That's a wrap on the third training camp of the Brian Flores era in Miami. One more exhibition game and two weeks of practice are the only hurdles left to conquer before the best weekend on the calendar, opening week in the NFL.
We've been tracking the team's progress since July 28 – Day 1 of camp – for a look back, check out our previous six training camp notebooks.
Also, for further analysis, check out Drive Time with Travis Wingfield every day on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
These are the five comprehensive takeaways from Miami Dolphins training camp 2021.
1. Second Year Leaps Start Strong
The NFL's youngest team a year ago set the bar in 2020 for most snaps played by rookies (4,898). One theme of this summer's camp – the Year 2 leap.
"We've talked to him about the Year 1 to Year 2 jump, and it's a real thing," Head Coach Brian Flores said about Tua Tagovailoa's second season. While the discussion that day was about the quarterback, Flores has reiterated that's the case for all second-year players.
"We have to teach these guys how to be professionals, how to study the playbook, how we practice, and the things we're looking for in a Miami Dolphin, which are guys who are tough, who are smart, who are competitive, who love to play and are team first. We're trying to get that into their heads and into their fabric as quickly as possible…They've got a lot to learn."
Back to the quarterback, Tagovailoa completed 24-of-34 passes this preseason 282 yards a touchdown and an interception.
With Tagovailoa under-center, the Miami offense possessed the football seven times this August. The results: drive of 83, 75, 66, 60 and 52 yards. The sixth series was a two-minute drill that covered 20 yards on two plays to set up a field goal attempt, and the seventh series a three-and-out to open the preseason.
Along the offensive line for each of those drives – fellow second-year pros Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt. Tagovailoa was sacked only once in those seven possessions while running back Myles Gaskin compiled 93 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. Fellow former University of Washington running back, another second-year pro, Salvon Ahmed caught a 23-yard touchdown with those same linemen in the game.
AUG. 27 - Check out photos from the final day of Miami Dolphins Training Camp presented by Baptist Health.
2. Development, Not Exclusive to Sophomores
It's not just the sophomores of the league who can demonstrate growth. Players like Eric Rowe and DeVante Parker experienced the best stretches of their career with Miami, or otherwise, since Brian Flores' 2019 arrival.
"I think we are always developing players," Flores said in 2019. "So we're developing rookies, second-year players…seventh-year players. We're in a business where we're all looking to improve. I know you say 'develop a rookie,' but I'm trying to develop everyone."
Christian Wilkins has been consistently productive training camp entering his third year. He and fellow defensive tackles Raekwon Davis, Zach Sieler and Adam Butler presented a litany of problems in the joint practices and games with Atlanta and Chicago.
Like Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel was among Flores' first draft class in 2019 and is looking to take yet another step after a strong second season (6.0 sacks). Van Ginkel and Emmanuel Ogbah, who produced a career-high 9.0 sacks in his first year in Miami (fifth as a pro) have provided pressure off the edge with regularity. Then, of course, Sam Eguavoen had the game of a lifetime with four sacks in the 37-17 win over Atlanta.
Also from the 2019 rookie class, albeit undrafted, Nik Needham's ball production count reached untrackable levels at some point during this camp, he's always finding the football. He, Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Eric Rowe and the entire Dolphins secondary made life difficult on opposing quarterbacks, allowing a total of six points through four quarters of preseason of football (the first half of both Chicago and Atlanta games).
3. Tough Decisions Loom
Apologies for any names omitted from the previous list; plenty of Dolphins players have earned praise for their offseason work. As the third and final cut day approaches (the Dolphins and the other 31 franchises must trim the roster to 53 players by August 31), the staff has an unenviable task ahead.
The receiver room is loaded. Newcomer Will Fuller said he believes there are (or were at the time) 13 players in that room who could play in this league. The tight end position hosts four veterans with proven NFL resumes, a promising rookie in Hunter Long and Chris Myarick who's had a strong camp after a couple of years on the Miami practice squad.
The aforementioned defensive tackle rotation also includes John Jenkins, who had a productive 2019 season with Miami, and Benito Jones who earned playing time as an undrafted rookie in 2020. At linebacker, Eguavoen made his push in the previous exhibition game, but the entire room has been competitive throughout camp including newcomers Benardrick McKinney, Brennan Scarlett and Duke Riley.
Similar depth is available in the secondary, along the offensive line and at running back. It shouldn't be a surprise if some of Miami's cuts wind up on other rosters around the league.
4. Getting Healthy
The first half of the exhibition games have produced a cumulative score of 27-6 and yardage advantage of 454-192 of in favor of the good guys. Though some Miami starters only saw a fraction of those snaps – and the same was true for both the Bears and Falcons – outgaining the opposition by more than double the yardage is always a good sign.
What's more, the Dolphins are getting important pieces back as camp comes to its conclusion. Elandon Roberts and Preston Williams were recently activated from physically unable to perform list. Brandon Jones returned after missing some time with an ankle injury and receivers DeVante Parker and Will Fuller are working in practice again. As a bonus, Flores said Albert Wilson was also getting closer to returning – the shifty receiver was one of the early stories of camp before missing two weeks with an injury.
5. Complementary Conquest
Exhibition football seemingly always comes with qualifiers and asterisks. While some of disclaimers are legitimate, any time competition occurs, so does evaluation.
This preseason, we've seen the results of the 2020 defense and special teams carry over into the early portions of the new campaign. And that's not by coincidence or accident – Flores' message has been about starting back over and laying the bricks each day since nothing from the prior season is given or promised.
Offensively, the Dolphins preseason drive chart provides encouraging context to the type of football his team could play in 2021 – a complementary brand. Miami has possessed the football and sustained drives through a strong showing on third downs.
On top of completing 7-of-8 third down passes for 115 yards, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins attack have enjoyed early down success to set up more achievable down-and-distance obstacles on the money down (third down).
Miami showed more than just a ball-control style offense in camp and the preseason. Tagovailoa hit passes of 50 and 30 yards to Mike Gesicki, and uncorked a number of vertical passes to Wilson, Jaylen Waddle, Jakeem Grant and the rest of the Dolphins speedy pass catching group.
The more routes to victory the better, and the Dolphins displayed plenty of variety during the month of August.