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Miami Dolphins

Why the Miami Dolphins 2018 Season Failed

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wants to blame Adam Gase.

Everyone wants to blame Ryan Tannehill.

What no one wants to do is realistically assess their football team and realize that the majority of the players on the 2018 Miami Dolphins failed.

Their beloved legends. Their gritty youngsters. Their passionate veterans. Chances are, whether you were sporting his jersey throughout the season or not, your favorite player(s) failed you this year.

In a year in which the team was expected to rely on the growth of their young talent mixed with the reassurance of their “proven” veterans, the Miami Dolphins disappointed all of us. Not only as patient patrons yearning for a successful season (after an optimistic end to the 2016 season and a mockery of a 2017 season), but as fans clamoring for a bright and sustainable future – something that would give us more than one playoff game a decade (we’ve played in 3 this century).

Whether it was living up to large contracts, lofty expectations or evolutionary growth, most of the Miami Dolphins this season either regressed or plateaued.

Below is a breakdown of where each Miami Dolphins player “ranked” this season. And while this list is subjective, and players can certainly fluctuate between “categories”, I think you’ll notice there is a common theme here: disappointment.

Couple of notes:

  • order of players is random – it does not signify a ‘rank’ within the category
  • this list does not encompass every Dolphins player in 2018, but the ones we expected to contribute to a successful 2018 season
  • most numbers are through Week 16, unless otherwise stated

Bright Spots

Let’s start with something we can actually look forward to. Although most of this team stresses us out on a weekly basis, there are actually some bright spots currently on the Dolphins roster. All of these players are (currently) on their rookie contracts and are core players that are worth building around. It would be harder to argue why these players aren’t the best within their position group than to debate why they are. These are the players Miami got right….even when all they seem to do is get it wrong:

Laremy Tunsil:

This might be dramatic, but it isn’t far-fetched. Laremy Tunsil is going to be the next Orlando Pace or Jason Peters. As long as Miami doesn’t screw it up contract wise (and as long as Tunsil’s health isn’t as detrimental as Jake Long’s), Tunsil is going to be an elite left tackle for a long time. After being snubbed of a pro bowl nod after a stellar year at left tackle, Tunsil has shown he can protect the most vital position on the offensive line without worry. For all the sacks Ryan Tannehill absorbs each week, leading into Week 16, only 1 was Tunsil’s fault. He is an island all his own and should see a contract extension either this offseason (if Miami is really ambitious, which I doubt) or after the 2019 season. You keep players like this around.

Xavien Howard:

After a rough beginning to Xavien Howard’s career – one that teetered on him being labeled as a “bust” – Howard has proven why the Dolphins traded up to select him in the 2nd-round of the 2016 NFL draft. Howard was selected to his first Pro Bowl after recording 7 interceptions and 12 passes defended on the year. Miami will have a tough task ahead of them, though the decision should be an easy one to make. Howard will be entering the final year of his rooking contract. Unlike Jarvis Landry, Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller before him, it would be wise for Miami to pay the player now rather than wait and let his value balloon out of Miami’s market. How much Miami is going to pay the young corner will be interesting to see.

Although Howard has been sensational, and fits the mold of a #1 cornerback, it must be noted that he has missed some time throughout his NFL career. Out of a possible 47 games, Howard has played in 35 of them (74.4%). While that’s not enough to deter me from extending Howard, it’s something I want to keep in mind at the negotiating table.

Jerome Baker:

There was a ton of hype surrounding the other Ohio State linebacker this season, but no one further exceeded expectations this season than Jerome Baker. Originally touted as being “too small” to be an every down linebacker, Baker has proven his skeptics wrong and has shown he easily belongs in the NFL. Though he only participated in 629 snaps (61.25%), Baker was able to record: 1 interception (a pick-six), 3 passes defended, 2 sacks, 72 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and 3 QB Hits. While everyone was paying attention to all of the plays Kiko was making, it was easy to overlook how solid Baker played this year. If he exhibits any kind of growth going into year 2, he could become the first linebacker we exude any kind of confidence in since Zach Thomas.

Minkah Fitzpatrick:

Does it matter where you play him? He’s going to be extremely productive regardless of where he lines up on the field. All this hoopla about where Minkah Fitzpatrick was going to play in the NFL was a blessing in disguise for the Miami Dolphins. While productive players like Derwin James, Calvin Ridley, Leighton Vander Esch, and (*gasp*) Lamar Jackson were available, the Dolphins pounced on the 4-year starter on Nick Saban’s vaunted Alabama defense. Between learning three different positions (safety, slot corner and boundary corner) and adapting to the NFL, you wouldn’t have thought this was Fitzpatrick’s rookie year. He looked like a veteran on the gridiron – and while he may not have had as many flashy plays as Derwin James, he comes as a hotter and more-versatile commodity that also has a higher ceiling. Statistics will tell one story, but if both of their careers parallel their rookie seasons, Fitzpatrick is in for the larger contract.

Davon Godchaux:

Davon Godchaux is the definition of a draft-day steal. Plucked in the middle of the 5th-round (178th overall) in the 2017 NFL draft, Godchaux has steadily outperformed his draft status, his contract and our expectations – even when they’re already high to begin with. The only downside to Godchaux’s playing ability is that he’s unable to transform into a brick wall and take up space for the entire defensive line. The way Godchaux moves double teams, disrupts the run and pushes linemen back at the point of attack is impressive for a sophomore player. I’d say Miami is lucky they drafted Godchaux, but they selected another bright spot for this team one round later.

Vincent Taylor:

Injury cut short what may have been the best season for any defensive tackle on the Dolphins. Vincent Taylor’s contributions on both special teams and on defense make for a promising back-half of his rookie contract. Taylor has already accumulated 2 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 quarterback hits and multiple blocked field goals throughout his two-year career. It may not seem like much for a player you expect to rely heavily on in the future, but that only came with 389 total defensive snaps.

As long as Taylor can come back from his foot injury unhindered, Miami should have a formidable tandem of cheap defensive tackles for the next two years.

Jason Sanders:

I wouldn’t say Jason Sanders belongs in the same category as Fitzpatrick, Tunsil or Howard. The rookie kicker is a “bright spot” mainly because he hasn’t done anything to warrant placement in any other spot. He isn’t as much of a commodity as these other players are, but he was nearly perfect for the Dolphins this season, and as a rookie under a cheap contract for the next 3 seasons, it’s nice to see they have the position locked up. This isn’t similar to Andrew Franks where we’re praying the field goal attempt is within 50 yards; Sanders has a legitimate leg and barring anything crazy happening in Darren Rizzi’s brain, Sanders will be here for the foreseeable future.

This is it. These are your bright spots. You have 7 of them and one of those 7 is only here because he’s a misfit everywhere else.

These are your building blocks to the future. You have two vital positions nailed down (cornerback and left tackle), but this leaves plenty of concerns elsewhere. Not every team is going to have an elite presence at every position, but elite teams have role players that handle their jobs well. Where do Miami’s role players fall?

Neutral/Apathetic

These are the players we have a hard time forming a concrete opinion on. This isn’t because the cat caught our tongue, it’s just that these players didn’t do anything to show that they’re a worthwhile building block. Or, we know they’re worth building around, but their performance this year had us thinking otherwise.

You’re going to find a lot of players you like in this category. And while you can’t get rid of all of them, you can make a case for just about any of them. The only thing that’ll keep some of these players on the 2019 roster is their contract status (dead money vs salary cap hit).

Ja’Wuan James:

Why can’t Miami get a Zack Martin or a David DeCastro or a Anthony Castonzo towards the back end of the first round? Why is it that we end up feeling hesitant with players like Ja’Wuan James or we get the lesser of the two Pouncey brothers? For once, it would be nice to draft a bonafide offensive lineman rather than a player we simultaneously know we need to pay out of necessity as well as pray for an upgrade. I guess Laremy Tunsil fits that bill, but he was projected to go #1 overall leading up to the draft, so I can’t really say Miami analyzed offensive line talent well with that one. The biggest skepticism was if Miami felt the public relations nightmare was worth the draft pick (it was).

Anyway, Ja’Wuan James will earn himself a nice contract somewhere because offensive line play is important and it is currently rubbish around the league. Depending what his price is this offseason, it may be best to let James walk. We were hoping he could have solidified himself as an elite tackle rather than an inconsistent one, but we’ve received much of the same. Problem is, releasing James means you need to use a valuable resource on a fix. Great.

Kenyan Drake:

Most of you are going to feel the urge to put Kenyan Drake in the “bright spots” category and I caution you to be so abrasive. Drake was a home run waiting to happen on every play. His shiftiness and agility gave the defenses something to fear. He was turning broken runs into touchdowns back in 2017, and was achieving miracles in 2018. There’s every reason to believe Drake should be a #1 running back in this league, until you realize he’s never been a #1 running back in this league.

How this coaching staff handles its running backs is one reason for Drake’s statistics, but the coach’s reasoning isn’t without merit. Drake handled 109 offensive snaps in 2016 (11.50% of the team’s total snap count), 475 offensive snaps in 2017 (45.81%) and 503 snaps in 2018 (58.56%) – none of which scream the workload of a #1 back.

Drake is the perfect complimentary back to a bruiser, which Miami obtained this year when they signed Frank Gore. As all the pundits scream for Kenyan Drake to get more touches, it should be pointed out that Gore averaged slightly more yards-per-carry than Kenyan Drake in 2018 (4.6 vs 4.5). From a fan perspective, we want excitement. But if you’re Adam Gase and you’re trying to run a specific offense that requires plays to move forward, you have more confidence running Frank Gore than Kenyan Drake.

Add in Drake’s persistent shoulder injury this season, and you have a plethora of reasons as to why Drake hasn’t panned out the way the team expected. Partly their own fault, but partly due to the circumstances Drake gave them. A nagging injury paired with average pass protection mixed with boom-or-bust run potential leads to a 35-year-old running back receiving more carries than the young playmaker.

Raekwon McMillan:

I was tempted to place Raekwon McMillan into one of the lower categories, but I had to hold back a bit. The sophomore linebacker was tasked with being the defensive leader in the middle of the field after missing his entire rookie season with an ACL injury. The thought was that McMillan could hold the middle while Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker would make plays on the outside. This plan could have worked, if not for one dominating flaw: Miami’s non-existent defensive line.

There are plenty of instances where McMillan was a step slow in coverage or he was washed out of a run, which is why he finds himself in this apathetic abyss, but there’s also plenty of potential that peaks out once in awhile, which is why he isn’t looked at entirely as a hole. If Miami was able to stop the run at the point of attack, we wouldn’t be talking about how the linebacking unit is gashed on a weekly basis.

Bobby McCain:

Miami’s most eccentric personality received a well-deserved contract extension this prior offseason. While he hadn’t shown elite potential prior to the extension, Bobby McCain was the perfect slot corner for any team. He’s smart, energetic, passionate and brings great team chemistry. Some “experts” might have viewed the contract as excessive – what kind of unproven slot cornerback deserves $6.75m a year? But if Miami’s defense didn’t blow up before the season started, McCain might be looking at a much more productive season than the statistics show (and the statistics are not pretty for McCain). His dead cap hit ($8.56m) means he’ll be on the team next year, and that’s not a problem – he shouldn’t be a liability. But, if we’re being honest, he regressed in 2018, and if he doesn’t improve well beyond his 2017 production, it’ll be the last year we see him in a Dolphins’ uniform.

Reshad Jones:

A soft spot for the Miami Dolphin all-time great may be what’s keeping him in this category. It wasn’t just his attitude that turned sour this season, his production fell along with it. There’s a lot to be said about Reshad Jones playing “out of position”, but is that the only reason Jones has gone from one of the league’s most overlooked safeties to being justifiably overlooked?

On the season, Jones had 69 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss and 2 interceptions. He didn’t record a forced fumble, he didn’t recover a fumble, he didn’t sack a quarterback; heck, he only hit a quarterback once this season.

A declining 30 year old player on the cusp of costing $17.16m against the cap next season is tough to justify. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miami move Jones’ contract for anything they can get (think a 7th-round draft pick in 2020 as a realistic option. And yeah, that’s not an exaggeration. Which team needs an expensive, aging player on the decline? You’re trying to shed salary cap space and teams know you’re desperate to get rid of a quitter).

Danny Amendola:

Danny Amendola is the epitome of doing nothing wrong and yet still being average. With the departure of Jarvis Landry, Amendola was brought in to be Ryan Tannehill’s new security blanket. He didn’t actually have a bad season all things considered. He accumulated 549 yards on 55 receptions (a 10 yards-per-reception average) and caught 1 TD. Between injuries and veteran emotions, the Dolphins had themselves a mess at wide receiver this season, and amidst all of that trouble emerged Amendola as the generically average receiver. His reliability and surprising durability are the main reasons why Amednola is neutral, but if we’re looking at players we can build off of or replace, Amendola fits the ladder category.

Kenny Stills:

A leader I would want any child to emulate, Kenny Stills is a fascinating human being. Not only is he dedicated to helping people around the world, but he’s also extremely dedicated to his craft. His work ethic is something younger players (looking at you, DeVante Parker) should emulate and his bravery is something to commemorate. That said, Kenny Stills cost $9.75m against the cap this season; he’s going to cost another $9.75m next season. Nothing about a 34/526 stat line tells me this player is worth retaining at that cost.

The thought was that Stills wasn’t properly utilized last year with Jay Cutler. Reuniting Stills with Ryan Tannehill was going to lead to more fireworks like we saw back in 2016. Tannehill had debunked the myth that he didn’t have good deep ball accuracy, and Stills did a great job of deflecting the notion that he’s strictly a downfield receiver. But Stills didn’t grow this season. There were a few great tosses littered throughout the season, but as an overall, Stills was a non-factor. A lot may have to do with the offensive line and quarterback play behind him, but unless both of those units are going to drastically change in 2019, there’s no reason to maintain an unhappy player who isn’t positively affecting the outcome of each game.

Kiko Alonso:

Up until Week 16, Kiko Alonso had played every defensive snap for the Miami Dolphins. Although we’ve grilled him constantly for his liability in coverage, truth is, he’s been the most reliable and durable linebacker on the Dolphins. Maybe it’s the inconsistency of Raekwon McMillan next to him or his memorable adjectives about Ryan Tannehill’s balls that make us think more of the linebacker.

He’s a smart football player, he is able to routinely diagnose plays and has a crazy motor, but with all of that said, Kiko still has a knack for getting beat. If it weren’t for his bloated $9.66m cap hit this season, Kiko could very well be a bright spot for this team.

Though, how can I make someone a bright spot if there’s a solid chance the team cuts them this offseason? I expect both sides to renegotiate and extended the enigmatic linebacker.

Cameron Wake:

It actually pains me to put Cameron Wake in this section. Wake is one of the only bright spots this organization has had over the past decade. Who am I to categorize a Dolphins legend as someone I’m apathetic about?

After Wake’s performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans are hoping to see the 36 year old defensive end return next season. He’s set to cost $9.63m against the cap (and would cost $8.6m in dead cap money if released) – meaning he’s likely to be on the team next year barring a trade. It’s possible that Miami, once again, extends Wake for another season (think 2-years, $15m, $12.5m guaranteed).

Like Frank Gore, Cameron Wake does not play like his age, and he’s likely to still be playing (and be dominant) for at least another year. But how long can we rely on a 36 year old defensive end to anchor a line that has been more than underwhelming during his tenure?

Frank Gore:

Frank Gore was actually teetering on being a bright spot for the Miami Dolphins before going down with an ankle injury. Gore was reliable, durable, and well outperformed his contract and expectations. Given Adam Gase’s (lack of) trust in Kenyan Drake, and his desire to withhold both Branden Bolden and Kalen Ballage from partaking in meaningful snaps for most of the season, it was amazing to see Gore perform as exceptionally as he did. He wasn’t just barreling over defenders, he was juking and cutting his way to a 4.6 yards-per-carry average.

The argument will be made that re-signing Gore may prevent Drake and Ballage from getting more snaps, but at 35 years old, Gore shows no signs of slowing down. Drake is a hit-or-miss 4.5 yards-per-carry running back, and Gore is a reliable 4.6 yards-per-carry running back. I’m not saying you should have one and not the other…why not have both? For near the veteran’s minimum, there should no excuse to not re-sign Frank Gore.

Akeem Spence:

I mean, I guess we’re apathetic about him? How else are we supposed to think about Akeem Spence? As another former Detroit Lions defensive tackle coming over to Miami, Spence was expected to provide depth at the position while also taking some meaningful snaps throughout the year. His arrival was Miami’s cheap way of covering the hole left by Ndamukong Suh. Spence was admirable this season, though it’s hard to say the Dolphins want anything to do with him in 2019. He’s currently set to cost $2.5m against the cap and holds no dead money next season. His performance is in-line with a $2.5m player, and I don’t see why Miami wouldn’t retain him. Just make sure you’re retaining him for depth, because if he’s expected to be your starter once again, you can expect opposing offenses to continue to rush for 143.9 yards-per-game (30th in the NFL).

Walt Aikens:

You know exactly what you’re going to get in Walt Aikens. The special teams standout continued to shine as the captain of his unit, but was exposed in coverage while playing safety on defense. If he’s playing defensive snaps, something went wrong and the prayer is that he can hold down his position without giving up a big play. On special teams, however, you can expect a solid play almost every time from Aikens. A sure-tackler who’s usually spot on as a gunner downing kicks, Aikens seems to be the perfect player to receive the torch from Michael Thomas (who signed with the New York Giants this past offseason).

Matt Haack:

The adjectives “weapon” and “liability” were both used to describe Matt Haack’s punting this season. An upgrade over 2017 mostly by default, Matt Haack was booming 60+ yards punts as often as he was shanking them. It’s tough to say if Miami will have a different punter in 2019, but they definitely will bring in competition for the inconsistent lefty kicker.

T.J. McDonald:

Similar to Kiko Alonso, it’s tough to consider a player a detriment when they participate in nearly 93% of the team’s defensive snaps (2nd on the team behind Alonso). T.J. McDonald is a strong safety that was exposed a bunch in coverage this season. On occasion, he made plays (accumulating 3 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery and 1 tackle for a loss this year), but he was also a quarterback’s best friend while in coverage. Maybe it was Matt Burke and Miami’s pairing of two strong safeties that exposed McDonald more than he would normally be.

As much as you may want to move on from McDonald in 2019, he’s going to be a Miami Dolphin. McDonald costs $6m against the cap if he’s on the roster, and $6.5m in dead cap space if he isn’t.

Durham Smythe:

While Durham Smythe‘s receiving numbers aren’t promising, his performance as a blocker in the run game is enough to temporarily satisfy Dolphins fans. Drafted in the 4th-round this past draft, Smythe was selected to predominantly be a run-blocker rather than a receiving threat – and with that, he did a good job. He was exactly as advertised. Problem is, more-productive tight ends (in terms of receiving numbers) were selected after Smyth and Mike Gesicki, leading Dolphins fans to believe that the team got it wrong with their selections. And they’re right about half that duo…

Kalen Ballage:

The rookie running back that was a virtual replacement for Jay Ajayi showed that he can compete in the NFL, the only thing that’s left to see is how much of a workload Kalen Ballage can handle. His 75-yard touchdown run was impressive, but any running back could have made it through that hole.

Ballage’s versatility as a running back and general of the wildcat offense makes him more of a commodity than most players in this section, but the limited sample size has me hesitant to say he’s a genuine bright spot for this team. Maybe in 2019, but he most certainly wasn’t in 2018.

All things considered, Kalen Ballage for the next 3 years is better than Jay Ajayi’s deteriorating knees for the next season – this was one Miami got right.

Assuming all of these players are back for 2019, you can cross 16 “holes” off of your roster, but with that being said, how confident are you in any of the players on this list? Combine their performance this season with their contracts going into 2019 and you have to wonder if feeling neutral about these players is actually giving them too much credit. There’s a good chance at least half of these players are on a different roster next season.

So with 7 “bright spots” and 16 neutral possibilities, we have 23 players that the Dolphins can “rely on” next season. A roster needs to hold 53 players. So what happened to the rest of the team?

Regression / Plateau

They fall into these next two categories. One is damning while the other has been a damnation for this team. Before we get into this team’s lack of luck, we’ll get into this team’s lack of talent. Below are the players that not only failed to contribute to the team’s 2018 season, they were a detriment in the process:

Charles Harris:

This draft pick hurts (you’ll notice a theme with that statement). Miami identified that a dominant pass rush is the way to win football games. They’ve spent plenty of assets trying to assemble the most-menacing defensive line they could develop, and they’ve failed miserably all these years.

Charles Harris is a decent role player, but he’s not a first-round draft pick. He was selected (22nd-overall) because his position said he was more valuable than players who played at ‘less-impactful’ positions. I’m talking about Evan Engram (TE – selected 23rd), Jabrill Peppers (S – 25th), David Njoku (TE – 29th), or T.J. Watt (LB – 30th). This doesn’t highlight Miami passing on Tre’Davious White and letting him go to the Buffalo Bills at #27.

It’s easy to play this retrospect game, but this pick was questionable from the start. After a rookie campaign that showed promise, fans were willing to give Harris a chance to evolve in 2019. It never happened. Harris will be a fine role player for the next two seasons, but you can be sure he’ll be another 1st-round draft pick that doesn’t make it to their 5th-year option.

Jesse Davis:

While I have to give Jesse Davis a ton of credit for being the only offensive lineman to start every game and play every snap, I have to point out how disappointed we all are in the second-year offensive lineman. Davis was possibly the brightest player coming out of the 2017 season. The undrafted free agent came in and became the only reliable cog on a putrid offensive line. Pairing his performance with his contract, Davis was the kind of player that could make a team relevant by being successful and cap-friendly.

Then, 2018 happened, and Jesse Davis validated why he was an undrafted free agent. Davis was routinely beat on passing plays, and had trouble opening lanes on running plays. This isn’t to say Davis didn’t have his moments; I still believe he’s a good player, but no matter how promising you think Davis might be, it doesn’t wipe the abysmal performances he had this season.

If Ted Larsen weren’t the current whipping boy for this fanbase, Davis might very well be in hotter water than he currently is.

Robert Quinn:

I can simultaneously admit that Robert Quinn has had a decent second-half of the season while also realizing that Robert Quinn has been a complete detriment to this team.

As the most expensive player on the team (cap hit wise), you’re expected to change the outcome of almost every game. With 6.5 sacks on the year (5.5 sacks coming over the last 6 games), Quinn has been far from it. He gets beat on the edge on running plays, and provides minimal pass rush on most passing downs. His $11.44m salary cap hit is not only a waste, but it came at the cost of a 4th-round draft pick in 2018.

Quinn seemed like a prize acquisition this offseason, but it may have been the move that sealed Mike Tannenbaum’s fate as Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Stephone Anthony:

And if it wasn’t Quinn that sealed Tannebaum’s fate, it should be Stephone Anthony. Even if a 5th-round draft pick isn’t too much, it can’t be excused.

The Dolphins have drafted Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Jay Ajayi, and Davon Godchaux in the 5th-round during Tannenbaum’s tenure. The New York Giants recently traded Damon Harrison, one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL, to the Detroit Lions for a 5th-round pick.

I understand that Anthony came with additional years of cheap control, but he was an injury-riddled special teams player on a team desperate to shed his salary. To give them a 5th-round pick for such a failure is as criminal as biting on the temptation of a once-promising defensive end (Quinn).

Cordrea Tankersley:

I have no idea what happened here. Cordrea Tankersley looked like he would be a nice compliment to Xavien Howard as the team’s second starting cornerback. Instead, he tricked us into believing that Torry McTyer was a legitimate starter in this league. You could argue that failing to get any kind of contribution from the 2017 3rd-round pick sunk this secondary; the repercussions of starting multiple cornerbacks out of place and thinning out the team’s depth can’t be overstated. There are plenty of players that can compete with the 2nd-year cornerback for this title, but it’s possible that Tankersley is the most disappointing player of 2018.

DeVante Parker:

Another story of a stud college athlete that couldn’t transition to the pros. This is where the Dolphins consistently find themselves in hot water (see: Charles Harris). They believe that they can take a dominant athlete and develop them into a football player. There’s plenty of evidence to show us that DeVante Parker has been an underwhelming bust while Jarvis Landry, an amazing football player that fell to the 2nd-round because he wasn’t a prototypical athlete, proved to be one of the biggest steals of his draft. Five years later, and we’re still waiting for that “monster season” from Parker. Spoiler alert: it’s not coming (in a Dolphins uniform).

Ryan Tannehill:

A lot more will be said about Ryan Tannehill throughout the offseason, so I’ll save space in this piece and refrain from listing the plethora of reasons why Ryan Tannehill is or isn’t the answer in 2019 and simply state that Tannehill disappointed fans in 2018. It’s slightly unfortunate that he’s the poster child for this anemic offense, but as the quarterback, he’s the maestro behind the orchestra. His quarterback rating and statistics will say otherwise, but Tannehill disappointed us in 2018 – especially when there were MVP whispers earlier this season.

A bunch of promise that has led to a ton of disappointment: that’s your 2018 Dolphins season and your Dolphins 21st century in nutshell. Thing is, all of that disappointment is wrapped tightly in hope, promise, optimism and the opportunity for success; we just open it up to find that it’s (always) just a facade.

Blue Tent Blues

All of that hope and promise had to originate from somewhere. It’s not like we blindly assumed this team was going to be good this season. Our thoughts, hypothesis’ and playoff aspirations were shattered along with the 13 lucky players that landed on injured-reserve this season.

Jakeem Grant:

The speedy receiver was so bad at catching a football, he was nearly cut from the team. Originally an afterthought going into 2017, Jakeem Grant’s potential peaked towards the end of the season, giving fans a reason to believe the 5′ 6″ wide receiver could be a breakout candidate in 2018.

And lo-and-behold, it happened. Grant accumulated 268 yards on 34 receptions (12.8 yards-per-catch) and 2 touchdowns. He was a threat with his speed, and he was a menace when defenses realized they had to scheme for Grant, Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake. The options Miami had were bountiful, and Wilson’s injury, Ryan Tannehill’s injured shoulder, and the deteriorating offensive line sabotaged what could have been a top-notch offense.

Albert Wilson:

A “player who had no position” made every skeptic look foolish on his way to 26 receptions, 391 yards (15 yards-per-reception) and 4 touchdowns…in only 7 games.

This play maker was the team’s MVP prior to going down with a hip injury in week 7. His yards-after-the-catch made Jarvis Landry look like a poor man’s Albert Wilson (Wilson had 331 YAC in 2018 while Landry has 215 – Landry has played in 16 games vs Wilson’s 7).

The only reason Wilson isn’t a “bright spot” is because we have no idea how he’s going to bounce back from his injury. By no means do we not want Albert Wilson, we’re just unsure if he’ll be the same player we witnessed in 2018. Say what you want about Adam Gase, but he recognized Wilson’s ability, identified that he was the perfect match for this offense, and convinced Wilson to sign with the Dolphins even though there were other suitors offering more for his services.

Don’t trust all of the perception surrounding a player. The media made us feel like Albert Wilson was ‘just another awful signing by the Miami Dolphins’. And while they have merit often enough (Mike Wallace, Andre Branch…) there are times when the Dolphins really are best in the business. Wilson’s signing is one of those positive occurrences.

William Hayes:

Watch, William Hayes is going to be back with the Miami Dolphins next season and all parties involved are going to be content with the signing. There’s no reason not to be; other than the fact that Hayes has landed on injured-reserve in both seasons he’s been with the Dolphins.

The only downside to Hayes’ tenure on the Dolphins is his availability. Hayes has been a productive player for this team, but due to various injures, has participated in just 13 out of a possible 32 games (40.6%). He is an exceptional run-stopper and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. In just 3 games this season, Hayes recorded 2 sacks and 3 tackles for a loss. Or in other words, a heck of a lot more productive than Charles Harris has been in 10 games so far this season.

Daniel Kilgore:

Another positive move by Mike Tannenbaum that will go unnoticed, Daniel Kilgore was a fortunate produce of a San Francisco 49ers mishap. Originally extended by the 49ers, Kilgore was deemed expendable when San Francisco signed Weston Richburg to be their starting center. At the cost of 4 draft spots in the 7th-round, Miami was able to relieve an unhappy and expensive Mike Pouncey in favor of Kilgore.

As fate would have it, Kilgore got injured in week 4 while Pouncey was added to the AFC Pro Bowl roster.

Josh Sitton:

Miami’s offseason prize, Josh Sitton was expected to finally anchor an eternally weak offensive line. While offensive guard isn’t viewed as a premium position, pairing Sitton next to Laremy Tunsil effectively protected Ryan Tannehill’s blindside from any threats. His injury during week 1 may not have been the most catastrophic loss this season, but there are plenty of “what ifs” surrounding this offense that might have been solved if the offensive line, once again, wasn’t putrid.

Costing just $500k more against the salary cap in 2019, there’s a good chance Sitton’s back and this offensive line finally looks respectable. There’s also a chance Miami moves on from the 32 year old offensive lineman fresh off of a season-ending injury. This will be a curious case to monitor this offseason.

