Most games in the NFL feature a player going up against his former team. Through four games in 2020, the Dolphins have had at least one former Patriot, Bill, Jaguar and Seahawk on the active roster. Sunday in San Francisco, Matt Breida will face the team he nearly captured a Lombardi Trophy with for the first time since his 49ers departure.
Despite the familiarity, it's business as usual for the Dolphins running back.
"It's cool going back against my former team, but I'm going to treat it just like another game," Breida said. "I talk to those guys almost every week because we're still close but we don't talk about the game."
In prior media availabilities, Breida has compared the atmosphere of this Dolphins locker room to the first few 49ers teams he played on. Young, hungry, motivated players who love to compete were among the similarities.
The two-time reigning fastest man in the NFL (2018 and 2019 fastest measured top speed) revisited the topic Thursday.
"Guys here love to compete. But it's also how close the team is," Breida said. "We don't have a lot of egos on the team. We have a lot of young guys that are playing right now and it's a process. We're right there. We've been in every game so far but we're 1-3 so we have to learn how to finish as a team and I think we're close."
Breida's backfield companion – Myles Gaskin – is one of those hungry youngsters Breida referenced. Gaskin, a seventh-round draft pick in 2019, played just 125 snaps as a rookie. This season, four games in, he's surpassed that number by a substantial amount with 180 reps.
Thursday, Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores talked about the increased workload and how the second-year back earned his current role on the offense.
"Last season, you could see even when he was inactive, he was in here on his off days training," Flores said. "He and Patrick Laird were training on their own. I'd walk into the bubble and they'd be off in the corner with bands and just trying to get better."
Both Breida and Gaskin will look to get the running game going against San Francisco. Two players that could potentially factor into that plan are Julién Davenport and Robert Hunt. Austin Jackson missed his second straight practice on Thursday after injuring his foot Sunday against Seattle. Flores said this morning that Jackson has made some progress this week and we'll see how the rest of the week goes.
The rookie, Hunt, has played sparingly this season in Miami's heavy package as the sixth offensive lineman. Though it's a new position to him, Hunt says the learning curve wasn't steep as many of the rules for the position are the same.
"It's pretty much the same as the tackle. Same scheme," Hunt said. "Everything ties in together. It wasn't a hard position to learn, it's pretty much the same as offensive line."
Dolphins fans know all too well about the eligible lineman reporting to the official who then announces his eligibility to the entire stadium. If given the chance, would Robert Hunt be able to duplicate Jumbo Elliott's Monday night moment?
"I used to call myself a little Randy Moss back in the day," Hunt laughed. "I think I have good hands."
Hunt certainly isn't afraid to have some light-hearted fun in a press conference, but there is one thing he's afraid of – lizards.
"That's like my biggest fear – the little lizards," Hunt said. "I'm really afraid of those; but I'm kind of used to them now seeing them. I don't really run from them. I just look at them."
Davenport was called upon Sunday to fill in for the injured Jackson. He played 25 snaps and didn't allow a single quarterback pressure in the game. Thursday, he talked about the maturation of Hunt and the self-policing nature of the offensive line room.
"(Robert Hunt)'s definitely progressed a lot," Davenport said. "We hold each other accountable and making sure everybody is maximizing their efforts to improve their game. We all talk to the young guys to make sure their technique is as good as it can be and their game is as good as it can be. He's been on a steady up-and-up and I like the way he's progressing."
Technique, fundamentals and rules have to be sharp to get a win in this league, especially on the road against a team that play for a championship a year ago. The 49ers execute their scheme and their plan as well as anybody in the league and Flores knows the challenges this game will provide his Dolphins team on Sunday, particularly in the running game.
"We've got a great challenge in the run game this week against Kyle (Shanahan)'s run offense," Flores said. "(They have) good backs, a good offensive line, tight ends who block and then just schematically, these guys do a good job creating angles and putting themselves in good position to rattle off big runs. This will be a big, big challenge for us."
Dolphins linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill believes the front seven is defending the run better in recent weeks. He credits better chemistry for the improved results.
"We're just feeling more comfortable with the scheme and the game plan and with each other," Grugier-Hill said. "We're learning how to play off each other. The d-line and linebackers are playing more in sync. There's always room for improvement but I think every week we're progressing."
Stopping the run is always important, but so is preventing big plays in the passing game. Grugier-Hill says he takes a lot of pride in his role as a coverage linebacker.
"That's a part of the game that I really pride myself on. Especially my role right now on coverage downs," Grugier-Hill said. "For me it's about whoever I'm on just try to dominate that phase."
Thursday Injury Report
The Dolphins listed 10 players on the Thursday report:
Full participation: safeties Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) and Kavon Frazier (shoulder), cornerbacks Byron Jones (groin/Achilles) and Xavien Howard (knee), wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle), guard Solomon Kindley (foot)
Limited participation: defensive end Shaq Lawson (shoulder)
Did not participate: tight end Durham Smythe (knee), tackle Austin Jackson (foot), running back/wide receiver Malcolm Perry (illness)
The 49ers listed 12 players on the Thursday injury report:
Full participation: wide receivers Trent Taylor (ankle) and Dante Pettis (knee), safety Jimmie Ward (wrist)
Limited participation: quarterback Jimmy Garappolo (ankle), linebacker Dre Greenlaw (quadricep), running back Raheem Mostert (knee), cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring)
Did not practice: defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (biceps), cornerbacks K'Wuan Williams (knee/hip), Dontae Johnson (groin) and Emmanuel Moseley (concussion), wide receiver Deebo Samuel (illness)