Another practice is in the books as we head into an off day Thursday. This is our third installment of the notebook, you can find the first two editions below:
Also, for further analysis, check out Drive Time with Travis Wingfield every day on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
1. Pads Poppin'
On Tuesday, the sixth practice of training camp 2021, much to the delight of the Miami defense, brought back the pads. A meat and potatoes session yielded positive results for the defense throughout the day including a goal line period with a handful short-yardage run-stuffs. To even the score, the offense dialed up a play-action pass in which Jacoby Brissett found Carson Meier all alone in the back of the end zone.
Leading the charge for the defensive dominance were incumbent linebacker Jerome Baker and newcomer of the same position, Benardrick McKinney. Baker, a 225-pound sideline-to-sideline roamer, and McKinney, a 257-pound thumper, complement each other at the position – that's the make up of the entire linebacker room, according to Head Coach Brian Flores.
"They've all got a different skillset that we can potentially use, whether it's pass game, pass rush, run defense, kicking game," Flores said. "Again, (it's) a very competitive room. The new guys plus 'Bake' (Jerome Baker), plus (Elandon) Roberts, plus (Calvin) Munson, plus (Sam) Eguavoen – I think it's a competitive group."
McKinney is returning from a shoulder injury that cost him the final 12 games of 2020. He was a regular in the backfield on the first day of padded practices, a moment he's been looking forward to both for the physicality of the game, but also basking in the camaraderie this new Dolphins team demonstrated.
"I love doing live periods because that's my strong suit, just coming downhill," McKinney said. "It's great, just guys cheering guys on. Getting that team chemistry, everybody is one accord, having fun and making plays."
2. The Bigger Picture (Defensive Line and Linebackers)
Nothing in football happens independently. For the linebackers to make plays, the defensive linemen have to prevent blockers from getting to the second level and create gaps for the backers to crash. Christian Wilkins, who has spearheaded a tremendous first week of practice from the defensive tackles, talked about the bigger picture of those two positions working in tandem to thwart the run game.
"We've all got to work together and be coordinated and definitely when we break down film or watch film together; it's like, oh, you really get to see the big picture," Wilkins said. "Sometimes when you're just out there practicing, you don't necessarily see it; but then it's nice when you go back and watch the tape and you're like, 'Oh, I took this double team so now this 'backer can run free and make this play. And if he shoots the gap, then I'm free.'"
3. A+ in Chemistry Class
The Dolphins invested heavily in the skill positions on offense this offseason, particularly at wide receiver. Rookie Jaylen Waddle is making a splash through his first week and Robert Foster's made his fair share of plays, but they're not alone. Plenty of incumbents have developed a rapport with the quarterbacks, a chemistry that started brewing during the 2020 offseason.
"These last two offseasons, we got a lot of work in," said wide receiver Albert Wilson. "When (Tagovailoa) first got here before I opted out, we spent the whole offseason together, and this past offseason."
Wilson, Mack Hollins and Jakeem Grant have pulled in plenty of passes. It should also be mentioned Kirk Merritt, Isaiah Ford and Allen Hurns have turned in plenty of big plays with both multiple quarterbacks. As for Tagovailoa and his rapport with the group, he touched on that after Wednesday's practice.
"Being able to get with the guys throughout the offseason has helped tremendously with the timing," Tagovailoa said.
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. McCourty Mentorship; Old, Canada
Jevon Holland secured his first 11-on-11 interception of camp after closing on a tightly-contested throw from Tagovailoa to Wilson. It was the first interception off the arm of Tagovailoa in a team period since the first day of practice last Wednesday.
Holland, who has been praised by Flores for his communication, instincts and range, has shown each of those traits early on. Flores also had praise for veteran safety Jason McCourty, who he spent one season with in New England.
"He's got leadership qualities and I think – obviously you mentioned he's played safety in the past – he's played the position in the past, so it's not the first time he's done it," Flores said. "I think he's done a good job so far along with Eric Rowe and the rest of the guys in that safety crew."
If any observers are trying to locate Holland on the practice field, just find McCourty first. Soaking up the experience of the 12-year pro, McCourty explained the impressive attention to detail Holland has exhibited from Day 1.
"My interactions with him early on when we first got here, you can see the intelligence," McCourty said. "I think that's the toughest thing, especially a rookie, of being able to learn the defense. Because as a safety, you're the key communicator. You're the guy who has to get checks out, who have to tell guys what to do. So you have to be able to master the defense. Early on when I first jumped on the Zoom calls, you saw that from him. Whenever a question came his way, he knew the answer. He knew what to anticipate and you can see it out here on the field. As we go on, he's making more and more plays. He's a hell of an athlete and he's a fun guy to be around. I call him Canada. That's where he was born, so we refer to him as old Canada.
5. Always Evaluating
With a week of practices in the books, some of the periods start to look the same. That comes with the risk of players cheating drills, something Flores and the coaching staff anticipates.
"Yeah, guys cheat the drill. That happens," Flores said. "But I think we just need to keep the drills moving and there's always an element to a drill you can do to force a guy not to. Normally he goes in and we go out. If he goes out, we go deep."
Even through the dog days of summer, and players anticipating things they've seen previously, Flores and staff have methods for evaluating that boils down to two things:
"We just need to continue to work the techniques, work the fundamentals; and I think whether they cheat the drill or not cheat the drill, we're evaluating the fundamentals and techniques now…Is that a true rep? Are we counting that one? The player may think so but we may not be counting that one."
For more on the Dolphins first week of training camp practices, download the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield.