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Miami Dolphins

The Three-Pronged Approach to Miami’s Rebuild – The Development Phase

Travis Wingfield

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The draft and free agency catch all the headlines, but these players stand to provide the Dolphins with the biggest boost of all

Worst to first is a common occurrence in the NFL. In a league of ultimate parity, overnight successes are becoming more frequent. And it’s no longer the Cinderella that backs its way into a home playoff game by winning a substandard division; the 49ers will play for a World Championship just 13 months removed from a 4-12 campaign.

The AFC East may very well be open for business again for essentially the first time since 2002. Yes, the 2008 Dolphins fit the criteria of a punchless darling come January, but Tom Brady would return the ensuing fall for an encore to the dynasty that covered the first half of the new century.

The Bills qualified for the playoffs on the back of a stingy defense. Their stay at the party was short-lived as Buffalo were bounced due in large part to a mediocre offense led by a shaky quarterback. Sam Darnold gets more praise than Josh Allen, but he’s been unequivocally worse in his two years as a starter.

For Miami to assert itself into the mix as divisional contender, it simply has to excel in three areas this offseason. Three areas that provide all 32 clubs with an opportunity to improve its caliber from the year prior. Those areas are:

1.) Free Agency
2.) The Draft
3.) In-House Development

The first two are self-explanatory. The draft is the heartbeat of an NFL organization. Free agency can be used to supplement a team on the cusp of greatness, but also to import ready-made scheme fits.

The only way to ensure those first two avenues bear fruit is through coaching and development. And that’s where the third bullet point checks in.

See, the Texans sold their soul for the right to get embarrassed by Patrick Mahomes in the divisional round. The future of that team, despite the presence of an elite quarterback, appears bleak – they have minimal resources to make the necessary upgrades to a defense that simply can’t run with the Mahomes and Lamar Jackson’s of the world.

Commend Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross for his introspective nature last offseason. The ability to take a step back and recognize that his modus operandi was not producing results, and taking the road less traveled to avoid a Texans situation is beyond admirable.

Where Houston have stacked division titles in a weak AFC South, their prompt playoff exits reveal the pitfalls of a plan built on shortcuts. Ross, like all owners, wants a program that sustains success. He avoided the temptation of instant gratification and put his trust in a head coach who in his first year unanimously earned the respect of the league.

Just like the 49ers with Kyle Shanahan, Ross has preached patience to allow Brian Flores to establish his program, and hopefully produce the same unstoppable cog that the 49ers have become as a conference champion.

San Francisco tapped into all three phases of our roster-building tripod to improve the operation. All-Pro Cornerback Richard Sherman arrived via free agency. Nobody else in the league would pay a fullback the cost of doing business with Kyle Juszczyk. His annual salary is more than double the next highest-paid fullback, but is still a drop in the bucket for a player so essential to Shanahan’s scheme.

The 49ers used the draft to curate a star-studded core led by a dominant front four.

Nick Bosa arrived requiring no development – an instant success. But that wasn’t the case for Arik Armstead. It wasn’t the case for 2017 UDFA Kendrick Borne. It wasn’t the case for primary interior offensive line backup Ben Garland, who replaced Weston Richburg in week 15 with almost no fall-off.

These players all satisfy the third, and perhaps most integral pillar of a successful rebuild – in-house development. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward both produced career-years with high-marks in snaps played. Go up and down San Francisco’s roster and you’ll find a cast of relatively unknowns elevating their respective games to new levels.

That’s where Miami can expedite the rebuild. We know the Dolphins will add blue chips via the draft and free agency. We know they’re going to round out the roster with better depth and produce an unquestionably better roster – in resounding fashion – than the one we saw last year.

Finding Miami’s equivalent of Bourne, Armstead, Ward and the like, requires a certain level of squinting for the casual fan. But for the astute fan, the evidence is there for a presumed jump from several holdovers from Miami’s 5-4 finish to the 2019 season.

LB Andrew Van Ginkel

After starring in training camp, Van Ginkel would spend the first 10 games of his career on the injured reserve. It was well within reason to assume that his rookie season would serve as a medical redshirt, until the final two games.