MarQueis Gray:

The original domino to fall for the Miami Dolphins, MarQueis Gray‘s injury exposed the Dolphins lack of talent at tight end. Although he was never much of a focal point for the Dolphins, Gray was competent in the passing game and as a blocker. Though most people didn’t see this injury as too big of a loss, Miami’s inept offense throughout the entire season would say otherwise.

Miami made a habit out of placing players on injured-reserve, with 13 players on IR as of Week 17. While this group of players couldn’t play, the next group of players were able to participate throughout the entire season, they were just invisible while on the field.

Did Not Show Up

While these players may have “produced” more than others on this list, between the assets and empty hope, these players were invisible in the eyes of Dolphins fans; only to be seen when scorned:

Mike Gesicki:

Let’s get the caveat out of the way now and admit that it’s still too early to tell what Mike Gesicki is going to be in the NFL. But, overlooking this Olympic-sized failure in 2018 would be naive.

To put how poor Gesicki’s season was into perspective, the rookie tight end contributed less than Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron did in years prior. Remember how badly we wanted to move on from those two? We’ve talked in depth about how the void at tight end has been a major contributing factor to this offense’s lack of success, and Gesicki was expected to end that drought. Maybe it was fan hype that blew it out of proportion, but the Dolphins decided, once again, that selecting an “athlete” was better than selecting a “football player”. Dallas Goedart and Chris Hernon (and a plethora of other rookie tight ends) were successful and desirable factors in their team’s offense while Miami will be looking for another replacement in 2019.

Andre Branch:

His game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is actually going to give him meaningful statistics on the season, which only slightly clouds Andre Branch’s real performance in 2018. There wasn’t anything memorable about it, and yet, I don’t think anyone is going to forget it.

Andre Branch was a negative influence on the field. Constantly hit with inexcusable penalties and getting beat on almost every play, his biggest contribution to the 2018 season was shouting “bodybag” from the sidelines.

At $10m against the cap in 2018, Branch was expected to (at least) be a starting defensive end. Instead, the team had to waste a 4th-round draft pick (and spend even more money) to cover up the mistake that was Branch’s extension.

The two-most expensive players for the Miami Dolphins played the same position…and both need to be replaced. That all but sums up the 2018 season for you.

Miscellaneous Players

These players participated for Miami this season, though that never should have happened. They were part of the 2018 season, but were never part of the plan. I’d say I blame (or exonerate) these players, but it’s hard to express emotion towards them when they never should have been relied upon in the first place.

Brock Osweiler:

We all woke up once Brocktober ended. It was a fun storyline while it lasted, but there was a reason we kept saying Miami had only one quarterback on its roster when the regular season started. Brock Osweiler held his own and was able to lead the team to a 2-3 record; which, for a backup, is all you can ask for.

Osweiler also has the only passing game of 300 yards or more for Miami this season (380). In 15 games, Miami has one 300+ yard passing game. And it isn’t from the team’s starting quarterback…

Torry McTyer:

Is it really his fault he outperformed his expectations so well in training camp that he under-performed during the regular season? As Dolphins fans, we were ecstatic to believe that we had found another starting-caliber cornerback, but once Torry McTyer was on the field, it was revealed why he was an undrafted backup cornerback.

This all sounds negative for McTyer and it really shouldn’t be. McTyer is a solid depth piece to have on your roster and is fine playing for a few series if need be. Unless Miami gets a deep cornerback room next season, it’s easy to expect McTyer back as a backup cornerback in 2019. And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Brandon Bolden:

Is Brandon Bolden a bright spot? His statistics and performances say so. Kenyan Drake gets all the credit, but Brandon Bolden is the real reason the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots this season (ok, Bill Belichick outsmarting himself and Tom Brady screwing up the end of the 2nd-half and Stephen Gostkowski missing a couple kicks may be the real reason…).

But snarky Patriots miracles aside, Bolden produced well for the Dolphins in the limited touches he had. At $850,000, he was easily worth every penny and was a productive “bright spot” for the Dolphins this season, especially given his special teams production. It’s just hard to put him in that group when he only contributed 18 snaps on offense.

Senorise Perry:

Not really sure what to say about Senorise Perry. He’s extremely reliable on special teams, but he didn’t play a single offensive snap the entire season. With 4 other running backs active for the Dolphins most weeks (Drake, Gore, Bolden, and Ballage), it’s tough to justify Perry’s roster spot solely as a special team’s player.

Ted Larsen:

Ted Larsen performed just as we expected. He’s a backup offensive lineman who was thrust into the starting lineup very early in the season. I guess we have to give him credit for his contributions; he participated in over 80% of the teams snaps and had some moderate moments run blocking. Problem is, Ryan Tannehill was constantly pressured from his side. It’s easy to punch Larsen for all of the negative plays he racked up, but outside of a couple missed plays, he has soldiered through the entire season.

Travis Swanson:

Fans wanted Travis Swanson exiled from this team after his first two games, but the emergency fill-in for Daniel Kilgore performed in nearly 70% of the team’s offensive snaps and was, well, moderate. While he wasn’t the “best” center, he did just fine for a backup center who wasn’t on the team’s roster until September 3rd. If anything, Miami is kind of lucky he was still hanging around; who knows what would have happened with Wesley Johnson or Ted Larsen at center.

These are the reasons why the 2018 Miami Dolphins failed. It’s not (solely) because of Adam Gase. It’s not (solely) because of Ryan Tannehill. These two people were just part of the problem that was the 2018 season. We fully expected the Dolphins to evolve and instead they regressed…mightily. The hope is that 2018 is a fluke. Problem is, how do you explain an entire century of ineptitude?

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

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    Kevin Spencer

    December 26, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    really nice work

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Miami Dolphins

25 Things We’ve Learned 25 Days into the 2019 Miami Dolphins Season

Travis Wingfield

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Camp kicked off 25 days ago, giving us a month’s worth of visual evidence; here’s what we know so far

Preseason reps are not the end-all-be-all, and training camp practices won’t put players in the Hall of Fame, but there’s a purpose every time the chinstrap is buckled. For a team that harps on the fundamentals and executing the job that has been asked on a down-by-down basis, every rep has meaning.

The NFL calendar never sleeps, but the true beginning of the 2019 Miami Dolphins season began on July 25, exactly 25 days ago. With 10 practices under my belt, an intra-squad scrimmage, and two preseason games digested to the max, these are the 25 things I’ve learned over this first month.

Some of these things are big, some are small, some are encouraging, some are concerning. We start with the biggest of them all.

Big Things:

1. Xavien Howard – Money Well Spent

Xavien Howard’s been targeted a lot over the last month. He’s allowed a few catches, mainly in unjust 1-on-1 periods, but he’s also pulled some down, too. A lot of them. And that trend has continued through a scrimmage, joint-practices with an opponent, and one live game. X, as he’s so aptly named, exemplifies Brian Flores’ message on and off the field.

2. Laremy Tunsil – Next in Line

There’s a term — set and forget — that refers to such a comfort level with said player, that you don’t even bother watching him. He’s got it. Laremy’s got it. The feet, hands, strength, athleticism, quickness; a trip to Tunsil island is a dreadful way to spend a Sunday afternoon for edge rushers.

3. Jerome Baker – Glow Up

His rookie year looked promising, but no one could’ve seen this coming, not this fast. Baker had a strong debut season, but he wasn’t a full-time player, and he had his vulnerabilities. Now, he’s doing everything under the sun with supreme professionalism and execution. He plays at a different speed and contributes in all three phases (blitz, cover, run-support).

