Some say football starts when pads enter the equation. Tomorrow, we get the first fully padded practice of the 2021 Miami Dolphins season, but there's plenty to cover from the first five days of work under the scorching Miami sun.
On our first Training Camp Notebook, we detailed the deep passing offense, dominant defensive tackles, Albert Wilson's strong start to camp, the pace of play and the rookie class providing early returns.
For full, daily breakdowns, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield as we look at each position group, audio from coaches and players, award daily top performers, detail the matchup of the day and take your questions via the Twitter mailbag.
The first training camp notes covered Days 1-2. Here are the five takeaways from Days 3-5.
1. Speed Thrills
On the topic of cliches, speed doesn't slump, either. The Dolphins receiving corps has seen the depth of the group tested with injuries holding a few of the guys out of practices. Still, Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett are excelling through the first five practices by spreading the ball to an explosive, play-making group.
Albert Wilson is consistently removing the top off of the defense. Jaylen Waddle is proving to be much more than a speed merchant – his concentration and ability to snatch passes in traffic stands out. Robert Foster, Jakeem Grant and Kirk Merritt have been regulars in the receptions department and with their fair share of big plays.
Safety Eric Rowe spoke about the revamped offense he's seen through five days.
"We got more speed, we got more pieces and even when DeVante (Parker) and Preston (Williams) come back, it will be even deeper," Rowe said. "I'm excited to see it happen. Tua I think he's making that jump. I see each day he's getting better from the first day, so now opposing defenses can't just double one guy and be like, 'okay everyone else is going to be covered.' Now we got Waddle with the speed, Albert, DeVante, Preston, Mike (Gesicki). Pick who you want."
2. The Safety Room: Part of a Well-Balanced Breakfast
Rowe is one of the unquestioned leaders of this team. He's played all 32 games coached by Brian Flores and displayed the versatility and toughness that is so coveted by the coaching staff. Jason McCourty brings 12 years of experience to a room that injected talent via the last two drafts in Brandon Jones and Jevon Holland. Together, along with Clayton Fejedelem and Nate Holley, the group is instinctive, athletic, and well-schooled.
"(Holland) hasn't made a lot of mistakes," Rowe said. "He's a real smart kid anyway. I knew that when came in the spring. He's making plays out here each day so it's backing up."
Flores has been pleased with the young players' willingness to learn from Rowe and McCourty.
"I would say, trying to be a sponge with these veteran players. You mentioned Jason (McCourty), but also Rowe, Byron (Jones), (Xavien Howard). (Holland's) doing a good job from that standpoint. As far as Jason…he's a smart, tough, experienced (player). He's got leadership qualities…I think he's done a good job so far along with Eric Rowe and the rest of the guys in that safety crew – Brandon Jones, 'Fej' etc. We're pleased with all the guys and hopefully we can continue to string good days together."
3. Quarterbacks Stay Sharp
The signal-callers have been the ultimate distributors so car in camp. Sinnett shows his dual-threat ability on a daily basis while Brissett threaded a handful of tight windows over the weekend and into Monday, including a fastball to Foster for a touchdown in the team red zone period.
Tagovailoa tallied six total touchdowns Monday. As that count continues to rise (across all periods of practice) the interception total stays the same – he has not been intercepted in a team period since Day 1 (Wednesday of last week).
The ball is jumping off Tagovailoa's arm and the placement has often been superb, just like the strike to Wilson below denotes.
Flores has been pleased with the strong start of his second-year quarterback.
"Good command of the offense, his techniques, his QB mechanics, fundamentals, trying to work those every day and get them where they need to be so that his footwork, his timing, that all kind of plays into his accuracy as a passer; but also ball-handling with the backs and things of that nature. I think he's off to a solid start. It's still very early," Flores said.
4. The Relentless Rush
The first notebook was about Miami's ability to collapse the pocket for the inside. Today, we focus on the edge rushers, who are giving the quarterbacks a workout. Complementing the inside rush has been a wave of defenders finding ways to keep the pressure coming from all angles.
Andrew Van Ginkel wins his fair share of matchups, but his effort creates a whole different level of production in all phases of the game. Emmanuel Ogbah is displaying his arsenal of pass rush moves while Shaquem Griffin's speed rush has to be accounted for on a snap-by-snap basis. Brennan Scarlett had a big day Saturday with a pair of would-be sacks and Vince Biegel is working back to the 2019 form that allowed him to lead the team in QB pressures (34, via Pro Football Focus).
5. The Fans Are Back
Football's most precious resource returned to practices all across the league Saturday – the fans. The grandstand at the beautiful Baptist Health Training Complex were decked out in aqua and orange to celebrate all the big plays made by the Dolphins offense and defense.
The fans displayed their appreciation for the return with boisterous ovations for some of the players coming onto the field; like Christian Wilkins, who was the first out to greet them; or Shaquem Griffin, who knows how to play to a crowd.
Finally, Tagovailoa addressed the crowd by welcoming them into the new practice facility with an important message on beating the heat.