Entering April's NFL Draft with 14 picks, the Dolphins were always going to field a young team for the 2020 season. After acquiring Matt Breida in a trade and by maneuvering around the draft board, Chris Grier ultimately made 11 picks and signed 10 undrafted free agents.
The result: 38 first or second-year players on the Dolphins roster at press time.
Brian Flores opened his Saturday by addressing a question about some of the challenges a young player faces this early in the process.
"I think that's fair to say that for any player that's new, that's young, that's in a new system, new environment; there's going to be some mistakes," Flores said. "I think you could say that for any young player and really quite honestly, for any veteran player as well. I think if you're in this league, it's because you're talented."
Youth in the trenches acclimating quickly
Eight of those 38 first- or second-year players are on the offensive line with three arriving via the 2020 NFL Draft. Austin Jackson was the second of three first-round picks (No. 18 overall), Robert Hunt came off in the second round (No. 39 overall) and Solomon Kindley inspired a trade up in the fourth round (pick No. 111 overall) for Miami to secure his services.
Coming from opposite corners of the country – Jackson out of USC, Hunt from Louisiana-Lafayette and Kindley a Georgia product – the three descended upon Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine back in February. There, with players grouped alphabetically, the three newest members of the Dolphins offensive line became familiar with one another prior to their Miami arrivals.
"It's crazy because I think Austin (Jackson) said the other day, 'could you all imagine all three of us would have been at the Miami Dolphins at the Combine?'" Kindley said. "Because at the Combine, they split us up into groups and I was like No. 28, Austin was like No. 30 and Rob (Hunt) was like No. 25; and we were all with each other the whole Combine. Look, God blessed us to be in this position that we're in. Like I said, those are my guys. Those are my boys. I'm glad to be with them."
Kindley is enigma. He's listed at 339 pounds – he says he weighs 335 – and he earned the nickname 'Big Fish' from his work as a lifeguard. Competing on the football field is a given, but Kindley has similar confidence in the swimming pool, as Robert Hunt quickly learned.
"I think we raced one time and yeah, he got the best of me that time. The pool is kind of small so he kind of bumped me out of the way. That's why he won," Hunt said through a laugh and a smile. "No, he actually is really good in the pool, though."
All three rookies mentioned the veteran leadership as a significant factor in bringing the learning process up to speed.
"They're just teaching me how to be a pro," Kindley said. "Eating right, studying the film, writing down all the notes that need to be done when the coach is talking to me in a meeting, making sure I'm 30, 45 minutes to meetings early or I've got to lift, getting up early, getting my day started; and then not only that – teaching me a game of football, like stuff that most people won't see that I've got to see."
Jackson, the youngest of the bunch, celebrated his birthday two weeks ago, but not how you'd expect a 21-year-old to observe the big day.
"The turn-up was in the ice tub after practice," Jackson said with a chuckle.
Only one year earlier, Jackson was recovering from a bone marrow transplant procedure that put the 325-pound lineman on his back and away from a football field for weeks. Without the benefit of an offseason lifting and conditioning program, Jackson still logged 926 snaps in his final season at USC. Now, Jackson feels stronger and improved in both areas.
"I'm a year older than I was last year. I've had a year more of training," Jackson said. "I'm working with a great organization right now. I think that it's getting better. We've got great guys on both sides of the line. I like to get after it. We all like to get after it and it's a lot of fun."
One of the guys who has been getting after it on the other side of the ball is fellow rookie Raekwon Davis. Davis, who had his jersey ripped off by Jackson during Saturday's practice, didn't need a number for identification; his play brought plenty of attention own its own.
Davis was in the backfield with regularity. He was putting blockers on the ground and impacting the Dolphins' offensive work both against the run and the pass. Coming out of Alabama, Davis caught Kindley's eye in their college battles and the two are continuing a fight three years in the making as professionals in Miami.
"He's a stud. I've been going against him for three years straight in the SEC," Kindley said. "Raekwon is Raekwon. Raekwon is a very good player. He helps me out on certain stuff on the field and I help him out with certain stuff, too."
Brian Flores discussed the offensive line room and the challenges of getting five players up to speed with communication and playing as one singular unit opposed to five individual entities.
"I'd say the offensive line unit is a little different in that you need five guys who perform well together, so there's some communication that goes with that," Flores said. "There's some experience that goes with that. We have to get all three of them up to speed pretty quickly to do that; but look, if they're the five most talented players and that gives us to have some success, then we would have to do that."
Value of the sage old veteran
Youth is the common thread across most of the Dolphins roster. The oldest player, and the only one north of age 30, is perhaps the most childlike of them all when watching from afar.
