Inherent competition is a hallmark engrained in the foundation of all great NFL organizations. Avoiding complacency and developing an environment that encourages contention for reps, come September, has a tendency of breeding success.
For the 2019 Dolphins, competition is a byproduct of the new operating procedure. With an approach to buy low, in hopes to uncovering hidden gems, few starting positions are spoken for when the team hits the practice field later this month.
Xavien Howard and Laremy Tunsil head a short list of players written into the lineup with pen; these are the 10 most important battles of training camp and the preseason.
1. Quarterback – Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh Rosen
Starting this list anywhere else would be disingenuous. Rosen is going to start at some point — likely sooner than later — but the nature by which he earns the gig could be telling. Unless he changes his colors in year-fifteen, it’s plausible to assume Fitzpatrick will have mountainous highs and benching-worthy lows.
Of course, the path Rosen takes to seize the starting job will be forgotten if he irrefutably earns his “Chosen One” moniker, but failing to top the journeyman in August would be an ominous start to his second chance in Miami.
Projected Opening Day Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
2. Cornerback – Everyone but Xavien Howard
Between Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the slot corner position is spoken for. The two will rotate there, at safety, and out wide on the perimeter. Joining Howard as prominent fixtures at corner, the Dolphins have something of a mystery bag to round out the other 3-4 spots on the positional depth chart.
Eric Rowe is the most accomplished of the group, though his medical history is alarming (27 games missed the last three years). Rowe gets first crack at the job but a crop of young, intriguing options will force Rowe to show out early and often.
Second-year undrafted free agent Jalen Davis showed the most bite down the stretch, but he’s best suited to play inside. Torry McTyer saw the most action on the outside while rookie Cornell Armstrong cut his teeth on special teams, and occasional perimeter corner duty.
Cordrea Tankersley is perhaps the biggest mystery on the roster. After an impressive rookie season, 2018 went as poorly as Tankersley could’ve imagined. Poor performance and an ACL injury puts the former third-round pick’s future in jeopardy. There’s a distinct possibility that Tankersley begins the season on the P.U.P. list.
Keep an eye out for undrafted rookie Nik Needham. The former UTEP Miner has excellent feet and his college tape is chocked full of man-coverage reps that saw him steal the opposition’s soul.
The same could be said for third-year corner Jomal Wiltz. Wiltz spent last year with the Patriots working under former Pats — and current ‘Phins CB Coach — Josh Boyer.
This group will produce a starter that plays the majority of the defensive snaps, but also depth contributors that see playing time in a new, defensive-back-heavy scheme.
Projected Opening Day CB Depth Chart: Howard, Fitzpatrick/McCain, Rowe, Armstrong, McTyer, Needham (Tankersley on PUP, eligible for activation after week-six).
3. Offensive Line (Three Spots) – Jesse Davis vs. Michael Deiter vs. Chris Reed vs. Jordan Mills
The thought process behind eliminating potential challengers to Daniel Kilgore can be questioned, but the team’s faith in the eight-year vet cannot. He and Tunsil will coast into opening day starts while the rest of the line-up requires some untangling.
The four suitors each offer similar traits. Durability, versatility, and the mean steak that can help this offense cultivate the desired mentality based in toughness.
Davis was Miami’s only 16-game starter on the line last season. Deiter started more games than any lineman in Wisconsin history and Mills is working on a 49-game starting streak. Perhaps the best of the bunch, Chris Reed, was a career backup with the Jaguars searching for his first opening day start.
Deiter excelled at left guard, Reed showcased his biggest flashes at right guard and Davis’ limited action at right tackle in 2017 was perhaps his best work as a pro.
Projected Opening Day Offensive Line: Tunsil-Deiter-Kilgore-Reed-Davis
4. Primary On-Ball/Off-Ball Combo Role – Charles Harris vs. Nate Orchard
Two years removed from first round pick status Charles Harris finds himself in dire straits. The new scheme will call for conversion players that can play five-tech, seven-tech, and stand-up as on-ball linebackers. Harris showed flashes early in his rookie season to fill that role, but fell out of favor in 2018.
Harris battles with journeyman Nate Orchard to fulfil this paramount role in Brian Flores’ defense. Harris needs to win the competition and produce this season or he could go the way of fellow former Dolphins first-round edge, Dion Jordan.
Tank Carradine could factor into this competition as well, though his primary duty will be as a base five-tech with the task of setting the edge in the running game.