Van Ginkel played 125 snaps combined in the penultimate Bengals game and season finale in Foxboro. He doubled his quarterback hit-figure (2 to 4) and picked up eight tackles (three for loss). Van Ginkel always excelled blitzing off the edge and falling into the hook zone and flat in coverage, but his run defending raised plenty of questions. In the video breakdown, you see some examples of Van Ginkel absorbing blocks, disengaging, and making plays in the ground game.

In the New England finale, Van Ginkel registered an 89.0 coverage grade and all four of his tackles came within two yards of the line-of-scrimmage. The week prior against the Bengals, he graded a season-high 68.0 against the run, adding two more run stops (tackles within 2-yards of the LOS).

RB Myles Gaskin

An average of 3.7 yards per carry won’t keep a back employed in the NFL for long, but proper context demonstrates Gaskin’s value down the stretch. Kenyan Drake was at 4.5 YPC, and Mark Walton 3.8, but neither of those two matched Gaskin’s ability to create his own yardage.

Gaskin averaged 3.2 yards after contact (yards gained after forcing a missed tackle). Drake averaged just 2.49 and Walton 3.08. Both of those players departed Miami mid-season, leaving just Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird in the backfield stable with Gaskin. Ballage rushed for 1.8 YPC and 1.49 yards after contact on average. Laird went for 2.7 and 1.8 after first contact.

Gaskin has been a production machine since he arrived on campus in Seattle at the University of Washington. Four straight years of 1,200-plus rushing yards were a product of his crafty running, excellent vision, and ability to change the angle on tacklers in a pinch. His production in impossible circumstances to close the season bodes well for his projection next year and beyond.

WR Isaiah Ford

The sun was about to set on Isaiah Ford’s career as a Dolphin late into the 2019 campaign, but as so many of his teammates did, Ford took advantage of the unique opportunity afforded to this young Dolphins roster. Every day in training camp, Ford was out with Kenny Stills taking extra reps at the end of practice, working on his timing with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It took a while, but that chemistry finally synced up in December.

Originally, it appeared the effort was all for not; Ford had two catches through 13 weeks. Over the final four games Ford caught 21 passes, and his efficiency was considerable for a player who’s production was primarily from the slot. He caught 72.4% of his targets for an average of 8.1 yards per target. His 2.00 yards per route ran ranked 43rd in the NFL and his catch-rate ranked inside the top 40.

iOL Michael Deiter

Rookie offensive linemen struggle as much as any other first-year players – it’s a massive adjustment. Deiter was drafted with the expectation of solidifying the left guard position, a tall order for a third-round pick. Amidst the struggles, Deiter showcased some strengths – none more notable this his durability. Deiter started 54 consecutive games at Wisconsin and would’ve been in the lineup for all 16 in 2019, but was benched for the Jets game.

There’s some nastiness to Deiter’s game. He’s proficient at the second level, primarily on combination blocks. Some seasoning, and better play on both his inside and outside post, should accelerate the learning curve of one of the best linemen in Wisconsin history.

DL Zach Sieler

Claimed off waivers from the Ravens, Sieler played the final three games for Miami, starting one in week 16 against the Bengals. Sieler went off in that game. He registered a sack, seven tackles, two passes defensed, five run stops and three quarterback pressures.

Sieler exhibits all the traits that translate to success in this Dolphins defensive scheme. He’s enormous at 6-6, 290 pounds. He’s long with 34-inch arms and an athletic profile that ranks in the 90th-percentile in most metrics for interior defensive linemen.

DL Jonathan Ledbetter

Playing his last down in week-one, Ledbetter is a forgotten man by many Dolphins fans. After earning a starting job through camp and preseason, the undrafted rookie produced from the word go. Ledbetter made four run stops in his lone showing, two QB pressures, and a sack in his NFL debut.

Ledbetter won in the same way Sieler did late in the year – length and strength. He’s a quality candidate to play the heavy end position, vastly improving Miami’s run defense on the edge.

DT John Jenkins

Jenkins might not belong on this list as he steadily contributed all year, but because it was mostly dirty work that goes unrecognized, we’ll give the big fella his due. He’s not a premier pass rusher by any sense, but he’s a tree stump that can slant and twist better than his athletic profile would suggest.

Jenkins’ 70.8 overall PFF grade ranked second on the Miami defense (of players with at least five games played).  He made 21 run stops on 274 run-play downs – a run-stuff percentage of 7.7%, per PFF.