Ryan Fitzpatrick missed Friday's practice for personal reasons, but made an emphatic return on Saturday. After lobbing a perfect pass downfield for a walk-in 60-yard touchdown to Preston Williams in the team period of practice, the bearded 16-year vet made a signature Fitzpatrick play.
Working on goal line offense, Fitzpatrick rolled right looking to throw. Instead, he saw a lane and tucked the ball as he found paydirt. Fitzpatrick hurled the ball off the face of the building and celebrated the score in sheer jubilation by pounding his fists on the window peering into the team cafeteria.
His career is old enough to get its driver's license and he's still enjoying it as much as anyone on the field.
Fitzpatrick had a strong day throwing the football on time and on target while spreading the wealth across his receivers, tight ends and backs. One play in particular stood out as Fitzpatrick had to find Matt Breida to convert on a third-and-short situation. Pressure was in Fitzpatrick's face, but he was able to get the ball over the outstretched arms of Kyle Van Noy and to his speedy back to move the chains.
The main event matchup
Earlier this week, Dolphins safety Eric Rowe discussed his conversion from cornerback to playing inside among the trash (in the trenches) as a safety.
"I guess once I started covering tight ends, it was just already a done deal," Rowe said. "So the minute I heard it, I was not thrown back, but I was like, 'okay, we've got to help the team.'"
At Dolphins camp, covering tight ends means getting a piece of Mike Gesicki. In 2019, the second-year pro tied for seventh in touchdowns (5) and 12th in receiving yards (570) among his positional contemporaries.
First, the day started off with inline blocking in the individual period, working on technique in the run game. Rowe showed the mindset that gave Flores and new Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer confidence to move the former cornerback inside. Rowe plays physical and aggressive down in the muck and was involved on a pair of tackles in the backfield during the team period. He also forced an incompletion on a pass from Fitzpatrick to Gesicki with an impressive reroute at the line of scrimmage.
Gesicki ate up some yardage in the passing game, however. His first reception came on a quick-hitter when Fitzpatrick found the 6-foot-6 tight end in space allowing Gesicki to take off for a big run after the catch. He wasn't done.
Gesicki got vertical on two occasions for big plays, including a reception where the Miami tight end snatched the ball at its highest point and pulling it down like a rebound off the backboard.
Williams and Gesicki gained chunk yardage in the passing game, as mentioned previously. On the ground, it was Jordan Howard who hit a big run for the fifth-straight day of padded practices.
Howard showed his patented patience at the line and allowed the big guys up front (Ted Karras, Ereck Flowers and Solomon Kindley) to hit crucial blocks to spring the new Dolphins running back into the secondary. Howard met Rowe in the second level of the defense for a would-be big collision in a game situation.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa found the end zone on a pass to Adam Shaheen in goal line work. The rookie quarterback surveyed a few options as he rolled to his left before firing a strike to the new tight end in the middle of the end zone.
Attendance, injuries and roster updates
Kavon Frazier missed his second consecutive day of practice for personal reasons. Jerome Baker was not at practice but is day-to-day according to Flores.
"It's day-to-day," Flores said. "He's getting treatment. He's doing everything he can to get better. There's guys getting nicked up in training camp. We're out there in pads. It's hot, so we'll see. He's kind of going through some treatment this morning, last night."
The Miami Dolphins today announced they have signed safety Nate Holley.
Holleyoriginally entered the NFL on June 8, 2018 when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams. He spent training camp there before he was waived on Sept. 2, 2018. Holley also spent time with the Nebraska Danger of the Indoor Football League (2018) and the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (2019). He was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie following the 2019 season after he totaled 78 defensive tackles, 22 special teams tackles, one sack and one interception in 18 games.
Josh Rosen moved the chains on a third-and-long with a well-located pass to Mack Hollins. Hollins worked through traffic on a crossing route and Rosen sat his receiver down with a well-located pass at the sticks.
DeVante Parker makes one-handed catches with ease. At times, it looks like he's playing with a nerf football. He and Williams have been game breakers each day in practice, including some must-see matchups with Byron Jones. Jones did the seemingly impossible on Saturday when Parker got behind the Miami defense on a takeoff route. He elevated and caught the ball, but Jones put a punch directly on the ball and separated it from Parker.
Bobby McCain was in the area on that pass. He was fired up at the play made by Jones. On the topic of McCain, he's been all over the field, playing fast in his second year at his new position.
Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Kamu Grugier-Hill all had splash plays disrupting the offensive backfield during the team portion of practice.
Sam Eguavoen displayed impressive work as a rusher in one-on-one drills going up against the running backs. Eguavoen ranked fourth among all NFL linebackers in quarterback pressures in 2019 (23 pressures)
Nik Needham continues to get his hands on footballs. He's had a solid week both in the run game and against coverage with minimal completions allowed.
Next time out
Sunday will feature a walk-through and then we are back at it again for Day 6 on Monday.