Projected Opening Day Combo DE/LB: Charles Harris
5. X Wide Receiver – Devante Parker vs. Brice Butler vs. Preston Williams
Annual offseason-camp MVP Devante Parker has the inside track to fend off last year’s in-season acquisition, and 2019’s offseason-camp MVP (Butler and Williams). With the top three receivers on the depth chart functioning as combo (inside/outside) speed players, Miami needs one of these three to assert their position as the primary X receiver.
Parker returns — humbled — on a reduced contract. Reports of Parker’s re-centered focus will fall on deaf ears until he consistently produces on Sundays. Butler provides quality depth while the upside with Williams is apparent. Williams was a former five-star recruit that found himself in trouble away from the field before turning Colorado State into his own personal highlight reel location.
Projected Opening Day X: Devante Parker
6. Seventh Game Day Active OL – Everyone Beyond the Top Six
Ideally the seventh offensive lineman that dresses on game day never sees the field, but the war of attrition that is the NFL makes that hope merely a pipe dream. Declaring Jordan Mills as the sixth-man, there’s a considerable drop-off on paper.
Zach Sterup has longevity with the team on his side, but with Mills functioning as a swing tackle there might not be room. The same is true of sixth-round pick Isaiah Prince. Tony Adams has the benefit of playing in New England with the former Pats staffers, Kyle Fuller has minimal experience, Michael Dunn and Jaryd Jones-Smith come over from the defunct AAF, and a threesome of UDFA’s round out the unit.
Projected Opening Day Seventh Man: Shaq Calhoun (UDFA Miss St.)
7. Third Running Back – Myles Gaskin vs. Mark Walton vs. Patrick Laird vs. Kenneth Farrow
A lot talent and project presides on this list. Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage are set to carry the load for Miami, but this system will feature as many as five backs (including a fullback).
Myles Gaskin amassed more than 1,200 yards all four years as a Husky, while Mark Walton was a hometown hero before continuous knucklehead behavior saw the former Hurricane quickly fall out of favor in Cincinnati. Those are the two favorites, but Laird and Farrow will not go away quietly.
Projected Opening Day #3 RB: Myles Gaskin
8. Interior Defensive Line Depth – Jamiyus Pittman vs. Kendrick Norton vs. Joey Mbu
Christian Wilkins, Vincent Taylor, Davon Godchaux, Akeem Spence and Adolphus Washington figure into the rotation prominently. The remaining potential spot will go to an unproven player.
Pittman was a priority UDFA last season who earned a cup of coffee midseason (45 snaps) with the ‘Phins. Norton joined the team last December while Mbu spent time on the Packers practice squad under new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham.
Mbu is built like a house and has the requisite traits to give the Dolphins 200-300 snaps as a two-gapping nose.
Projected Sixth Interior Defensive Lineman: Joy Mbu
9. Sub-Package Linebacker – Andrew Van Ginkel vs. Chase Allen vs. Mike Hull vs. Jayrone Elliot
The first three linebackers are cut and dry (McMillan, Baker, Alonso). As is the case with the defensive line, linebackers in this new defensive will asked to perform specific roles — roles they inherently succeed with.
Van Ginkel has a shot to carve out considerable playing time through his versatility and prowess with modern-day football traits (coverage and blitzing). Allen and Hull are run-stuffers that operate between the B-gaps — they will likely battle for the right to backup Raekwon McMillan.
Jayrone Elliot is Miami’s closest copy to Kyle Van Noy in New England. He has worked with Patrick Graham in the past and has produced in a similar defense in Green Bay.
Projected Backup Linebacker Depth Chart: Van Ginkel, Elliot, Allen
10. Tight End Depth – Nick O’Leary vs. Durham Smythe
Mike Gesicki and Dwayne Allen figure in as the top two tight ends, but their job descriptions couldn’t be more polarizing. The battle to round out the position behind them features similar skill sets in 2018 in-season acquisition O’Leary, and 2018 fourth-round pick Smythe.
With the re-introduction of the fullback in Miami, O’Leary’s work as an H-back might give him a leg up, but Smythe is hardly a slouch as an inline blocker.
Projected #3 TE: Nick O’Leary
Most of these battles might only have a minimal impact on the 2019 Dolphins, but each has an opportunity to go a long way in rounding out the long-term depth of this football team. Under new leadership, role players will become the norm in Miami. This requires 53 men that have transparent jobs and the focus to excel at those specific tasks.
