The 2019 Dolphins were the youngest team in the NFL. After an offseason that resulted in plenty of turnover, Miami enters 2020 with the league's second-youngest roster. Only Jacksonville, by .12 years of average age, will open the season with lower average age than Miami.
Active in free agency and with 14 draft picks scheduled prior to the event, an area of emphasis for the Dolphins was acquiring leadership and setting positive examples for what was certain to be a young team.
Setting the example
Cornerback Byron Jones sets an example with his on-field acumen, but also demonstrating what it looks like to be a pro in every aspect of the job. The youngest player in the NFL, first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, has quickly earned praise from the veteran for his work habits.
"First, Noah's a really good player," Jones said. "One thing that's really special about Noah is his maturity, the way he really approaches the game. He's in the meetings early with coach, he's in the meetings late. He's taking notes, he's very responsive to criticism. He responds well to good plays and bad plays. It's really cool to see a young guy like that come into the league and be so prepared."
The expectation is the same for all 53 players on the Dolphins roster. Brain Flores discussed the mindset he wants his team to play with when they open the season Sunday in New England.
"One play at a time. That's always the mindset. Good play, bad play, penalty, touchdown, give up a touchdown – just move on to the next play," Flores said. "Every play is an experience. I learned that early in my coaching career. Good or bad, you learn from it. The one thing you don't want to do is take the good plays and think about those the entire game. You don't want to take the bad plays and think about those the entire game either. Move on to the next play; but learn from it. We have to have our best communication, our best execution late in the game. That would be my message."
Conveying that message is an integral part of leadership. Ted Karras, at the ripe age of 27, is one of the greybeards on the offensive line. He, along with 28-year-old Jesse Davis and 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick were chosen by their peers to captain the offense. Karras expressed the gratitude he felt upon learning of the selection.
"It was a distinct honor and I'm very honored that my peers thought of me that way and it puts even more pressure on I want to do everything right," Karras said. "Obviously I was trying to do that anyway, but I want to do my very best for this team so that we can put our best season out there. As an elected leader I'm very excited about this upcoming campaign."
This one's for you, Miami
Like Karras and Jones, Kyle Van Noy is just four days away from his Dolphins debut. Though he's only been here for six months, the linebacker has inherent pride and desire for bringing a winner to the South Florida area.
"I've been given a lot and I hope to give others a lot. I'm blessed to be a part of this," Van Noy said. "I know what winning looks like and structurally, Flores – I respect him a lot. He's doing a really, really good job. We're not taking any shortcuts. I wasn't here last year but the guys, you can tell, work their ass off; and this year, we continued that. For me to be a part of that and to be elected a captain from my peers, I'm honored and just hope that we can take this first game – it's a big game – and that's what they want to do, that's what we want to do.
What will Sunday look like?
This year has been unprecedented in more ways than one can count. Sunday, the Dolphins will buckle the chinstrap for a football game for the first time since last December. In the absence of preseason games, Flores knows this year's opener will look different.
"Given no preseason, no one has played a football game in a long time. It's hard to think somebody can jump out there and play 60, 70, 80 snaps," Flores said. "There will be a handful of guys who we will expect to go the whole way; but for the most part, we are thinking along the lines of somebody is probably going to need a blow here. I think every team has that same thought process."
The last game Jones played was in a Cowboys uniform. Asked about the challenges of preparing for a team that's known for its adaptability in New England, the Dolphins cornerback says everyone in the NFL is entering a week of unknown.
"I think the biggest challenge right now is just the fact that it's the first game of the season," Jones said. "We don't really know – obviously they have a different quarterback. It's just adjusting to that, really; and like I said earlier, what it comes down to is us. It's how we come to the game, how we tackle, how we really execute on down to down basis. That's what it really comes down to."
The former MVP under center
Facing a quarterback with over 5,000 career rushing yards and 60 touchdowns on the ground (playoffs included) presents unique challenges on defense. Van Noy talked about the obstacles a quarterback with the ability to beat you on the ground presents.
"That man is a gamer," Van Noy said. "He knows how to play to his strengths. He's a really good passer. He can throw on the run really, really well. But the Cam effect is definitely the running. Being able to have that as, I guess, your third option – hand the ball off, throw and then be able to run and create something out of nothing – it's tough to guard. We have our hands full and we're doing everything we can to prepare for it; but we're excited for the challenge. We know how good he is and we respect him as a player."
Flores continued that thought.
"Cam's obviously extremely talented. He can extend plays and make every throw," Flores said. "Obviously you want to contain him and keep him in the pocket. That's easier said than done. You want to continue to be aggressive, but he's a good player. If you are too aggressive and he slips through or finds a step-up space, he can hurt you. It's going to be a great challenge for us."
"Read your keys, play with good fundamentals and technique, follow your rules," Flores said "I think those are the main points that we're talking about defensively every week."
Jones saw Newton last year as a member of the Cowboys. He offered analysis on the Patriots quarterback from a cornerback's perspective.
"Cam is extremely talented. He's a guy that's going to make plays. Our job on defense is to read our keys, do what we're taught, fundamentals," Jones said. "That's what it's really going to come down to, especially early in the season. Tackling, knowing the plays, understanding what the offense wants to do to the defense depending on the offensive set. It's just a game of focus and attention to the details really."
Wednesday injury report
Miami listed six players as limited participants in Wednesday's practice. 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 five players on its Wednesday report. Offensive lineman Yodney Cajuste (knee) and linebacker Cassh Maluia (knee) did not participate while wide receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and Gunner Olszewski (foot), as well as defensive lineman Chase Winovich (shoulder) were limited participants.