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Miami Dolphins

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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Miami Dolphins

Pillaging the Pats

Travis Wingfield

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Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins

De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.

A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.

*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.

If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.

By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.

 

Coach (Year Left New England) Additional Migrating Staffers
Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame) 0
Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland) 0
Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets) 0
Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver) 0
Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State) 0
Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit) 0

 

Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:

1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.

2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.

That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.

It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.

Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.

There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.

Enter Patrick Graham.

It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.

Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.

Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.

And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.

For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.

We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.

The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.

This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.

In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).

The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.

Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.

The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.

Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.

The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.

The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.

Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.

The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.

Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.

These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.

The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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It is that time of year again.  Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.

It’s mock draft season!  Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…

Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:

 

Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy.  Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.

Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”.  Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.

 

CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams.  It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.

For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection.  In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.

 

The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma

Now it’s getting exciting!  There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray.  As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.

Some question if he will be available at #13.  As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched.  Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size.  Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier.  Murray will be no exception.

2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring.  If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.

 

Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship.  Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.

Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs.  He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback.  Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.

 

Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.  

What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available.  Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.

Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald).  Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.

 

SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke

It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback.  Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach.  Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill?  There are other options out there at a cheaper price.

When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.

All that said, it’s the NFL draft.  Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out.  Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential?  I just don’t see it with Jones.

 


 

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13.  Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.

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