4. Josh Rosen – Signs of Life

USA Today Sports Josh Rosen Miami Dolphins

Aug 16, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen (3) throws a pass in the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations always should’ve been low for a kid who is brand new to the league — brand new to his now third new home in three years, but that’s football. It was whatever in May. It was concerning in July. Then, in August, Miami’s second-round investment started playing a little freer. Getting into his second, third, sometimes fourth read, while moving away from a compromised pocket, things could be clicking.

It’s not a consistent theme yet — and it needs to be very good, and very consistent to push Miami off the 2020 QB Class — but that coveted trait, the consistency, is progressing. That much at least deserves monitoring.

5. Pass Rush Scheme – As Advertised

Saying goodbye to Cam Wake and Robert Quinn took a lot of juice off the edge for Miami. Those departures, and the Dolphins unsubstantiated interest in Trey Flowers, all but confirmed the shift to a new scheme that relied on games, gap integrity, and blitz packages to get after the quarterback.

Jerome Baker has been running free on QBs all camp and preseason. Charles Harris, Christian Wilkins, Tank Carradine, Dewayne Hendrix, Jonathan Ledbetter — a host of Dolphins blood-thirsty rushers are turning up the heat on opposing passers with regularity.

Encouraging Things –

6. Preston Williams – Star potential 

Despite his two-drop showing on the first-team Thursday, Preston Williams has shown true number-one receiver potential all summer. He’s crafty in the way he jostles for position, his strong hands are evident at the release from the line-of-scrimmage, as well as in catching the football. He transitions well enough out of breaks for a man of his size and stature.

At that build, with that catch radius, Williams’ deep-ball prowess has been the most encouraging. If he takes off in this capacity, once the games begin to count, this Miami receiving corps looks much more imposing.

7. Sam Eguavoen – Canadian Pipeline Still Flowing

Minor warts in Eguavoen’s game show up periodically, but his strengths far outweigh the parts of his game Miami will look to mask. He’s plenty adept at defending the edge, rushing the quarterback, and dropping into coverage.

The ability to close down on an underneath pass, but also fall off 15-yards downfield, is the type of versatility needed for a modern-day linebacker.

8. Bobby McCain – Experiment No More, He’s a Safety

Watch the broadcast version of a Miami preseason game and you might miss McCain altogether. He’s typically 12-20-yards off the football, but the opposition’s lack of interest in trying anything vertical is a testament to McCain’s quick acclimation.

All camp long, McCain was working on reading route concepts, flipping the hips, and taking proper angles in help-coverage. He has the makeup to do it, and so far it’s working out.

9. Mike Gesicki – Playing to his Strengths

Some writers suggest that Gesicki is falling out of favor, but I see a player doing exactly what he was drafted to do. He’s flexing out into the slot, in plus-splits (outside the numbers) and he’s uncovering with regularity in the passing game.

He’s only played a handful of snaps, and he’s created separation on all five of his preseason targets. Gesicki caught three of them, while the other two were misfires from the quarterback.

10. Jonathan Ledbetter – Aptitude for the Scheme

Eye-discipline, heavy hands, stout at the point-of-attack — you’ll often hear these phrases when the coaches discuss the prototype for defensive linemen. Ledbetter plays with his hands in front of his eyes, keeps his pad-level low, strikes first, and adheres to his responsibilities in the two-gap scheme.

11. Jason Sanders – Money in the Bank

If he missed kicks in training camp, I didn’t see them. Every time Sanders lines it up, he’s right down the fairway. This was true on hid 45- and 49-yard kicks on a soaked playing surface on Friday, as well as his 48- and 23-yard kicks in the preseason opener.Sanders added angled kickoffs to his game, and has been placing those chip shots precisely into the coffin corner.

Things that are Just Things:

12. Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun First-Team – Tipping the Offensive Plan

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that this pair of rookies have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both players frequently create push in the running game, but are a bit of a coin-flip in regards to pass protection.

Brian Flores spoke all offseason about his affinity for running the ball, and starting the rookies — — over a player like Chris Reed — serves as a pretty sound indicator for that preference. Our next bullet point speaks a similar language.

13. Chandler Cox – 21-Personnel Back in Miami

“Defending a fullback in the running game is a difficult thing for a linebacker to do.” That was Coach Flores’ comment back in minicamp when asked about the Chandler Cox selection. Miami has to play small-ball this year to find wins, and that means staying on schedule offensively.

Cox has had his ups-and-downs, and Miami gives reps to Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary as potential backups, but it doesn’t end with a fullback-tailback combination — Miami has regularly shown 21-personnel with dual tailbacks.

14. Jesse Davis – Tackle Tryout

A tackle in college, and position-less mutt through his first two years as a pro, Davis settled into a seemingly permanent right guard position last season. That didn’t go particularly well, and now Miami will kick him back outside with mixed results.

Davis, occasionally vulnerable in pass-pro, is better in the running game. He’s athletic enough to execute a number of pulls (counter trey, play-side), and should benefit from help by the running backs since Tunsil blocks out the sun on the other side.

Discouraging Things:

15. Devante Parker – Minor Ailments

Another ripping and roaring start to camp has since plateaued, both because of his play and another minor injury that sidelined the former first-rounder. Even if Parker posts career numbers this season, can Miami really trust him? The two-year contract was wise in that it gives the Dolphins the extended evaluation before pulling the trigger on a big extension.

At this stage, the emergence of Preston Williams might make that point entirely moot.

16. Chris Reed – Any Day Now

Training as the primary backup center to Daniel Kilgore, the chances are very likely that Reed has to come off the bench at some point this season, but I expected more. He has the intelligence and instincts to play above replacement level between a competent center-tackle bookend, but he’s not recaptured his first-team status since his day-three demotion.

17. Jalen Davis – Not Picking Up Where He Left Off

One of the pleasant surprises of yester-year, Davis’ strong finish to the 2018 season has yet to carry over. He’s been buried on the third-team and is struggling to find success at that level. It might be another year on the practice squad before Davis — primarily a slot — can contribute.

18. Matt Haack – Bottom Barrel Punting Average

Punting is not something I’m claiming expertise in, but I know that Haack ranked 25thin average last season, and he’s currently 27ththis preseason. He has the ability to boom balls into the atmosphere, but the shanks are far too common.

Bad Things:

19. Offensive Line – Offensive

Aug 9, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo reacts during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The Colts defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not been good. It’s the one position with a considerable amount of stink — cumulatively spread about — on the roster. From firing the coach of the room, to the on-field execution, only one thing aspect is consistently coming up on the list of pros: 78. This is mostly an individual’s checklist, but this group needs its condemning.

20. Dave DeGuglielmo – Where’s the Expertise?

Firing Pat Flaherty was an upgrade, according to many. So far, DeGuglielmo’s group is failing to properly communicate and pass off games from the defense, there are blown protections each week, and the backup units are utterly futile. He wasn’t given a lot to work with, but DeGuglielmo’s returns have not been pretty — Miami QBs have been sacked seven times in two games.

21. Swing Tackle – Swing and a Miss

Jordan Mills was thrown into the fire for an absent Laremy Tunsil in week-one, and the returns were disastrous. Mills missed Thursday’s game; taking his place, former AAF player, Jaryd Jones-Smith. The results were the same. If Miami loses either of Tunsil or Davis, things could get ugly quickly.

22. Secondary – Paper Thin

Xavien Howard is an all-pro, Eric Rowe looks the part, Minkah Fitzpatrick is excellent in coverage, and the safety trio is capable. Beyond those six, there might not be enough competent players to get through the season. The Patriots defense (similar schemes) rolls double digit defensive backs into the game plan throughout the year — the Dolphins are several bodies short of being able to say the same thing.

23. Reshad Jones – Cashing Checks

Jones missed 10 games in 2016 for a shoulder injury. He played through another shoulder ailment in 2017 and did not have a good season. Last year, he missed two more games, and voluntarily removed himself from a third. This year, he skipped OTAs (the voluntary portion), and has missed more practices than he’s been a part of.

Jones was running with the second-team throughout those healthy days, and he’s perfectly content to do that at his current pay rate.

24. Kenyan Drake – Time is Running Thin

Drake’s explosive skill set, versatility, and big-play ability was on display throughout camp, but an injury puts everything on hold. Miami are being discrete about the severity of the injury, but in a contract-year, Drake needs a consistent, strong showing for 17 weeks.

25. Raekwon McMillan – More Health Concerns

McMillan entered camp as a second-team ‘backer, earned first-team work early in camp, but has been missing ever since with an injury. As youngsters around him emerge, McMillan’s lack of involvement casts a cloud of uncertainty over his position on this roster.

It’s pretty clear what this Dolphins team is going to be this season. A smart team that — hopefully — doesn’t beat itself, but comes up short on talent in key areas. The defense should improve considerably from last season, and the offense remains a major question mark.

The showing of the defense in Tampa Bay is a great step in that direction, and further help is on the way (no Howard, Jones, McDonald, McMillan, or Andrew Van Ginkel for that game). Regardless of what happens on offense, with Miami’s deep free agent pockets, war chest of draft picks, and desire for that coveted top-five drafted quarterback, a surge on defense would spell a successful 2019 season.

Things are trending in that direction.

@WingfieldNFL

 

 

 

 

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Lose in Tampa — Preseason Week 2 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins Defense Dominates, Offensive Futility Leads to Defeat

Stat Dolphins Buccaneers
Total Yards 280 312
Rushing 118 75
Passing 162 237
Penalties 13/122 8/81
3rd/4thDown 2/15 4/15
Sacks For 4 5
TOP 27:43 32:17

 

Did Not Play:

CB: Xavien Howard
WR: Devante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant
S: Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Walt Aikens
OL: Zach Sterup, Jordan Mills
LB: Kiko Alonso, Andrew Van Ginkel, Raekwon McMillan, Chase Allen, Quentin Poling
RB: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage

The Skinny

Which would you like first, the good news, or the bad news?

The strong winds and heavy rain Friday night impacted both offenses at Raymond James Stadium. The Dolphins and Bucs exchanged field goals and punts in an exhibition game that went 54 minutes before its first touchdown (each team scored in the final 3:35).

Defensively, the Dolphins showed their collective teeth with some creative blitzes, constant pressure, and sound coverage on the back0end without the team’s best player (Xavien Howard).

After a demotion to the second-team before Tuesday’s practice, Charles Harris responded with a monster game. The 2017 first-rounder picked up two sacks and four additional QB hits on the night.

CFL signing Sam Eguavoen flashed on a similar level. The linebacker forced a fumble, made a pair of run stops and got his hands on a deep in-cut after falling back into coverage.

Jerome Baker — as you see by the above video clip — answered our question in the preview piece about his blitzing prowess. Baker was a menace in all three phases once again.

On offense, it was a struggle for the ‘Phins. The quarterback battle suddenly leans in a new direction — albeit it coming by-way of default scenario — and the offensive line has gone beyond catastrophically awful.

Let’s go position-by-position.

Quarterback

Josh Rosen played the entire first half and effectively moved the ball on a couple of series. Still, some accuracy issues, a late read on fourth-and-goal from the two, and another woeful interceptable pass (which was dropped) undid a lot of the goods Rosen showcased.

Those “goods” featured adequate pocket mobility, improved body language, and a continued strong effort when the plays mattered most (third down, two-minute drill). Rosen often had to get off the spot, find a new passing avenue, reset, and deliver the ball.

Miami dropped multiple balls in their own right, further putting Rosen at a disadvantage. The body language and demeanor that Brian Flores criticized his young QB for was demonstrably better in this game. He battled through difficult conditions, a fierce pass rush, and once again delivered a scoring drive in the final two minutes.

Rosen — as it stands right now — deserves the opening day nod. Though it doesn’t appear he’s going to get it; Flores quickly announced Fitzpatrick as the starter for next week’s game vs. the Jaguars.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play hasn’t inspired a lot of hope if he is indeed declared the starter. Fitzpatrick matched Rosen’s poor decision making, and struggled with his own accuracy all night. The veteran was thrown to the wolves and was constantly under duress, but if you compare his second-team showing to Rosen’s effort last week, the youngin’ clearly won that battle.

It would be entirely disingenuous to leave this video out of the post-game column.

Jake Rudock threw an inexcusable interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, but responded with the go-ahead touchdown-and-two-point drive in the final moments.

Running Backs

Kenyan Drake is out with an injury and Kalen Ballage did not play. Mark Walton was the beneficiary with plenty of work in the first half, excelling particularly in the passing game. Walton stuck a big time blitz pickup on a five-man rush and caught a slant, from a plus-split- for a first down.

Walton is pretty clearly the third best back on the roster, though he bounced a goal-line run that was built for a B-gap lead.

Patrick Laird ran for 45 yards on six carries. He’s a patient runner with quality vision and enough burst to make his runs work. Myles Gaskin teamed up in a few two-back sets, but he didn’t have a lot of room to work with.

Kenneth Farrow busted a big run, but it was the result of a massive lane opened up by the Miami blocking on a split zone, backside dig-out.

Chandler Cox is mixed bag — and this feels redundant. He hit some nice lead blocks, but wound up on the ground too much again. He was hit with a holding penalty tonight as well.

Wide Receivers

Burn the wide out film from this one. Drops, minimal separation, failure to get clean releases against press — Miami’s deepest offensive position group did not hold up its end of the bargain in the loss.

Preston Williams had a dreadful night. He had at least two drops, both of which would’ve moved the chains. He nearly came down with another ridiculous highlight reel catch where he tipped the ball to himself, and brought it in at the pylon, but his foot was on the chalk.

Kenny Stills might’ve been credited with a drop on the first play of the game, though it’s unclear if the ball was tipped. He did, however, convert a third-and-short on a drag route. Stills came in short-motion to create a stack, and then won with a clean release.

Isaiah Ford and Brice Butler had the best nights among the group — they had two catches and moved the chains once each. Ford uncovered in the end zone on the fourth-and-two play, but Rosen was a beat late and a hair low.

Saeed Blacknail uncovered for a big gainer and Trenton Irwin caught the two-point conversion on a wide open flat route.

Tight Ends

Nick O’Leary’s block sealed the edge on the long Farrow gallop. He caught one pass for five yards, and did his usual work blocking the edge in both the run and the pass game.

Mike Gesicki is showing continual signs of progress. He uncovered three times, caught two of the targets, and the third was considerably behind him on an open slant route.

Dewayne Allen committed a hold on a run from inside the five, and Durham Smythe had a 22-yard reception.

Offensive Line

Laremy Tunsil returned and showed Dolphins fans exactly why he needs an extension. The pay-day is coming, but the price goes up every time Tunsil gets isolated in protection and handles the task with ease. He’s so quick to gain depth and prevent speed rushes, or underneath moves — he’s elite.

