It took all of one word for Eric Rowe to describe how he's feeling at the conclusion of Day 2 of padded practices in the scorching Davie sun.
"Sore," Rowe said with an ear-to-ear smile on an interview that will debut on our Thursday premier of the Drive Time video show.
As the old adage goes, 'the only way to get into football shape is to play football.' Brian Flores maintains a consistent message about improving, controlling what "we" can control, and playing with a sense of urgency. That urgency remains on display as the Dolphins cram as much activity into a 100-minute session as possible.
On the topic of adages, the old-school coaches – and, frankly, new-school coaches – will insist that showing up on time means being late. The scoreboard at both ends of the practice field tracks the time until the next drill, including a countdown to the start of practice.
Right at 10:06 A.M., as the Dolphins were scheduled to begin the second day of padded practice, each of the quarterbacks were under center ready to begin the first drill. The airhorn that signals the start of practice coincided with the cadence of the quarterbacks to kick off that drill – no time wasted.
That's how practices are conducted here. The players run, not a jog, but a sprint from drill to drill. Adequate rest and water breaks are built into the schedule, but drilling fundamentals and technique are principal – especially when guys are tired.
Get better, every day, no matter what
The team period (11 on 11) draws all the eyes from those in attendance at practice. But it's the individual drills where players can fine-tune their craft and techniques that will serve to produce better results in the team period.
Dolphins safety Eric Rowe points to both the level of competition on the practice field, but also his work on the finer points of his game as a reason he was able to successfully make the transition in 2019 from cornerback to safety.
"My offseason training was working on my man technique, press – because I know that's like 90 percent of our defense playing man," Rowe said. "I just kept with the same offseason training, just working on my feet, working on my hands, working on my route technique and then I know it's usually supposed to be OTAs, but now this year it's training camp, working on a lot of run fits, kind of seeing the run quicker, working with all that."
Before practice began, Flores was asked about the construction of the roster based on competition and if the rookies were involved in those ensuing battles.
"I would say it certainly involves the rookies," Flores said. "I'm anxious to see who rises to the top at all positions. I thought (Monday) was a good day of fundamentals and technique, running the football, getting in and out of the huddle, communication. I thought the guys did a good job from that standpoint. Hopefully we'll build on that. From a competition standpoint, we want it at every position. We feel like we kind of created a situation where there would be a lot of competition."
Competition has been the theme of Flores' program since he arrived in Miami. In his rookie year as a head coach, Flores saw wide receiver DeVante Parker enjoy the most productive season of his career with over 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Flores was asked about the contributing factors to Parker setting career highs in all major categories, as well as landing near the top of the leaderboard among NFL receivers in 2019.
"I know (DeVante) was working extremely hard from a conditioning standpoint, catching balls, route-running," Flores said. "With DeVante, I don't really have to push many buttons. He's a self-starter. He's self-motivated. He's a competitive guy. I think he pushes himself and occasionally I'll find the right buttons to push. For him, there really aren't many. I like where he's at."
Be a good teammate
Prioritizing football and being a selfless player are two of Flores' core tenets. Acquiring linebacker Elandon Roberts not only reunited Flores with a former pupil, it also brought leadership and a team-first mindset into the locker room.
"Every day I walk into the building, I just try to be the best teammate I can be – the best coachable player I can be, the best leader I can be," Roberts said. "That's all."
Flores isn't the only former colleague Roberts is joining forces with once more in Miami. Roberts and Kyle Van Noy spent four years together in New England. There, the two linebackers forged a special bond that extends beyond the football field.
"Great family guy. Our kids are like two or three weeks apart," Roberts said. "Me and Kyle have a great relationship. Whatever (the coaches) ask us to do, we're going to do it. That's throughout the whole team. Every guy kind of has the same mindset on the team: do my job, be physical doing my job, have fun and be a great teammate."
Back on offense, Parker wasn't the only pass-catching threat who enjoyed a late-season surge. Mike Gesicki caught 23 passes for 276 receiving yards and five touchdowns over the final six games of the 2019 season. He talked about the importance of helping the other pass catchers get friendlier matchups by winning the one-on-one opportunities when presented.
"To have (Parker and Preston Williams) on the outside, I think it's hard to send more attention to a tight end or to a slot or anything inside just because of the threats that they are in their individual positions," Gesicki said. "When you get your man-to-man or when you get your single coverage, you have to be able to win and dominate your matchups, this way there is more trust in you to go out and make plays. Then also maybe you can draw a little more attention to those guys who are getting their opportunities, as well."
