Undrafteds Miami Dolphins preseason review!
The Dolphins missed out on the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record. That’s tough to swallow for any franchise, but in an AFC division that’s currently loaded with playoff calibre rosters, they narrowly missed out. How do you answer that feeling of unceremoniously missing out on your first playoff appearance in years… get better, aggressively, in every area you can. The Dolphins have had a very strong off season, and things appear to be heading in the right direction for this team.
I wrote a piece earlier in the week covering the Washington Football Teams preseason, and the story here is rather similar. The defence performed at an extremely high level, and carried the offence at many critical junctures. With a defence as strong as the Dolphins, your offence simply needs to manage the game, and be effective when it matters. With a combination of the veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, and rookie Tua Tagovailoa, they were able to manage this the majority of the time, but not consistently enough. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was let go by the team, and the play calling will now be split with a combo of George Godsey (tight ends coach) & Eric Studesville (running backs coach). The two will now work together as co offensive coordinators.
Heading into this season, it’s all eyes on Tua. With a great rookie class after a very successful draft, and the likes of Jaylen Waddle and Hunter Long coming in as pass catchers, as well as free agency addition Will Fuller, along with a returning cast of Mike Gesicki, Devante Parker, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden Jr and co, the offence has a seriously improved level of fire power to it. Tua has been gifted with more weapons, and what seems to be a multi back run game support system, as well as strong bodies on the offensive line, and that gives him that chance to show what he’s really capable of.
The Head Coach
Brian Flores came out from under the wing of hall of fame head coach and possibly greatest football coach of all time Bill Belichick. Now I know that’s not fun to read on a preseason review about the Miami Dolphins BUT it’s true. Flores spent 6 years working with the defence in New England, starting with the safeties and moving to linebackers, and picked up 3 Super Bowl rings during his tenure.
When Flores took over as head coach of the Dolphins he knew the sort of players he wanted and the scheme he wanted to run defensively. He made decisions early on like moving on from Raekwon McMillan and controversially trading Minkah Fitzpatrick, and although the second one might be seen as a loss, it’s safe to say that Flores is building a defence he can rely on. Last season Miami was 6th in points allowed, and led the league in takeaways with 29.
Flores continues to earn the respect of his players and those around the league, and was a strong candidate for Head Coach of the Year in the 2020 season. He’ll be hoping to build on that performance this year, as well as the 10-6 record, and take Miami to a playoff berth.
I’m not sure anybody received a heavier bashing from the media (Colin Cowherd I’m looking at you), than Tua Tagovailoa this past season. Yes it did look like he struggled at times, but he was a rookie quarterback, with no pre season with his team and no time to work out and actually train because he spent the whole time rehabbing a scary hip injury.
In year two, it’s going to be a different narrative for Tua, and we will see if he can live up to the challenge he faces this year. As I already mentioned, the Dolphins added both Jaylen Waddle and Hunter Long in the draft, and dangerous vertical threat Will Fuller, and it feels like Miami has some legitimate pass catchers this season. In some of Tua’s games last season he was trying to link with back ups and practice squad players due to injuries to the likes of Devante Parker and Preston Williams, and the opt out of Albert Wilson.
Not only does he have more talent around him, but the style of offence Miami is going to run will be different this year, looking to push the ball down the field more often. There was a seeming disconnect last year between veteran offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and the rookie, and things looked different when Ryan Fitzpatrick was on the field, like there was almost a trust barrier with Tua. I know that’s all speculation, but I’m keen to see how the pass game looks this season under new management… The offensive line is very young too, and those guys will benefit tremendously from having another year and another camp under their belts.
Tua is more prepared this year, and needs to remind everybody, including some Dolphins fans, why he was a top 5 pick in 2020, and the consensus number 1 talent before he got injured. The Dolphins were fortunate to land him at number 5, and without Joe Burrows sudden success, and the injury to Tua’s hip, that never would have happened. Now he has everything he needs to prove himself in year two.
Word from camp is that his confidence is on a whole new level this season. He’s receiving praise from his team mates, and it’s certainly beginning to feel like it’s Tua Tagovailoa’s team now. When the season comes, we’ll see how he performs, but things are looking extremely promising for the Dolphins offensively.
The Rookie To Watch
The Dolphins added some great talent in this years draft, and have received high praise for that face. Jaelen Phillips might be the best edge rusher in the draft, and it looks as though Miami is going to use him in a similar role to that of Kyle Van Noy last year, with the young Miami talent taking snaps at stand up linebacker.