Expectations might not be in Miami’s corner this summer, but the foundation of this new regime will be built in 2019, and it all begins with training camp.
Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis
Dolphins go back to the 2017 first round defensive end well, claim Charlton from waivers
The 2017 Dolphins were, sadly, one of the more anticipated teams this organization has assembled in recent memory. Fresh off a surprise 10-win season, heading into year-two of the new system, and bevy of players returning from injury had fans feeling optimistic.
Patching up the perceived holes on the roster — like the defensive end position — started with an atrocious Andre Branch extension, and ended on the draft’s opening night with a handful of edge rusher prospects ripe for picking.
Derek Barnett came off the board before Miami could pluck the future Super Bowl hero, but everyone else was available. Jonathan Allen was selected five picks ahead of the Dolphins, but he was billed more as a three and five-technique inside player, not a true edge rusher.
That left Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tak McKinley and T.J. Watt. Two of those players are off to sterling starts in their young careers — the other two are nearing their respective last legs, and both are now Miami Dolphins.
Charlton received his release from the Cowboys earlier this week after an under-whelming 34-game stay in Big D. Taco’s snap count is revealing of the feeling about the player among the Dallas staff.
|Year||Taco Charlton Defensive Snaps Played (% of Cowboys’ Defensive Snaps)|
A 40-percent snap-taker is typically indicative of one of two things for an edge player. He’s either a situational savant — whether that’s to support the run game or pin his ears back and get after the quarterback — or that he’s the second option in the rotation, A.K.A. a backup.
Charlton’s production suggests that he was the latter, and only because of his draft status. His descent into a game day inactive signaled the end of his time with the club that drafted him.
Rumors of a trade were speculated as the reason Charlton was a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games, but Head Coach Jason Garrett referred to the numbers game. “We have 10 guys on the active roster on the defensive line and we dressed eight for the game. It felt like the guys we had up there gave us the best chance,” Garrett said via a report from Bloggin’ The Boys.
Still, we have 800 reps to look at to figure out where it went wrong for Charlton, and if he possesses a legitimate shot to fit this scheme and carve out spot in the future plans of the NFL’s most steadfast rebuild operation.
First, let’s start with the type of player Charlton was supposed to be coming out of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.
The Dolphins are a team that adheres strongly to prototypes all over the field, but particularly in the trenches. Explosive metrics aren’t nearly as important as length, strength, read-and-react skillsets, intelligence to process and execute a variety of roles (stunts, twists, slants, picks), and most importantly, playing with heavy hands.
His fit begins with his build. At 6’6’’, 270-pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Charlton looks like plenty of defensive ends in a Brian Flores (Bill Belichick defense) before him. Charlton doesn’t check off all those boxes from the previous paragraph, but he hits enough of the buzz words to justify a flier.
This from Lance Zierlein of NFL Media.
That immediate get-off and quickness would’ve suited him better in Miami’s wide-9 alignment under Matt Burke. The length will benefit him, especially as he forces tackles to quickly get into their pass sets. The challenge will be developing a secondary move to work back inside and underneath the tackle.
The glowing praise for his twist, bend, and lower-body control will serve him well in a defense that will stunt, stunt, and stunt some more.
Most of all, the length will help him excel in this scheme as a run defender. To lock out and hold the point of attack are keys, and those are areas that put Charlton on the map as a first-round prospect.
The weaknesses from that blurb are alarming. Getting washed out of his gap by power and allowing blockers into his frame will earn him a quick ticket right out of town — those are the departments where the surprise cuts in Nate Orchard and Dewayne Hendrix struggled.
Lack of consistency, takes plays off, needs a coach that will push him — those are the final takeaways from Zierlein’s conversation with an anonymous AFC Executive.
If there’s any one thing you can point to with Flores as far as his football acumen — this excludes leadership and communication — it’s his ability to coach football (novel idea, huh?) This feels like a Flores pet project.
Let’s get into some of Charlton’s Dallas tenure, starting with his metrics from Pro Football Focus.
Charlton has 38 total pressures in his two years as a pro (4 sacks, 8 hits, 26 hurries). He compiled those numbers on 464 pass rush reps, a pressure on 8.2% of his pass rush snaps — not good. His 4.1 weighted pass rush productivity mark in 2018 ranked 132ndamong all edge rushers.