The main event matchup
One-on-ones on the offensive line vs. the defensive line is the very essence of football, according to one observer, anyway. A heavyweight bout. Two behemoths battling it out in the trenches for superiority.
Tuesday, a pair of winners emerging from either side of the drill. On an unofficial scorecard, Ereck Flowers and Christian Wilkins acquitted themselves well. The two split a pair of head-to-head matchups, but inflicted pain on their counterparts.
Wilkins – who racked up 24 quarterback pressures over the final 10 games of 2019 – showed off his quickness and power combination. Frequently, Wilkins would get on the outside shoulder, under the pads of the opposing offensive linemen and reposition to shed the block en route to the passer.
Flowers – who allowed just two quarterback hits and no sacks over the final nine games of 2019 – flexed his sheer power. He was immoveable; an anchor that parked all passersby dead in their tracks.
Bobby McCain celebrated his 27th birthday with a pair of big plays in the team period of practice. The first – an interception – where McCain was floating in coverage, keyed a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass to the middle of the field, and broke on the ball to secure the takeaway.
Just two plays later, Fitzpatrick tried to shoot one into the turkey hole (the name for the soft spot behind the cornerback and underneath the safety) after Jakeem Grant flashed open. With Noah Igbinoghene hot on Grant's trail, McCain flew over from his center field position and broke up the pass just as it arrived in Grant's arms.
McCain was working on tracking deep passes in the individual portion of practice – always a good sign to see the drills bleed over into the scrimmage period.
DeVante Parker is a full-fledged play maker. He skied over defenders for a pair of big plays Monday and did the same on Tuesday. Parker tracked a deep shot in another must-see-event between he and cornerback Byron Jones. Jones was in terrific position; but as we learned last year, that doesn't even make up half the battle when defending Parker.
Parker also shook free on a quick-hitting slant pattern. He secured the catch, ran through an arm tackle and was off to the races before getting tagged-off (a simulated tackle) some 30-40 yards downfield.
Chester Rogers also caught a slant – this one from Tua Tagovailoa – and as he worked up field had the ball knocked loose by defensive back Nate Brooks. The defense recovered and, deservedly so, celebrated the takeaway.
Eric Rowe talked about the defense's emphasis on takeaways this season.
"This year we're putting a huge emphasis on getting the ball – like getting an interception, getting the pick, batting the balls, tipping the balls to get a pick – however we've got to get it, that's our huge emphasis for this year and it starts right now in training camp," Rowe said. "We've even got a point board. Like whoever can get the ball out, everybody's got like a little point list. That's how far we're emphasizing it."
Mack Hollins scored a chunk play of his own on a deep crossing pattern. Hollins pushed up field, broke across the face of the safety and turned back to the quarterback. Just as he turned, the ball met him at the intersection off the left hand of Tagovailoa for a huge pickup.
Attendance and injuries
Xavien Howard and Preston Williams were not on the field for Tuesday's practice. Vince Biegel was taken off by the training staff on a cart.
Fitzpatrick talked about Isaiah Ford's dependability and his knowledge of the offense earlier this offseason. Today, that trust was on display as Ford pulled in four catches during the 11-on-11 portion of practice uncovering from tight coverage quickly at the line.
Gesicki pulled in a couple of passes of his own including an impressive assertion of his physical prowess. The third-year tight end caught a quick-hitter on a route to the flat, turned up field and lowered his shoulder on a would-be tackler – key word, would-be.
Ted Karras held his own against a variety of strong bull rushes during the pit drill. On back-to-back occasions Raekwon Davis (6-7, 330 pounds) and Zach Sieler (6-6, 297 pounds) met Karras at the point and hit the proverbial wall.
Austin Jackson showcased two of the traits the both Chris Grier and Brian Flores documented as big draws for acquiring the 6-5, 325-pound tackle. His length and athleticism make it difficult to beat him with speed, but also give him a great recovery step. He ran plenty of pass rushers around the edge throughout the course of the practice.
Rookie defensive end Jason Strowbridge pursued a successful screen pass from Josh Rosen to Patrick Laird down the opposite sideline 20 yards downfield – impressive hustle and effort.
We'll be back at it tomorrow – same time, same place.