The rest of the line…is not. Though Michael Deiter looked the part the majority of the night. He still has some reps where he bends at the waist, and is left to the vices of the man across from him, but he’s picking up combination blocks and playing sound, assignment football in this game. He was the next best behind Tunsil and reason for optimism on that left side.

Jesse Davis surrendered a sack when he overset, despite help available from the back, and lost on a counter move working inside.

It’s difficult to assign blame on some pressure looks, but Shaq Calhoun is often part of blown protections with a variety of right tackles. He does, however, continue to get adequate push in the running game.

The rest of the interior line was not good, Daniel Kilgore got taken for a couple of rides and communication issues continue to persist.

Miami’s search for a swing tackle is not going well. Jordan Mills was down tonight and his replacement — Jaryd Jones-Smith — was an absolute train wreck. He was consistently beat with a speed rush off the edge and just doesn’t have the quickness to play the left side.

Defensive Line

Coach Flores is going to test the mettle of his guys. He wants to put stress on a player, and when things appear to be coming together, take that strain up another notch.

For Charles Harris, perhaps this is exactly what the doctor ordered. Harris was a menace. He whipped starting Left Tackle Donovan Smith (video below) helping to end the Bucs first drive, and then went to work on poor backup tackle, Cole Boozer. Harris won with speed, with a counter moves, and he defended the run.

Welcome to the NFL, Christian Wilkins. The first-round pick was disruptive. Number 97 recorded his first sack, another bone-crushing hit on the quarterback, and consistent penetration all night long.

Davon Godchaux is bordering on the territory where we don’t need to mention him any more — he’s as steady as they come and a true power-player. He throws those hands and gets under his man with regularity.

Tank Carradine looks good pushing up field, chopping the tackles hands, and bending the edge. He disrupted a throw on his newly patented move, and laid a hit on the quarterback hit.

Jonathan Ledbetter checked in for some first-team work, and he continues to show why the coaches love him. He’s like Godchaux in the way he plays low, with heavy hands, and can really control the point-of-attack in the two-gap scheme.

Linebackers

Jerome Baker played 15 snaps last week, made five tackles, three for run-stuffs, but never blitzed. That changed tonight.

Baker has an innate sense for angles to the quarterback, coupled with a rare burst that allows him to effectively move the quarterback off the spot from any gap he rushes. He also continues to defend the edge as a run-stopper — he’s ultra-impressive.

So was Sam Eguavoen. With four splash plays in the first half — including a forced fumble — Eguavoen displayed everything that has earned him first-team work. He’s athletic enough to get 10-yards deep into a pass drop (one PBU from that position), he’s strong enough to stack the edge in the run-game (one TFL there), and he’s instinctive enough to knife between blocks between the tackles (another TFL there).

The 26-year-old rookie’s most impressive play came in coverage (second clip in the video below). Carrying coverage up the seam, locating the hook zone, and then quickly pulling the trigger as the ball goes out to the flat, Eguavoen punished the receiver and forced a turnover.

Nick Deluca played with the first-team. It’s pretty clear what he does well and how he fits in this defense. He can scrape the edge and assist in the run game — something Miami needs with the injuries at the position mounting.

 

Cornerbacks

Xavien Howard was held out of this one, probably because of the weather, but we got our first look at Eric Rowe. Rowe’s appearance was brief and not memorable one way or the other.

Jomal Wiltz, Nik Needham, and Minkah Fitzpatrick struggled. Tackling was an issue for the two slots while Needham was bested in coverage again.

Minkah Fitzpatrick did contribute with a gorgeous pass breakup early on against former Bama teammate O.J. Howard, but these missed tackles are new for him — there’s no reason to think he won’t clean it up.

Torry McTyer competed for the second straight game, and this time against the two’s. He’s taking well to the press-man scheme this defense prefers to run.

Safeties

Chris Lammons flashed time-and-time again. A prominent fixture on special teams, his #30 jersey showed up against the run, the pass, and one very impressive tackle on a screen pass.

Bobby McCain is so often out of frame that it’s difficult to identify him on the broadcast. He did, however, come up once in run support like a missile, and has done well to click-and-close in deep coverage.

Montre Hartage is running as the second-team deep safety. He missed a tackle on a big play in the screen game, but it was whistled back on a holding call.

Maurice Smith was active in the middle of the field. If Reshad Jones and/or T.J. McDonald aren’t back for the season opener, Smith might be called on to play significant reps.

Recap

This is the team I expected to see last week. Strong defensive effort, creative and complex scheme that overwhelms the offense with its disguise, and an offense that can’t get out of its own way.

After the dominant first-half effort by the defense, Flores kept prominent defenders (Harris, Fitzpatrick, Eguavoen) on the field, which felt odd.

The primary specialist unit continues to look the same. Cornell Armstrong, Nick Deluca, Terrill Hanks, Cox, Smith, Hartage, Wiltz, Fitzpatrick, Smythe, and Lammons remain focal points of the unit.

Miami took the lead with only 34 seconds to play, and Flores will certainly express his displeasure for the inability to close. Not to mention the absurd number of penalties. This was simply a sloppy game on Flores’ road debut.

Jason Sanders is a hell of a kicker. He drilled kicks right down the middle from 45 and 49-yards out on a sloppy playing surface.

Regardless of who starts under center, this team needs several things to function on that side of the ball. Kenyan Drake, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant need to get back, and Laremy Tunsil has to stay healthy.

All things told, Rosen has been making more out of a bad situation than Fitzpatrick, but the plan was probably to start the veteran on opening day all along — and we’re almost assured of that with the decision to start Fitz in the third preseason game.

Game Balls:

Charles Harris
Sam Eguavoen
Jerome Baker
Christian Wilkins
Patrick Laird

Don’t forget to check out the post-game recap on the Locked On Dolphins Podcast.

@WingfieldNFL

 

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins First-Half Jiffy Report v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shawn Digity

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USA Today Sports Miami Dolphins Preston Williams
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

Who are the Miami Dolphins’ risers and fallers in the first half of the second preseason game v. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Risers

Sam Eguavoen

The former CFL linebacker has continued to impress, and that was on full display during the first half. Eguavoen was shooting gaps and hitting the ball-carrier in the backfield.

He also was responsible for a forced fumble that was recovered by the Miami Dolphins. All arrows are pointing up for Eguavoen to make the roster and an impact for the team during the regular season.

Jerome Baker

Baker quickly made an impact as a blitzer as he rapidly got to Jameis Winston and at least got hits out of that exchange. While Baker needs to get stronger to bring down the quarterbacks and get sacks, it was a great sign to see Baker show this type of pressure.

Charles Harris

Have you noticed all the Risers are defensive players? Well, many of the defensive guys have flashed and surprised me so far in the game.

Harris showed some progression going into his third year, especially in this game. He showed improved hand-placement techniques and used it to get two sacks.

Fallers

Preston Williams

Williams had two major drops that could’ve been first downs. Williams has been a hot name for the past couple of weeks but has cooled down a little bit if this first half is any indication.

I don’t think it’s anything major; I’m sure he’ll get it cleaned up, but he’s fallen back down to Earth somewhat with the easy drops.

Williams did almost redeem himself with a nearly acrobatic touchdown catch but had just barely gone out of bounds.

Michael Deiter

It was only a matter of time before Deiter started struggling. He’s a still a rookie after all. He was responsible for a false start and got lucky that another was missed. It was just all-around rough for Deiter.

 

 

 

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