Charlton missed four tackles on 34 opportunities — an 11.8 missed tackle percentage, also not good. He made 23 run-stops on 346 snaps against the ground game. That mark — 6.6% — landed Charlton at 73rd among edge defenders in 2018, and 143rd in 2017.
The majority of Charlton’s work came from the right side of the defensive line (position vacated by Robert Quinn, currently held by a cast of many in Miami). Charlton lined up for pass rushing situations on the right side for 67.3% of his total reps.
Now, for the tape.
Quick Taco Charlton film thread. Looking at the applicable traits that make him a potential fit in Miami’s scheme, where he needs to get better, and why coaching can make a difference.
First, the get-off paired with lateral agility will suit him well in a stunt-heavy defense. pic.twitter.com/Qgd0kzPzlp
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 19, 2019
If Charlton can piece together the finer points of his game and develop a better arsenal or rush moves, he’ll stick as a building block. The decreased workload this year, his lack of production dating back to college, and inconsistencies makes one wonder about the drive and work habits.
We’ll quickly find out about the character of Charlton. If he embraces this opportunity, it’s a great landing spot for him. If not, he’ll be back on the unemployment line in short order.
Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton
Only minutes after the Miami Dolphins’ Week 2 loss against the Patriots, Head Coach Brian Flores maintained that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback… “Right now”.
By Thursday afternoon, it became clear that “right now” had passed as Josh Rosen was announced to take over the starting QB position ahead of Miami’s first road trip this Sunday against the Cowboys.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 19, 2019
Fans had caught intermittent glimpses of Rosen’s abilities through the preseason and he has seen the field during replacement duty in Weeks 1 and 2, so far completing 8/21 passes for 102 yards, 2 INTs and a 38.1% completion percentage.
While Rosen has not yet led the Dolphins to regular season points, the second year passer will find his opportunity to do so in Dallas and the Dolphins will be able to make further evaluation of 2018’s tenth overall pick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s veteran standing and experience had given him the early advantage, but the time has arrived in for the Dolphins to see what the future may bring – if anything – for Josh Rosen in Miami.
Whilst the national attention seems to be focused on Chris Grier’s rebuild of the roster, the Dolphins have claimed former first round pick, DE Taco Charlton, released by the Cowboys on Wednesday.
Dolphins have claimed former Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, source confirms. Charlton was Dallas 2017 first-round pick who the team waived Wednesday.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 19, 2019
The Dolphins are getting Taco Charlton for a bargain: 2 years, $2.5M.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) September 19, 2019
Charlton was the Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection in 2017, having played in 27 games (7 starts) and registered 4.0 sacks and 47 combined tackles.
Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview
Dolphins Search to Stop the Bleeding in Big D
Who: Dolphins (0-2) at Cowboys (2-0)
When: Sunday September 22, 1:00 PM East
Where: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +21
The hits keep coming for Miami. Another prominent fixture of the roster has been jettisoned, and another loaded team is on the docket for the downtrodden Dolphins.
This current iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is akin to what Miami hopes to build in a couple years’ time — stout trench play, emerging young quarterback, and star-studded skill positions.
Three touchdown underdogs for the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are introducing college point-spreads into the National Football League. Miami’s 19-point home handicap last week was the biggest such spread for a host team since the 2007 season, and the Dolphins are now channeling the 2013 Broncos-Jaguars game that climbed up over 25 points before betting closed.
The Dolphins were far more competitive last week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. Contributions from star Cornerback Xavien Howard, upstart Linebacker Jerome Baker, and surprising recent addition Vince Biegel were the silver linings in the 43-point thrashing; we’re looking for more of those in Dallas.
The switch from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore might’ve been the biggest upgrade in the NFL this offseason. Moore, a coach’s son that made it to the NFL for his cerebral prowess at the quarterback position, is dressing up Dallas’ offense with disguise, misdirection, and tendency breakers.
Dallas varies it’s running scheme, but the talent to execute simple gap-schemes and power concepts allows Moore to get creative with the play action game. Cowboys players praise Moore for his nuance and emphasis on getting players in position to exhibit their best traits.
Scheming chunk-plays in the passing game, running the football to keep the offense on schedule, and devising red zone concepts to free up pass catchers in the condensed area already has Moore’s name circulating as the next hot head coaching candidate.
