Ten training camp practices are in the rearview mirror. The next time the Dolphins hit the field it will be against another team. Before the trip to Chicago, and momentary reprieve from the South Florida humidity, we look back at a scorcher of a weekend where the only thing hotter than the weather was the competition on the Baptist Health Training Complex field.
Also, for further analysis, check out Drive Time with Travis Wingfield every day on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
1. The Takeaways Are The Takeaway
When the Dolphins travel to New England to kick off the 2021 regular season, they will bring with them a streak currently unmatched in the NFL. Miami's 22-consecutive games with a turnover generated dates all the way back to the 2019 season. However, this training camp, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has proven difficult to pillage. Throwing just one interception in the team period of practices 2-9, the second-year quarterback was working his way through another gem heading into the final period of practice No. 10.
Before arriving at the conclusion, context from the past is required. Upon defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander's arrival in 2020, the Miami secondary instituted a training camp game with an emphasis on the football. The Hood vs. The Burbs, as the contest was called, saw the unit select teams and track interceptions, fumble recoveries and scoops on incomplete passes and other loose balls. The result – 29 takeaways to the lead the NFL in 2020.
The emphasis on the football can be seen throughout practice as Dolphins defenders spend time each day practicing their punch in ball security drills. Those reps carry over in the team period, which resulted in two fumbles on Sunday. One of those loose balls was scooped up by the man who picked off Tagovailoa to end the practice – rookie safety Jevon Holland.
With three takeaways (two interceptions and a fumble recovery) in as many practices, Holland is picking up where his college career left off at the University of Oregon. Holland's nine interceptions between 2018-2019 tied for fourth-most in the NCAA over that span.
Eric Rowe snagged the other interception while Byron Jones jarred the ball free on the Holland recovery.
2. X Marks the Spot
Head Coach Brian Flores confirmed Sunday morning that the Dolphins and All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard had agreed to terms on a restructured contract.
"We're excited to have gotten this done," Flores said. ""We're excited to have 'X.' He's obviously a very good player, a good teammate. You can see that by the way his teammates support him."
It wasn't an interception or a forced fumble, but it took less than half of a practice for Howard to showcase the ball-hawking skills that made him the first player with double digit interceptions since 2007. The only thing between wide receiver Isaiah Ford and another touchdown reception (it's been a stellar camp for Ford) was the man who finished second in 2020 in passer rating allowed (53.0) per Pro Football Focus.
Seen below, Howard clawed the ball out of the firm grasp of Ford to prevent the touchdown.
3. Pocket Protectors
The theme of refining a craft in the individual period before carrying the lesson over to 11-on-11 is not exclusive to the defensive backs. Offensive linemen are used to working in the shadows and deflecting praise. So while some position groups go through drills front and center in front of the grandstands at Baptist Health Training Complex, the linemen grind away on the north field. A pair of binoculars shows the repetition of combination blocks and visible communication as the group simulates their protection calls.
"All in. We're not slowing down for anything," veteran Adam Pankey said of the atmosphere in Offensive Line Coach Lemuel Jeanpierre's room. "The tempo is up beat in this Miami heat and it's a grind every day."
The payoff Sunday was tangible. The protection was improved and on a handful of occasions, Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett were afforded an eternity of time against an aggressive Dolphins pass rush. The result: a good number of touchdown throws in the red zone and goal line periods of Sunday's practice.
4. Dawgs to Dolphins
The arrival of former University of Washington Huskies running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed brought new energy to the running back room in 2020. Last year, Gaskin averaged the 10th-most yards from scrimmage per game rate (97.2) among all NFL backs and Ahmed's 122-yard performance in Week 15 of 2020 snapped a 31-game streak without a 100-yard rusher for Miami.
The best friends are continuing their play-making ways in training camp. Gaskin consistently catches passes and makes defenders miss, while Ahmed hit a homerun Sunday. Ahmed took an outside run for at least 60 yards and possibly an 80-yard scamper to paydirt had the play not been blown dead by officials at the 20-yard-line.
(Last December, Gaskin and Ahmed joined Travis Wingfield on the Drive Time Podcast to talk about growing up in the Pacific Northwest, playing together in the NFL, and talk a little trash about high school football).
"Just confidence," Gaskin said. "Me being with him at Washington, it's kind of the same jump from his freshman year to sophomore year. It's kind of the same thing in the league, rookie year to second year you make that jump. Confident, making a lot of good cuts, asking a lot of good questions in the room. Definitely having a good input on what other guys are doing or 'hey, did you see it over here' or 'I saw it like this' or 'this is what happened in the third.'"
5. Putting the Special in Special Teams
After an impressive showing Wednesday in which he pinned three consecutive punts inside the 5-yard-line, new Dolphins punter Michael Palardy put on a clinic of another kind at Friday's walkthrough. Standing between the hashmarks at midfield, Palardy hit spiraling line-drive punt after punt to All-Pro kicker Jason Sanders, who was at the 10-yard-line just inside the white perimeter. These kicks couldn't have been thrown more accurately, consistently hitting the '7' on Sanders' jersey.
"For me, it's mentally getting myself prepared to experience the elements that are around me," Palardy said. "My train of thought is if I can put the ball on a rope at a specific spot, a specific yard line, when I go out into the open field and I have this ton of space, it allows me to be a little more comfortable hitting directionally, painting the sideline if I want to, putting it outside the red line here on the fields, trying to hit the ball so that the returner can't catch it, hit it out of bounds."
The glimpse into Palardy's obsessive approach was a perfect pairing with Flores and Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Danny Crossman.
"I came for a visit and I think I meshed really well with what they wanted to do and the intensity that they put on special teams," Palardy said. "There's a lot of value to that. That's something that I hold near and dear to my heart; coaches, head coach, Coach (Brian) Flores, Coach (Danny) Crossman, the intensity that they put on the kicking game is something that I value. It was a good fit."