DB Jomal Wiltz

The metrics will not bode well for Wiltz, but there’s plenty of tape to point to upside with this young defensive back. He played safety and slot, showcasing the versatility required to excel in Brian Flores’ defense.

Wiltz was a sure-tackler that could present value as the sixth defensive back in dime packages. He can play off the ball, come down and cover man-up, and his ability to rally serves the defense well on third-down-and-long.

CB Tae Hayes

The sample size is small, but Hayes showed the confidence and skills to play cornerback in the modern era. Hayes allowed three receptions on 16 targets in his two games with the team.

In addition to the coverage skills, Hayes made three tackles within two-yards of the L.O.S., and he defended two passes. Playing primarily on the outside (90 snaps), Hayes does play inside as well (16 reps in the slot).

DB Montre Hartage

A late-season practice squad call-up, Hartage took something of a redshirt year to learn a new position. A two-time All Big 10 cornerback, Hartage moved to safety early in camp working behind Bobby McCain.

His tackling grade checked in at a whopping 86.5 – the product of not missing a tackle in his 98 reps. Hartage allowed 34 receiving yards on six targets, showing a penchant for recognizing route concepts and beating the receiver to the football. He made a pass breakup on the Patriots final drive in that season-ending upset victory.

LB Sam Eguavoen

It was a difficult start for the CFL product. Eguavoen, the surprise star of training camp, struggled with the physicality of the NFL game early on, but started to flash in the areas we assumed he would late in the season.

Eguavoen is a passing-down specialist. He has enough burst to be effective as a blitzer (evident by his 23 pressures and 5 sacks on 232 pass rush downs), and he’s no slouch against the pass. Eguavoen allowed just 110 yards on 17 pass targets and had three positive coverage grades in the month of December.

It’s unrealistic to expect each of these players to make a noteworthy stride in 2020. Even if just half of that list takes its game up a notch or two, Miami’s ability to compete when the injury bug hits, to be flexible in its game plan from week-to-week, and to win regularly on special teams will improve dramatically.

What’s more, none of this accounts for potential steps taken by more high-profile players. Christian Wilkins in year-two is an exciting prospect. Vince Biegel – once his contract is sorted out – flashes a lot of promise. Mike Gesicki produced at a pro-bowl level post-bye week. Eric Rowe has a full offseason to prepare as a safety, where he was aces in 2019. Nik Needham can go from darling UDFA to bonafide number-two corner. Albert Wilson will be two years removed from the hip injury and Xavien Howard returns from the injured reserve.

If there’s one thing Brian Flores proved in his rookie season, it’s the ability to get a sum that is greater than its parts. Winning better than half of the final nine games is an accomplishment for most teams, especially one with a roster that resembled something the XFL will produce in its inaugural season. Flores’ work in his rookie year is the ultimate feather in the cap for a coach that was recognized across the league and media landscape.

The in-house development is the great unknown. Simple math tells us that Miami will find fits in the draft and free agency by the law of averages. Having that security in the player-development aspect of the program is the surest way to achieve Mr. Ross’ vision.

A vision that will produce an annual contender in South Florida.

@WingfieldNFL

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Vance

    February 3, 2020 at 11:13 am

    There is a lot of dubious claims in this article when was the AFC east stronger than the AFC south in the last three seasons if not longer? New England has easily won the AFC East for many seasons and no other team has been a contender while every AFC south team has been a contender some time in the past three years.

  2. Avatar

    Papapickett

    February 3, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    This article assumes jumps to be made forward but if half instead take steps backwards we could be worse off. Like Gruden says, youre either getting better or getting worse but youre never staying the same. All in all a good article. Every guy flashes something though. Thats why they get the call. To be more fair half the video couldve shown what things these players need to improve on.

  3. Avatar

    DBCooper

    February 5, 2020 at 8:10 pm

    Great write up, thanks for the info & analysis.

    Been watching NFL since the 50s & believe my strength is analysis … not prediction.

    Ross grades a 1 on the 10 scale, & the organization & success reflects it. Ross has made poor choices & sticks with them too long. That’s why the whole org smells like az consistently.

    Our drafting over 2 decades has ave. 4 on the 10 scale, that’s why we’ve been so mediocre (2016 is the only good draft). Every fan & TV Pundit always says B+, but D is more like it & reflects our record/success. Look at the teams at the top & review their last few drafts & this becomes VERY obvious. Look at Buffalo, SF, KC, etc.

