventional thinking.

The Dolphins continued to execute a clear and concise plan on draft night. Sticking to the idiosyncrasies that have plagued the perception of the organization this spring, Miami’s brass never wavered.

As was detailed in the ‘Adam Gase’s Vision’ column from last month, Miami’s free-agent period focused on players that prioritized football. Taking it a step further, it emphasized acquiring leaders that have airtight reputations around the league.

From the column: “We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”

From the beginning, the plan was to strip down the parts that contributed to a lack of offensive production and replace them with assignment-oriented football players. That message wasn’t exclusive to the offense, however. Miami’s third-round pick, Jerome Baker, is regularly lauded for his selfless, scheme-specific approach to the game.

In this GIF, Baker blitzes the A-gap and has clear lane to quarterback. The author of the tweet, Chris Kauffman, describes the importance of maintaining gap and lane-integrity. A selfish player might see a path to the quarterback and take it, but free-lancing often leads to breakdowns and erases all the preparation that goes into devising a game-plan.

With a veteran core in place to stabilize the locker room, Miami shifted to the second phase of its face lift:

Athleticism.

Jon Gruden’s infamous “throwing it back to 1998” comment is a comical footnote for those that cover the game, but the truth to that comment is troubling for Raiders’ fans.

Developing a program predicated on power-based football is entirely antiquated and the quickest route to the unemployment line. Miami has been stuck in this perpetual cycle of archaic, 20thcentury thinking for too long, and the buck finally stops here.

Miami’s draft class was loaded with athletic phenomes that will infuse the roster with a much-needed shot of invigoration.

RAS ratings (Relative Athletic Score Card) compile a player’s workout numbers and measurements. Going from plodding miscasts like Julius Thomas and Lawrence Timmons to expeditious talents like Mike Gesicki and Jerome Baker highlights Miami’s Draft Day plan.

Gesicki’s 4.58 40-yard dash is a mere bonus to the kind of player Miami believes it’s getting. Gesicki is a ready-made cog in Adam Gase’s coveted 11-personnel, Y-iso position. Isolating an athletic tight end to the back-side of the formation creates a mismatch against an unsuspecting linebacker or safety.

Miami tried to incorporate this plan with Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas and A.J. Derby at various points the last two years, and it was an utter failure.

In the tight-end overview piece from last week, we focused on a Ryan Tannehill quote from 2016. From the column:

“They have to be a full player — a complete player — and be able to run routes, not just tight end routes, not just corners and flats. They have to be able to run receiver routes as well.”

Corner and flat routes require little shake, twitch or explosion. At that point, it’s more about occupying space and putting yourself in a rebound position – not the case for Miami’s rookie tight end. Adequately equipped to threaten the seam and challenge his opponent deep, Gesicki is the picture perfect player for this role.

In this clip, Gesicki is in a typical smash-concept look from the slot. Flexed out wide, he is isolated in man-coverage with a much smaller corner. Normally, the smash has two components – a hook or in-breaking route from the plus-receiver, and the slot taking his route to the corner.

Not for Gesicki.

He pressed the toes of the coverage, explodes through his break and takes a fade pattern up the sideline. He finishes it off by turning the defenseless defender into a poster.

Getting Raekwon McMillan back, at 22-years of age, is an indescribable boon to a linebacker room that hasn’t been able to get much right since Zach Thomas left. Joining McMillan is former Buckeye teammate, 21-year old, Jerome Baker.

Specializing as a spy, blitzer, edge run-defender and a speed cover-man, Baker embodies everything the Dolphins needed to improve at the position. Baker enhances the Dolphins’ nickel defense the moment he arrives in Davie. Miami struggled in key areas in 2017 (red-zone, third-and-long, defending the run from nickel, defending the pass from base). Baker offers Matt Burke, and the Dolphin’s defense, the ability to disguise coverage and change packages without subbing in new personnel.

Disguising coverage commentary is a perfect segue into the Dolphins best draft pick, Minkah Fitzpatrick. His story has been examined tirelessly over the weekend. The “best football player I’ve ever coached,”(the “I” being Nick Saban), an industrious worker, Fitzpatrick checks off boxes on all four of those needs listed in the paragraph above.

Hitting the two-for-one on Fitzpatrick, the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik Award winner offers elite athleticism in addition to his decorated leadership skills.

The only other players that have won the two aforementioned awards are Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson – Canton-type of company.

Adding Gesicki gave the Dolphins their starting tight end and mismatch piece for the passing game, but he offers little as a run-blocker. Rectifying that issue, Miami doubled down on Notre Dame Tight End Durham Smythe.

Smythe didn’t blow the combine away with his explosion. He did, however, test very well as a runner and his tape does the talking in terms of what type of run blocker he is.

Just eight picks after selecting Smythe, the Dolphins found the second piece of a dynamic one-two backfield punch. Kalen Ballage possesses game-changing speed at 228 pounds, finishes runs like a true tone-setter and has exceptional hands out of the backfield.

Ballage joined the Move the Sticks podcast back in August to discuss his background. Ballage elected to return to school in 2017 to fulfill a promise to his mother that he’d obtain his degree. He was hand-picked by Miami’s running back’s coach, Eric Studesville, to execute the intricacies of his balanced inside/outside zone-scheme. Studesville, while working under Adam Gase in Denver, discovered Ballage during his local high school career.

The theme didn’t end in the early rounds. Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling registered a spectacular RAS rating at his pro-day.

Sixth-round cornerback from Southern Miss, Cornell Armstrong, had an eye-opening workout of his own.

The 2017 season was a struggle for the Dolphins. Whimpering through the year with horrendous quarterback play, self-righteous players lacking in effort, and another defensive collapse, something had to change.

Identifying the problem was the first step. Devising a plan to insure that the same failures won’t repeat in 2018 came next. Finally, Miami has seen the vision through and has built a roster ready to get back into contention in the AFC East.

@WingfieldNFL

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Josh

    April 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Awesome write up, glad to have someone that spends the time to dig up the facts to support his opinion.
    I feel miami got a lot better after this offseason as well

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