Making the Most of an Opportunity
In a sport and league full of tropes, perhaps none are more cliché than the famed, 'next man up' mentality. It's one thing to speak to a team's depth and ability to perform with significant snap takers sidelined. It's another to live it.
Entering the game Sunday, Miami was without linebacker and do-it-all-defender Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy played 270 of the Dolphins 316 defensive snaps in the first five games. During Sunday's game, Andrew Van Ginkel and Kamu Grugier-Hill left with injuries (Grugier-Hill would return), cutting into the Dolphins linebacker depth.
Last winter, the Dolphins plucked Sam Eguavoen from the Canadian Football League. The 26-year old first-year player logged 620 snaps and produced the fifth-most quarterback pressures among off-ball linebackers, per Pro Football Focus.
Sunday, Eguavoen played 49 snaps and found himself in the opposing backfield again. He pressured Jets quarterback Joe Flacco twice and prevented any completions in coverage. Head Coach Brian Flores was pleased with Eguavoen's ability to step into the defensive huddle and contribute.
"We had a couple guys get nicked up in the game," Flores said. "Sam is a guy who can play multiple positions, plays in the kicking game, very smart, tackles well, can set an edge, hasn't gotten as many opportunities as maybe he did a year ago; but his number was called today and he was ready to go and made some plays for us early and got a lot of snaps. That's what we need."
"I move around – inside, outside, pass rushing," Eguavoen added on Monday. "I'm just ready for whenever my number is called and just do what I've got to do to help the defense."
The linebacker rush doesn't work without the down linemen occupying blockers and creating opportunities. The inverse of that statement also rings true. Eguavoen acknowledge the performance of the guys in front of him for making the linebackers' jobs easier.
"They work hard," Eguavoen said of the defensive line. "The way they use their hands and control blockers, it's crazy. Our linebackers coach, there's times in training camp where we'll be done watching film and he'll just pull up like d-line film, the way they're hitting the bags, the way they're hitting the sleds and everything like that. It's really a work of art of how much they truly emphasize things like that."
On defensive tackle Christian Wilkins' sack, he and Eguavoen teamed up on a pick stunt, a rush where one player screens the other's man. Eguavoen crashed into Wilkins' man and created space for him to come free and close down on the quarterback.
"Sam just did a good job setting me up," Wilkins said. "He did a counter move inside and just hit the center and I was able to come free. So I had to make sure I found Sam because I wouldn't have made that played without him. That's the great thing about football; it's the ultimate team sport, and definitely, I know for a fact I wouldn't have made that play without Sam."
The results on Sunday are a product of the team's work throughout the week. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has four sacks in his past three games, tied for second-most in the NFL in that span. Sunday, he talked about process of putting in the work throughout the week and trusting the game plan.
"It's just good film study, good coaching," Ogbah said. "Just let me go out there and do my thing and they trust me, I trust them. They put me in the right position to make plays."
While Ogbah's sack total gets the attention of Dolphins fans everywhere, it's the consistent nature by which Ogbah sets the edge, plays multiple positions and eat up double teams that really catches Flores' eye.
"He's played multiple positions, he's smart, he's tough," Flores said. "I think for a lot of people, the sacks are the big stat for a lot of people but I think he's doing a good job in the run game, setting the edge, tackling. When he has to deal with a double-team block, he deals with it and has no problem taking on a double and freeing up another guy. Those are the plays that aren't flash plays, but they are important plays for any team."
Ogbah is a half-sack short of tying his career high just six games into his first season with the Dolphins. Eguavoen, in his second year with the team, offered his evaluation of the team's chemistry and culture taking hold.
"I feel like we're the hardest working team in the NFL," Eguavoen said. "I feel like now we're working a little bit smarter. Guys are buying in."
Eguavoen followed up on his comment about working smarter.
"I think it's more like playing with anticipation," he added. "The coaches give us tip sheets and the film and everything like that. I feel like we're just buying into it more so now once we see all of the hard work and studying that we did throughout the week, once we go out there on the practice field, you're like 'oh, I remember this play.' It's just a little bit more relief on you rather than you just always reacting to everything."
Tight ends Durham Smythe and Mike Gesicki were brought to Miami via the same 2018 NFL Draft class. Their bond was instant and has carried over into a budding friendship as both players are approaching the mid-way point of their third NFL season.
The Mike and Smythe Show made its debut on the Dolphins social channel this summer where the tight ends ponder the important questions.
That friendship carries over to the field on Sundays. After his first career touchdown, Smythe detailed Gesicki's excitement about the play.
"The funny thing is Mike gets more excited when we score than when he does," Smythe said. "And when you see him in the end zone when he scores, he gets pretty damn excited, so that says something about him. He's always providing the energy."
The offseason theme of acquiring the right players for the Miami Dolphins – tough, smart, physical and disciplined players – is taking hold six weeks in to the new season. Center Ted Karras, who didn't allow a quarterback pressure on 32 pass-blocking snaps Sunday per PFF, embodies those traits.
In his Monday media availability, Karras commented on the Dolphins' player's accountability and self-policing.
"I think everyone just wants to do everything right, which is a good sign for our team," Karras said. "Everyone is striving to do the right thing. We're trending in the right direction, working really hard. We are holding each other accountable and it's a lot of fun to play on a team like that with a lot of big playmakers and a lot of talent."
The Dolphins have the weekend off before hosting the Rams on November 1 at Hard Rock Stadium. Flores says he and his staff will use the time to recharge and self-scout.
"It's always good to get some time to recharge," Flores said. "As a staff, we'll evaluate really every aspect of what we're doing here from schedules to personnel to scheme – what we're doing from a scheme standpoint offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. What are we doing well? What are we not doing well? Do we need to play somebody more or less? Things that could potentially help our team."