But we have to talk about Jaylen Waddle. His ability to make a man miss as a return specialist in his early Alabama days transitions perfectly into the pass game. He’s shifty, and lightning fast. Waddle was nursing an injury this past season, and chose not to work out at either of Alabama’s pro days, so no official 40 yard dash time. However, he did race Henry Ruggs (who ran a 4.27), and lost (barely), and when asked about his 40 yard time he said: “Definitely a high 4.2, low 4.3s, that’s normally where I’m around.”
When you add that speed to his tools after the catch, you have yourself a very interesting wide receiver. Waddle is ideally suited to lining up on the inside, and will make a great compliment to the likes of Will Fuller & Devante Parker,. I’d expect to see Waddle taking a lot of the underneath routes over the middle, getting into space and gunning for extra yardage. That being said he has reps on the outside too, and at 5″11 with his speed, he can absolutely make that work. Waddle is back with Tua, and the two could easily build a very strong relationship in Miami.
I also need to comment briefly on Jevon Holland, who could easily turn out to be the best pick Miami drafted this year. His tackle technique, and fearless attitude towards making a play in the run game, or levelling a pass catcher, stands out on tape. He’s also an exceptional ball hawk, and being able to patrol the deep field in a very strong defence is only going to bring opportunities. I compared him to Budda Baker in my day two steals post, because Budda Baker comes downhill and makes those plays, but is also dangerous with the ball in the air. Jevon Holland is slightly less stocky, but also a lot more agile.
The New Kid On The Block
Will Fuller, who is often considered a slot guy, actually only ran 24% of his snaps out of the slot in 2020, despite being on the field for almost 95% of the Texans snaps in 2020. So what you actually have in him is an outside burner, who’s going to often run straight at the safety, or straight up the sideline, and could easily become a primary target for the Dolphins doing exactly that. Will Fuller received his highest PFF grade as a deep target (20+ yards), where he caught 8 of 15 passes, two thirds of which were contested catches. That’s not to say that Will Fuller won’t serve you on short to medium routes either, in fact, his efficiency shone the most in the middle of the field. This to me screams finding a soft spot in the defences coverage, getting the ball in his hands, and then allowing him to push for extra yardage.
The Texans utilised Will Fuller largely on the left side, and all 7 of his touchdowns for the Texans last year came from a left side position. With Tua dropping back and opening his body up to his throwing side, Will Fuller is going to be his closest target, and likely one of his first reads the majority of the time.
Another versatile threat for the Miami outfit.
The Up & Comer
Look out for outside linebacker and pass rush threat Andrew Van Ginkel this upcoming season. The Dolphins allowed Shaq Lawson to leave in a trade after Van Ginkel impressed so much he could take over the role. So instead they went and got inside linebacker and running game wrecker Benardrick McKinney from Houston, and sent Shaq Lawson the other way.
Last season, Van Ginkel had 6 sacks to Emmanuel Ogbah’s 10, while playing almost half as many snaps. He also added two forced fumbles, and managed a scoop and score, and the 5th round selection from Wisconsin in 2019 is starting to look like a full time starter in Miami. It’s likely he’s given the opportunity this year to showcase his abilities while in the starting 11 on defence, and himself along with Ogbah might be one of the most underrated duos in the league coming off the edge. 16 sacks in 2020 between them, and due to improve on that in 2021. Step Up Andrew!
Record Prediction: 12-5
The defence held this roster together last year in very similar fashion to the Washington Football Team situation. While Miami was trying to figure out its identity offensively, the defence was winning the games. This season, that defence is back, and the only pieces it’s lost were Kyle Van Noy, who will be directly replaced by rookie Jaelen Phillips, and Shaq Lawson, who I’ve just mentioned is easily covered by Andrew Van Ginkel.
When you consider the strong draft, and improvements to things like the offensive line, the secondary, and the run game defence, it looks as though Miami is plugging any gaps they felt they had. They have two premium corners, and a very athletic secondary. Premium edge threats who proved what they could do in Flores defensive scheme last year. McKinney and the defensive line to plug the run game. Weapons galore on offence including talented receivers and a lot of speed, plus two pass catching tight ends in Mike Gesicki and now rookie Hunter Long. My only concern is the run game, and whether Myles Gaskin has quite enough to be a legitimate starter. That being said, with Malcolm Brown coming in from LA, and 7th round rookie Gerrid Doaks being very highly regarded, Miami will likely employ a multi back rotational system of sorts, and make things work that way.
It’s all eyes on Tua this season, and from what we’re hearing out of camp, and the tape coming out, it looks like Miami’s first round quarterback might be figuring it out just in time. Maybe all he needed was the time to get healthy, work out, get his body to where he wants it to be, and put it all on display in year two. This was a 10-6 roster last season, which is SERIOUSLY improved going into this season. 12-5 and a playoff berth that Flores and his Dolphins deserved last year.
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