On top of impeccable front-seven talent, the Cowboys borrow concepts from some of the most accomplished, revolutionary defensive schemes in the history of the league. Rod Marinelli still carries the title of Defensive Coordinator, but it’s a co-op with he and the up-and-coming Kris Richard.
With elements of the Tampa-2 from Marinelli’s days with the Bucs — and more recently in Chicago — fused with Richard’s rendition of the wildly popular scheme originated by Pete Carroll, Dallas is successful in a multitude of packages and pre-snap disguises.
Creating one-on-one rush opportunities from their elite pass rushers, while playing a variety of cover-3, 2, and 1 on the back-end, the Cowboys can apply pressure while dropping seven — the ultimate goal of every NFL defense.
Look for Chad O’Shea to attack this defense with more in-breaking routes. That means high-low and drive concepts (designed to displace zone coverage and attack the middle of cover-1 and Tampa-2 defenses) and seam shots with the Cowboys drop two deep.
Dak Prescott is off to an MVP-caliber beginning to his 2019 season. Prescott handles pressure in two ways — the type of pressure applied by ferocious fronts, and the pressure of big moments. He’s accurate, creates opportunities off-script, and allows Kellen Moore to utilize designed runs.
Then there’s Zeke Elliot, who’s just getting rolling. Zeke, behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line with the healthy Travis Frederic, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, Dallas can line up and push teams off the football.
The Dolphins must get big showings from Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins to hold the point-of-attack and free up Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to meet Zeke in the hole.
Amari Cooper is one of the game’s best route runners, and he pairs that with size and speed. He’ll be a tough matchup for Miami, unless Xavien Howard wants to travel with the Cowboys play maker. That opens up another bag of worms, especially as Miami will be working in a new safety alongside corner-convert, Bobby McCain.
Jason Witten is back, but he serves mostly as an additional lineman and the forgotten man in the red zone (as far as the defense is concerned, Witten has two touchdowns already on plays that schemed him wide open). Michael Gallup will miss this game while the resurgent Randal Cobb will help keep the Miami defense honest horizontally in the misdirection game.
Jaylon Smith leads the defense with his instinctive, urgent playing style that pairs well with uncommon physical traits. He and Leighton Vander Esch set the tone in the middle of the Dallas defense, and a lot of the scheme is designed to free these two up to wreak havoc. Smith’s athleticism allows Marinelli to keep the Tampa-2 concept alive.
Demarcus Lawrence is set to have a field day. Miami haven’t been able to block anybody this year, and now will have to handle one of the game’s best pass rushers against deafening crowd noise.
Byron Jones has fallen out of favor in Dallas. The dependable Jeff Heath, and the underrated Xavier Woods make it so, while Chidobe Awuzie locks down the opposition’s number one receiver. Dallas’ vulnerability in this position group from the perimeter corner position opposite Awuzie. Jones has been playing corner to pair with slot specialist Jourdan Lewis and Awuzie.
If Miami can create one-on-one passing opportunities into the boundary, look for O’Shea to attack vertically and hope to steal some points — the best bet here is likely Preston Williams.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) September 18, 2019
Quite literally all over the football field. Dallas can line up with power and milk the Dolphins defense dry. They can attack vertically, or in the controlled passing game with well-timed shot plays built into the offense, all on top of exceptional red zone production in the early going of 2019.
Demarcus Lawrence leads the team in pressures, but he’s only pulled the quarterback down once — that ties the team lead. This Cowboys pass rush is going to be champing at the bit to pad those stats, and there’s no reason to think Miami can handle the relentless pressure, even without blitzing.
Special teams might be the one area Miami can spark some magic. The Dolphins are off to a slow start in this department as well, but Jakeem Grant’s big-play ability will be needed if Miami are to pull the miracle upset.
Finding vertical shots — whether it’s Mike Gesicki splitting the Tampa-2, Preston Williams winning an outside release into the boundary without safety help, or getting a fly-by from Grant, Miami needs some fireworks.
The Projected Outcome:
The game plan came together defensively in the first half against the Patriots, but it’s a challenge for even the league’s best stop-units to carry a lifeless offense. Unless the Dolphins can finally sustain some drives and convert in the red zone, this game will get out of hand. It’s doubtful Miami can do that, so look for an aggressive offense that tries to hit the big play.
Dallas just has too much star power and excellent coordinators for Miami to pick them off — or even cover.
- Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis September 19, 2019
- Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton September 19, 2019
- Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview September 19, 2019
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