One more day – that's how long you have to wait to see your Miami Dolphins suit up for another football game. It's an exhibition, but if 2020 taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't take anything for granted. A young Dolphins team can benefit not just from stepping on the Solider Field playing surface Saturday, but practicing against an opponent for the first time since the 2019 season.
Today, we'll look at the five takeaways from the two days of practice in Lake Forest, Illinois against Matt Nagy's Chicago Bears.
Also, for further analysis, check out Drive Time with Travis Wingfield every day on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
1. When in Rome, Run the Ball
The modern game may favor to the aerial attack, but the NFC North wasn't dubbed the black and blue division without reason. Death, taxes, and the Bears defense providing a stout front – the only certainties in life. After Chicago's defensive front strut its stuff in Wednesday's practice, the Dolphins found their footing, particularly with newcomer Malcolm Brown.
Brown scored three touchdowns in a goal line period after finding paydirt twice in a red zone session with scoring scampers of eight and 15 yards. The final of the five touchdowns wrapped up the penultimate period of the joint work with Chicago.
After Liam Eichenberg left Wednesday's practice with an injury, second-year guard Solomon Kindley took first-team reps at left guard, helping to pave the way for Brown. The run blocking also sprung Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed into the second level during the full field 11-on-11 periods.
Kindley revealed the ingredients to generating push at the point and a successful run game in his Thursday media availability.
"The offensive line loves running," Kindley said. "Just grit. Grit, anger and giving effort. That's all an offensive lineman needs."
2. Fewer Exhibition Games, More Reps
There may be one fewer preseason game in 2021, but Dolphins players will be the beneficiaries of two sets of joint practices (the Falcons come to Miami Gardens next week). Head Coach Brian Flores, when asked about rookie Jevon Holland's interception of Andy Dalton Thursday, mentioned it's not the four or five plays that make up the evaluation, but rather the body of work.
"He's had 500 plays over training camp," Flores said of Holland. I'm not going to judge him on four of them, either way, good or bad."
The answer was specific to Holland, but it applies across the roster. For a young Dolphins team with 33 first- or second-year players, those 500 reps will more than likely double over the next two-plus weeks, especially with a second set of joint practices on deck.
"It's good to see a different opponent, different schemes, different skillsets from the receivers, from the linemen, from the tight ends," Flores said. "It's good for us. We need that and that's what it is in this league. It's different every week."
Even the Chicago climate cooperated by providing Miami with a familiar test run. Wednesday's inclement weather prepped the club for the natural phenomenon that's occurred two of the last four seasons – extended lightning delays.
"I thought it was great for us. We get lightning in a game, we've got to go in and we've got to wait until it passes and then we come back out," Flores said. "I thought we went out and had good energy, good juice and finished practice out. I think it's a good rep for us. You guys all know in South Florida there's sometimes delays and we've got to be ready to adjust, be flexible and still perform."
3. An Added Element to the Simulation
New players, new schemes, new pass rush plans, different line-of-scrimmage release arsenals, it was advantageous for the Dolphins to see a different color jersey. While the quarterbacks are still in red (Bears in orange), Tua Tagovailoa spoke to the value of working against another pass rush and defensive system.
"This defense is really good up front," Tagovailoa said. "When you're hitting your back foot on your throws, they're right there and kind of in your face area. But that forces us, as quarterbacks, to kind of move the way we need to; and it simulates game-like pocket presence for us. I thought it was really good today. We'll take a look at the film. We'll try to correct a lot of the things that we didn't do well today and we'll come out tomorrow and hopefully it's a better one."
It was a better one, both in the time Tagovailoa had to throw and in the results. During the first red zone period of Thursday's practice, the second-year southpaw tossed touchdowns to Adam Shaheen, Mack Hollins, Jakeem Grant and Mike Gesicki. Three of those plays came from clean pockets and the fourth saw Tagovailoa side-step a rusher, climb the pocket and drive the ball to the front pylon for six.
4. Secondary to None
The joint practices saw Xavien Howard and Byron Jones working against an opponent for the first time since 2020, and the pair picked up they left off. Separation and completions were hard to come by for the Chicago passing game. On Wednesday, Howard pulled down an interception in the first team period while the Dolphins entire secondary forced their fair share of passes to hit the ground.
Howard had a chance for another interception Thursday but was essentially tackled by the wide receiver to save the turnover at the cost of a 10-yard interference penalty. Rookie Jevon Holland kept his takeaway streak going by jumping an Andy Dalton pass and taking it back the other way for a touchdown.
Safety Jamal Perry pulled down an interception while Eric Rowe provided tight coverage all week and Nik Needham, Justin Coleman, Jason McCourty, Javaris Davis and Tino Ellis all scored pass breakups throughout the two days.
5. Monsters Arrive to the Midway
The story of camp for the Dolphins has arguably been about the defensive front. Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler, Adam Butler, Raekwon Davis, John Jenkins and Benito Jones have helped push the interior of the pocket all camp, and that continued against the Bears. The only stat more difficult to track than Malcolm Brown's Thursday touchdown plunges was the tackles-for-loss produced by this DL group.
It wasn't just the middle of the defensive line, the Dolphins edge rushers made hay. Emmanuel Ogbah had several sacks in the team periods of practice including back-to-back plays blown dead in Wednesday's two-minute period.
The Bears were without two projected starters in Teven Jenkins and Germain Ifedi and the Dolphins attacked relentlessly. Shaquem Griffin took his productive performance in the one-on-ones into his work in the 11-on-11 session with a pair of sacks (one on Justin Fields, another on Nick Foles). Rookie Jaelan Phillips was back with one of the most impressive reps of the entire two-day session. The outside linebacker charged in with a bull rush and left his man flattened on the turf en route to the quarterback.