"Adapt or die." That was Brian Flores' message during his media availability at the Scouting Combine back in February. In hindsight, that quote serves as a bit of ominous foreshadowing for the year the world would endure in 2020.
Thankfully, the best distraction on the planet returns tonight as the Chiefs take on the Texans to kick off a new football season; a season where adaptability will be critical for every team.
Global pandemic or otherwise, football has always been a game of adjustments. It used to be old Polaroid photographs. Now, we see players and coaches studying the tablet to analyze the previous snap or series and apply that information to the rest of the game. Take the greatest athletes on the planet and play the most complex game of chess in the universe: that's football.
"The players are out there on the field, they hear things, they see things. If you can get the players and coaches on the same page, then you can make some adjustments," Flores said. "Now, have there been times where everybody is getting doubled? There are only so many people on the field. So if this guy got doubled and I got doubled, and I got doubled – they just don't have that many guys. There has got to be some honesty and transparency there on both ends."
Dolphins safety Bobby McCain echoed Flores' disdain for bad information. Transparency regarding the result of a play is the key to correcting mistakes, the Miami captain says.
"False information is the worst information," McCain said. "So if you're giving good information when you come off to the sideline, that helps us be able to get adjusted and helps everyone around you to be able to play better."
Flores continued the thought by acknowledging the humor of exposing fibs the next day on film, but reinforcing the importance of keeping an open line of communication between player and coach.
"You look at the tablet and we have film. You just try to tell them, 'let's be honest,' and if you screwed up a play, then tell us about it and what happened and we'll get it fixed," Flores explained. "But, 'I got cut, I got doubled, eight guys got doubled,' – I've been in games where that's happened too. It's not funny in the moment; it's funny the day after, after you watch the tape and you see the one guy that got doubled and the other guys just couldn't beat a block. But yes, to answer your question, the in-game adjustments, you can make them, but it's got to be – the communication on both sides has to be transparent, it has to be honest. That would be my first thought. But, thank you; I'll remind the guys on that, too."
Jordan Howard's vision and ability to read blocks has been praised by many-a-football-pundit. Howard talked Thursday about how he absorbs information and escalates adjustments to the staff on game day from his perspective in the backfield.
"The first few series you see what they're showing so you tell your coach what you're seeing out there and then we'll take adjustments, maybe at halftime," Howard said. "Sometimes when you come out of halftime, they'll bring you something new because they make adjustments as well. Just constant communication with your coach and telling him what you're seeing and stuff like that, so he can relay it to who he needs to relay it to, so we can make the proper adjustments."
Leadership and communication
The Dolphins elected eight team captains for the 2020 season. Flores reiterated this week that the team, in all honesty, could've had several more with how deep the leadership qualities run on this Dolphins roster.
Davon Godchaux is among the names Flores listed that, despite not carrying the captain distinction, exudes leadership in the way he approaches the game and coaches up the younger players. Flores talked about the role of a leader and nurturing relationships within the team.
"The captains are guys who care about those relationships; but there's also a number of other guys who are very similar – like Godchaux," Flores said. "So it's always good to have those types of players on your team."
The fourth-year defensive lineman talked about his leadership role on the team.
"I feel like my leadership role is a big part of this team as a defensive lineman," Godchaux said. "Being my fourth year is coming on, I still feel like my leadership role is important. I'm just focusing on the team, just focusing on having a great season."
Perhaps the most important role of a leader is to facilitate communication. For McCain, getting the calls right from his safety position is the straw that stirs the defensive drink.
"Just making sure we're all on the same page because one thing, if we're all wrong, we're all right because at the end of the day we can get out of the play," McCain said. "You don't want to be wrong, but understanding that guys may be rotating, understanding that guys may be coming in up front, in the back end, no matter where it's happening; guys have to be on the same page. That's me as a communicator, as a signal-caller, understanding that we've got to have the guys on the back end on the same page."
Familiarity with the foe
Divisional opponents play twice a year. For the Dolphins and Patriots, Sunday's renewal of the rivalry will mark the 110th meeting between the two clubs all-time (Dolphins lead 56-53). Godchaux talked about the challenges of having such familiarity with an opponent like New England, who the defensive tackle will see for the seventh time in his career on Sunday.
"Don't get lulled to sleep," Godchaux said. "I think a lot of people, when they see the same guy each and every time, they're like 'I know this guy. I've been playing against him for three to four years.' That's where a lot of people go wrong. Don't get complacent. They have some great guys up front. They play together well as a team."
A trip to Gillette Stadium, for the better part of the last two decades, meant getting ready for an MVP quarterback. The player is different, but the MVP accolade is still there with Cam Newton (2015 NFL MVP). Dolphins defenders talked Thursday about the challenges the dual-threat signal caller presents.
"This dude was an MVP in our league. This dude was a Super Bowl runner-up," Godchaux said. "He still can make every throw. He still can outrun people. I'm still taking that same approach on Sunday. He's a professional. He gets paid just like I do."
"Just understanding that he's effective in both ways – in the run game and the pass game and making plays outside of the pocket," McCain said of Newton. "If a play breaks down, him being the athlete that he is, he can get out of the pocket and throw the ball downfield. So you have to understand as a safety, as deep defenders, as corners; you've got to plaster onto your guys and understand that the play's not over until it's over. Until the play's blown dead, it's not over because he is Cam. He is a good athlete. He can use his feet. He's mobile and he's got a good strong arm."
Miami listed seven played as limited participants in Thursday's practice. Safety Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) Cornerbacks Xavien Howard (knee) and Byron Jones (Achilles), tight end Mike Gesicki (glute), wide receivers DeVante Parker (hamstring) and Preston Williams (knee) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy (hand) appeared on the report. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip) was listed as a full participant.
New England listed seven players on its Thursday report. Offensive lineman Yodney Cajuste (knee) did not participate. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (hamstring) and tight end Dalton Keene (neck) were added on Thursday, both in a limited capacity. Wide receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and Gunner Olszewski (foot) were also limited and defensive lineman Chase Winovich (shoulder) was a full participant.