A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Wednesday:
▪ The Dolphins have done several smart things so far this offseason, from bolstering their pass rush and run defense; to upgrading at linebacker, guard, running back and cornerback; to staying away from the types of older free agents that mostly haven’t worked out for Miami in recent years.
And here’s something else smart they have done, though it wasn’t necessarily intentional: With coronavirus jeopardizing the NFL’s entire offseason program, the Dolphins needed defensive players with the experience and intelligence to learn their sophisticated defensive system without necessarily having the benefit of May and June practices.
That’s why it was wise that the Dolphins:
1). Augmented their defense primarily in free agency instead of the draft, because older players are more likely to be able to learn the system on their own without on-field work.
2). Stock their defense with three players who are familiar with the Miami defense from their time with the Patriots: linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill (who spent the 2016 offseason with New England).
Dolphins safety Eric Rowe told me last season that defensive players need to be smart to play in this defense, and that the defense is very, very similar to what New England runs.
What’s more, new Dolphins defensive end Shaq Lawson is familiar with the way Dolphins defensive line coach Marion Hobby teaches, from their time together at Clemson.
So signing players familiar with the system will give Miami a leg up if the offseason program is wiped out by coronavirus.
“I think it’s highly unlikely we have any offseason program,” Lions quarterback Chase Daniel told The Detroit Free Press.
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Conversely, running back is one of the easier positions to plug a player who has not spent months studying your system (though pass protection assignments obviously must be learned).
That’s why it was smart for the Dolphins — who entered the offseason needing No. 1 and No. 2 running backs — to sign only one of those players in free agency (Jordan Howard) and try to get the other in the draft.
If there’s no offseason program, the chemistry established last season between Ryan Fitzpatrick and his receivers — as well as tight end Mike Gesicki — also bodes well for Miami early in the season, if Fitzpatrick builds on a strong close to last season (you never know with him) or isn’t beaten out by a rookie quarterback.
And Fitzpatrick, remember, has five years of experience playing for new Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey (three with the Bills, two with the Jets) and knows his system intimately. That, too, will help if there’s no offseason program.
▪ It does take time for rookie offensive linemen to learn an NFL team’s run blocking and pass protection schemes, which makes it vital that Miami’s early-round left tackle be intelligent.
So in evaluating who that left tackle might be (potentially with the 18th pick), I found it interesting that this was Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s response when asked what makes left tackle Andrew Thomas special.
“I would say the No. 1 one thing is his intelligence. He’s very sharp. He’s very detailed. He has a plan,” Smart said last season, via dawgnation.com. “You don’t find guys that are his size and speed and athleticism walking the streets, but you also don’t find that combination of intelligence. They know what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Notably, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift also first cited intelligence when asked the same question about Thomas.
The Dolphins always want intelligent players. But in an offseason when the amount of time to get on the field and learn a new offense could be curtailed dramatically — or eliminated altogether — this quality has never been more important, especially at a position (left tackle) where Miami needs an immediate starter.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. mocks Thomas 14th to Tampa Bay, and it’s a toss-up whether he will be available at 18.
▪ We reported in this space last month that the Dolphins intended to pursue Patriots safety Devin McCourty. And Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that the Dolphins made an offer to McCourty before he agreed to a two-year, $23 million offer.
Though the Dolphins have committed to a Bobby McCain-Rowe safety pairing, their willingness to consider some other options at safety suggests that part of the lineup is in pencil, not in pen.
If Miami can land a top safety in the draft and he excels in training camp, they could always move McCain back to nickel corner. At this point, the plan is to keep McCain at safety. But like everything with the Dolphins during the past year, the situation is fluid.
It basically comes down to this: If you take a safety in the second round (perhaps California’s Ashtyn Davis, who played for new Dolphins defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander the past three years), will that player — in training camp and preseason — outplay your slot cornerback options (Nik Needham, Jomal Wiltz)? If he does, then moving McCain back to nickel corner would make sense.
▪ Yes, the Dolphins expressed interest in free agent edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. But Miami wasn’t interested in paying the $17 million annual figure that has been tossed around on Twitter.
The thinking was this: Why spend that much on one edge player when the Dolphins could get two quality ones for that same value: Lawson at $10 million per season and Emmanuel Ogbah at $7.5 million annually?
▪ For the small minority who want the Dolphins to bypass a quarterback in this draft and hope they can somehow move up for Trevor Lawrence in 2021, that’s obviously a risky proposition.
But also consider this from Fox and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis: He said he has watched Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Lawrence throw “side by side and there’s no difference.”
▪ Quick stuff: The aforementioned Wiltz changed both of his names, from Jomal Wiltz to Jamal Perry. The team and his representation had no immediate explanation, but Perry is Wiltz’s father’s last name…
It has been widely reported that there are six first-round-caliber offensive tackles (Tristan Wirfs, Mechti Bechton, Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas, Josh Jones and Austin Jackson), but Kiper Jr. — who omits Jackson from his first-round mock draft — adds a seventh: Boise State left tackle Ezra Cleveland, mocking him 29th in the first round. We hear the Dolphins like Cleveland, but it’s unclear if he would be a consideration at 26 if Miami doesn’t address that need at 18.
This story was originally published March 25, 2020 5:47 PM.