    I live in Silicon Valley & watch the 69ers closely. Here’s a few sausage ingredients that aren’t well publicized. Fans in the know wanted to pick a QB last year, & were livid they “had to take” Nick Bosa as there were NO QBs for #2. They were right, but it was a wonderful backfire. Shanahan has shown he’s not the brightest bulb, but outlasted the twit GM Balke (just rehired … aaaaiiiieeee). Along came Lynch who talks too much & had some early big busts. The guys wouldn’t talk with each other they had so much hate. They’d be on a TV Presser, lynch yapped like crazy & Shanahan kept quiet & gave him the stink-eye. Well, 2020 & they’re both geniuses & love each other … can’t make this stuff up!!

    Oh, Gawd do we need a great draft … please make it THIS year!!
    Still not sure about this coach & his brains/strategy … should know in a year or so. I do like that he has a clear vision & not afraid to kick anyone in the nutz who gets in this way … gawd, give him wisdom!!

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins’ Jones and Howard land in top 10 CB rankings

Shawn Digity

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Xavien Howard
Image courtesy of Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – On Tuesday night, CBS Sports HQ revealed its power rankings for the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

And in their top 10 rankings, the Miami Dolphins landed two players: Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.

The rankings were created by Patrik Walker through the CBS Sports HQ Twitter account and are indicative of where Walker sees the league’s top corners as they enter the 2020 season.

Jones came in at six, and Howard landed at eight.

Howard was shut down for the most part in 2019 but saw his first Pro Bowl after the 2018 season, where he caught seven interceptions, tying for the most. Howard is going into his fifth year, all with the Dolphins.

Howard was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Byron Jones joined the Miami Dolphins earlier in 2020 after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract and is slated to start across from Howard.

Jones is going into his sixth year in the NFL after originally being selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 2015 Draft, 27 overall.

Regardless of their positional rankings, there will be high expectations for the cornerback tandem as they are projected to be the starters and already have a proven track record in the NFL.

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Miami Dolphins

Are the Dolphins Done Reshaping the Roster for 2020?

Kevin Dern

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Unless you’ve been in the deepest of quarantines by now you’ve familiarized yourself with Miami’s offseason moves. The Dolphins brought in 12 free agents, 11 draft picks, traded for a running back, and signed 10 undrafted free agents. That’s 34 new names on the 90 man roster as we [hopefully] gear up for training camp in a month and a half.  Despite all the moves, Miami currently has four roster spots open. That’s 86 spots, not counting Durval Queiroz Neto, who is roster exempt, so the question has to be asked: Are they done for now?

We all know that changes will happen in camp. There could be a surprised UDFA or two that makes the roster. Someone could, and likely will, get injured to free up a spot. But, for right *NOW* are the Dolphins done?

I tend not to think so. So who might they be after? I don’t have any inside information, but from what media information we know, and some of my own speculation, I’ve got four names I suspect Miami might be onto. Two big fish and two guys that might be a little more under the radar.

Logan Ryan
The biggest name thus far Miami has been linked to is former Titans and Patriots Cornerback Logan Ryan. Sports Illustrated’s Alain Poupart had this story on May 14th.

https://www.si.com/nfl/dolphins/news/the-latest-on-the-status-of-logan-ryan-and-the-miami-dolphins-interest

Aside from the obvious connection to Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores, Logan Ryan checks a lot of boxes Miami’s looked for this offseason.  Ryan’s a smart, team-first guy. He’s got position flexibility – able to play on the perimeter or in the slot and he already knows Miami’s defensive system.

But, corners in this league are expensive. It appears that Logan Ryan wants a one-year “prove it” deal. He’s betting on himself and cited Titans QB Ryan Tannehill as one of the reasons why. And per the Miami Herald, Logan Ryan’s agents have told the Dolphins he wants $10M or more for a year. That’s pricey, but Logan Ryan might be worth it; let’s take a look.

In this first clip, you can’t see him at the snap, but he’ll come in from the slot on the offense’s left side and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against the run and stops Nick Chubb for a short gain.

