Back in the dog days of training camp, Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer highlighted the team's vision for the season. It's the same as any other season – collective improvement and going home at the end of the day a better football team than the one that arrived at the facility earlier that same morning.
"Our focus has really been on fundamentals and I think over time, the chemistry, the camaraderie, the fundamentals, the play; all of it will improve," Boyer said. "We don't look to be playing our best football in September. Week to week, we're looking for improvement."
That vision was exemplified through the results of 2019 as Miami saw monthly improvements with regards to the win-loss record. In 2020, the Dolphins are running it back in similar fashion as of early November. Starting September 1-2, the Dolphins flipped the script in October with a 2-1 mark. The win over the Rams set Miami on the right path for another jump in November with five games in the calendar month (Cardinals, Chargers, Broncos, Jets).
For the second-youngest team in the league, development was always going to be a crucial factor in the success of Miami. Head Coach Brian Flores reiterated his desire to foster an environment that focuses on the development of his players, regardless of age or previous production.
"We brought Tua (Tagovailoa) here because we believe in him," Flores said. "The same as all of the other draft picks. We believe in developing players.
Back on October 12, Flores praised Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey's developmental process.
"Chan has done a good job as far as developing players in the past and even now with the young group we've got on the o-line, at the receiver position, at the running back position," Flores said. "He's done a good job and we've just got to continue to improve and get better."
Five days prior, Flores highlighted the development of Miami's rookie quarterback as the most important thing for the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
"Yeah, his development is the most important thing to us," Flores said of Tagovailoa. "He's doing a good job from that standpoint – learning the offense, learning how to be a professional."
If his word isn't enough tangible proof, perhaps the on-field product will suffice.
Starting up front, the Dolphins offense line has been made up of three rookies, two free agent signings and one incumbent member. Collectively, the Dolphins five-man front have surrendered just 11 sacks this season – tied for ninth-fewest in the NFL.
One of those free agent signings is center Ted Karras, who was elected team captain this year.
Karras talked about the work of Offensive Line Coach Steve Marshall. Miami's man in the middle didn't stop at the development of rookies Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley, who have combined for 866 snaps this season. He highlighted Marshall's teaching techniques as modes of growth for the veterans up front.
"I think that he's doing a great job of not only developing these three rookies, but helping me out, and Jesse Davis and Ereck Flowers and all of us get better at our craft," Karras said.
The development of veterans isn't exclusive to the offensive line. Wide receiver DeVante Parker produced 2,217 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 53 games over his first four years as a pro. In 23 games since Flores' arrival, Parker has 1,569 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah hit a career-high in sacks on Sunday with his sixth of the season. He's tied for seventh in the NFL in that category, and the 32 quarterback pressures is fifth among all edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus. Ogbah's 46 quarterback pressures in his rookie season stands as his career-high, and the 32 pressures in 2020 are the second-highest total in his career with nine games to go.
Eric Rowe arrived in Miami as a cornerback. A Week 6 switch to safety last season has yielded production among the game's best over the last year and change. Rowe's 17 passes defensed in 23 games with the Dolphins topped his four-year total (16) from beginning of his career. On the season, Rowe is allowing just 58.1 percent of the targets thrown at him to go for completions and only 4.52 yards per target – both top 10 among safeties, per PFF.
Bobby McCain also made a position switch in 2019. Like Rowe, McCain went from cornerback to safety. Over the last three games, opposing passing attacks are 0-for-14 on passes intended 20 or more yards downfield. On the year, McCain is PFF's 13th-highest ranked safety and has a passer rating against of only 8.3 when targeted in coverage.
Andrew Van Ginkel made his NFL debut in Week 12 last season. Sunday, he scored a game-changing touchdown to along with 2.5 sacks on the year. Zach Sieler was claimed last December off waivers. Over the last three games Sieler has played 158 snaps and registered a sack and nine quarterback pressures, per PFF.
Going back to the rookie class, the Dolphins selected Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry in the seventh-round. In addition to leading the Midshipmen at quarterback, Perry also played slot back and wide receiver at Navy. Sunday, he made his NFL debut. Thursday, he talked about his development through the first eight weeks of his career.
"It was fun to experience my first NFL game," Perry said. "I think I've come a long way from training at Navy in the pre-draft process to where I'm at now."
Development isn't exclusive to the individual. The collective units take the approach, as Boyer said, of growing and developing together. Linebacker Elandon Roberts opined about Miami's defensive identity Thursday, ultimately landing on growth and improvement as the team's calling card.
"We're playing good defense but we're still trying to get that identity," Roberts said. "We have so much growth to still go before we even create our identity. That comes between playing good football each week on first, second and third down."
The Dolphins will put the No. 1 ranked scoring defense (18.6 points per game allowed) on the line Sunday in Arizona against an explosive Cardinals offense and quarterback in Kyler Murray.
Thursday Injury Report
Dolphins: Running back Myles Gaskin was placed on injured reserve.
Running back Matt Breida (hamstring) did not practice and cornerback Jamal Perry (foot) was limited on Thursday.
Cardinals: Running back Kenyan Drake (ankle) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did not practice on Thursday.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and linebackers Zeke Turner (toe) Jordan Hicks (ankle/writs) were all limited at Thursday's Cardinals practice.
For the rest of the Dolphins-Cardinals Week 9 injury report, click here.