Later in the same game, he gets a sack on Baker Mayfield (Yes, this play was ruled a sack). Ryan will come in from the right side of the screen, again the offense’s left, on a slot blitz. He gets blocked but is able to redirect and chases Baker Mayfield down for the sack.

Finally, in this clip, he plays press man against T.Y. Hilton from the slot. That’s a valuable skill Miami will like. Hilton’s going to try and break outside, but Logan Ryan reads the play, and showcases a nice burst to secure the pick.

Ultimately, signing Logan Ryan gives Miami a proven slot player who can also play man coverage on the perimeter, allowing Miami to matchup their defense however they please. He’d also gives them a buffer from having to having to give Noah Igbinoghene a ton of snaps right off the bat, if they so desire. At worst, you could spoon feed Igbinoghene at first until he’s grasped his role, then you can increase his snaps. And with Ryan looking for a one year deal, that might be amenable to all parties.

Larry Warford
It’s not too often at this stage of the offseason there’s a 29 year old (turns 29 on June 18th), three-time Pro Bowl guard is available. But that’s just what Larry Warford is. Saints Coach Sean Payton once said that he likes his guards to “have mass and ass” in order to keep a clean, firm middle of the pocket for Drew Brees to operate. Well, if there’s one rookie quarterback this year that is built like and operates like Drew Brees, it’s Tua Tagovailoa. And, between you and me, I think Tua’s going to end up playing a lot sooner than people think.

What adding Larry Warford would likely do for Miami is solidify four of the five starting offensive line spots. If Miami signed him, I think it’s safe to assume Miami would have (from left to right) Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, Larry Warford, and a battle between Jesse Davis and Robert Hunt. That’s a battle that Miami likely would want Hunt to win, as you can keep Jesse Davis as a swing tackle and guard. It would also allow them to bring Solomon Kindley along slowly. I didn’t watch it, but have heard that either Flores and/or Grier compared Kindley to Shaq Mason, who was a project that the Patriots brought along because he didn’t have much pass-blocking experience coming from Georgia Tech’s option offense. Well, with Kindley it gives you a chance to hone his game in total for a year or two while getting a veteran who walks in the door the best lineman the Dolphins would have.

Three quick clips of Larry Warford for you coming up.

First, we’ll see Warford and RT Ryan Ramczyk block up a T-E game. The DT is going to go outside and J.J. Watt comes inside to Warford. They switch it with relative ease and Warford is so big that J.J. Watt can’t generate a pop to knock Warford back and collapse the pocket.

Next, and this one is quick. It’s a jet sweep to Kamara going the other way, but look at Larry throwing bodies out the club! That kind of punch is something Miami haven’t had in a guard since Richie Incognito was in town.

Finally, we see a rep against DT D.J. Reader, who got paid this offseason. Reader’s listed at 347lbs, and someone that large shouldn’t be moved that easily.

Warford gives you size, smarts and strength inside. And, if Miami are going to possibly have a rookie RT in Robert Hunt, that kind of veteran presence can help bring him up to speed quickly. For my money, I’d sign Larry Warford over Logan Ryan since Miami’s Defensive Staff seemed to be able to bring in DBs off the street and get them up to speed enough to start in the same week. Kudos to Josh Boyer for that, but I think there’s more value in bringing in Warford now, and possibly for the next two or three years, than there is for Logan Ryan on a one year deal.

That said, both players would make the Dolphins better and I’m not opposed to Logan Ryan by any means.

Damon Harrison
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of “Snacks” Harrison before. But did you realize he was still out there as a free agent? Kudos if you did. Miami signing “Snacks” doesn’t seem like it’d be in the cards. Harrison is 31 years old, had a tough year last year with injuries in Detroit to the point he contemplated retirement, but hear me out.

Wind the clock back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense. Same defense Miami’s running now. The Patriots had over 1,000 total snaps on defense that year. Danny Shelton played just 31% of them, with 324 total snaps. NT in this defense is a part-time position.

That year the Patriots gave out the following snaps to interior defensive linemen:

Malcom Brown – 456 (43.7%)
Lawrence Guy – 519 (49.8%)
Adam Butler – 379 (36.3%)
Danny Shelton – 324 (31.1%)

With Miami’s drafting of Raekwon Davis, you sort of assume he and Godchaux are going to take on the roles of Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Christian Wilkins takes on the role of Lawrence Guy, and perhaps Raekwon Davis takes some of those snaps as well to keep him fresh. As of now, I’d expect Zach Sieler to take on Adam Butler’s workload, which was a rotational DT and someone who can be used on passing downs; Sieler has more skill there than Godchaux or Davis in my opinion.

But what if Miami were able to bring in “Snacks” Harrison to take on that NT role? It’d allow you to give Davis more focused snaps and let him use some of his upfield ability to help spell Godchaux and take on that Adam Butler role. It might mean the end for Zach Sieler in Miami, who is on an Exclusive Rights Free Agent Tender for this year. No harm if you move on.

So what would snacks bring to the table? First, like Logan Ryan, he knows the system to some degree having played under Matt Patricia in Detroit. There may be some differences here an there, but he can pick that up, and it’s a specialized role. Two, he’s a proven run-stopper. Even last year with the Lions with all his injuries he was still effective. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a back-to-back play sequence against the Eagles in Week 3.

First, Harrison’s actually lined up at 3-technique against Brandon Brooks, one of the most underrated players in the NFL. “Snacks” will never confuse for Aaron Donald and he doesn’t muster much of a rush, but he stays with the play and gets his hand up to deflect Carson Wentz’s pass.

The very next play is what he does best. Lined up as a true NT, he ushers Jason Kelce away with one arm, plays down the line horizontally and stops Miles Sanders for no gain. That’s what you like to see out of someone who is 6’3” and 350lbs.

Against the Packers you’ll see him as a 3-technique again and he defeats a double-team by Billy Turner and Bryan Bulaga and makes a run stop on Aaron Jones.

The final clip for “Snacks” comes when he gets a sack of Aaron Rodgers later in that same game. He’s going to work off a double-team by Billy Turner and Corey Linsley, gets around it, and though he’s out of his pass rush lane he keeps working and dumps Rodgers for a sack.

The knocks against “Snacks” are that he’s older than every player on the Dolphins roster save for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He battled through injuries, contemplated retirement and told ESPN that he was “hell-bent” on getting out of Detroit. Did he not like the system? The coaches? How does that parlay into Miami if he signs here considering Flores and Patricia’s backgrounds intertwine in Foxboro? While I think this signing might be more unlikely than both Logan Ryan and Larry Warford, it wouldn’t shock me given Miami’s defensive scheme and the players that Brian Flores has traditionally seen in that role.

Mike Weber
Going a little off the beaten path here. The Chiefs waived Mike Weber, who was a seventh round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. Weber rushed for 1,000+ yards as a redshirt freshman at Ohio State, replacing Ezekiel Elliott. An injury in summer workouts the next year opened the door and J.K. Dobbins passed him on the depth chart, but Weber still rushed for 626 yards and 10 TDs that year. He tallied nearly 1,100 yards and nine more TDs as Dobbins backup in 2018, and declared for the Draft.

Going to Dallas, Weber wasn’t going to get much of a shot behind Ezekiel Elliott, especially after Elliott’s contract extension. He also was beaten out by Tony Pollard in 2019 for the backup job. Weber spent time with the Chiefs on their practice squad during their Super Bowl Run.

Weber has yet to collect a carry in the NFL during the Regular Season, so I don’t have clips for you here. My rationale for Miami possibly being interested in Weber is that Miami had a strong interest in J.K. Dobbins during the Draft this year. Weber played in that same offense at Ohio State and put up big numbers as well. In my opinion, he was more physical as a runner, but lacked the explosiveness. He goes 5’10” 210lbs, so he’s bridging the gap in size between Jordan Howard and Matt Breida.

Kalen Ballage hasn’t proven very effective doing much of anything. Patrick Laird is a nice story, but is probably best served by playing on special teams. We didn’t see much of Myles Gaskin in 2019, save for the Bengals game in Week 16, so he’s still a bit of an unknown. With four open roster spots, what’s the harm in bringing in Weber for a look?

We’ll see what Miami does, and they could very well opt to do nothing. But Logan Ryan, Larry Warford, Damon Harrison, are three guys I think they ought to consider. Each of the three, in my opinion, makes the position group on the Dolphins better they moment they walk in the door. Mike Weber would be more of a reclamation project, but I like his odds of competing against Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin for a potential roster spot.

Stay safe and FinsUp!

 

 

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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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