Urgency, player safety and a gameday atmosphere
Earlier this week, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores explained his reasoning for making it one-and-done with the 'Takes No Talent' wall. One of the storylines last August, the T.N.T. wall served as a reminder that failure to handle the basics would come with consequences. Staying onside, executing the quarterback-center exchange, catching the football, there's no tolerance for lacking in the very elementary fundamentals of the sport.
"From a scheduling standpoint, there's only so much time we can be out there," Flores said on Saturday. "So, as far as running to the wall or anything like that, I'd rather just get onto the next play and not lose a rep for another guy, which in other years that's not the case. I hammer these guys when we have penalties pretty good in the meetings. You can ask them about it and it's not something we take lightly at all."
Urgency has been one of the themes of camp, just as the health of the team has, too. Without any dress rehearsals in the absence of the preseason, Flores and his staff are finding ways to simulate game-like situations. For the second straight practice, the Dolphins were joined by officials to clear up any disputes about potential penalties.
"As you would imagine in a training camp setting, there's a lot of chatter about 'that would have been a foul,' or 'this would have been holding,' or 'this would have been pass interference.' It was good to get them out there," Flores said.
Chief among Flores' priorities this summer, the health of the football team. While practices have been physical, they've also been smart sessions. Amidst a few collisions, the team has done well to prevent players from going to the ground and getting tangled up unnecessarily.
"Maybe at some point we'll get some live tackling," Flores said. "As far as the live tackling in the scrimmage, we're actually going to go to the stadium and practice on Saturday. We may have live tackling there; we may not. We'll see then."
Learning to be a pro
Few players take a cozy path to NFL prominence. Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham ended the 2019 season with the third-most defensive snaps played (742) behind only linebacker Jerome Baker (1,079) and safety Eric Rowe (1,017). Undrafted players, like Needham, face an uphill climb with less than a five percent chance of making the opening day roster, on average.
Needham wasn't among those lucky few UDFAs – at first. He earned a Week 6 call up from the practice squad and never looked back. He ended the season with two interceptions, a sack and 54 tackles. The former UTEP Miner's journey could've come to a screeching halt before it ever got off the ground.
"I failed my first conditioning test, which was very embarrassing for me because I was one of the only ones and that was just being out of shape," Needham said. "So I was just always pushing my hardest to never be that guy again."
Drawing on his own experience, Needham altered the approach heading into Year 2. But he's not going at it alone. Needham also looks to new Dolphins cornerback, and former Pro Bowl selection, Byron Jones for an example to follow.
"Just how he approaches everything – practice, meetings – anything he does, he treats it just like the same thing and he just attacks it," Needham said. "He's very focused. He's very, very focused and he's very intellectual; so he gives me a bunch of tips."
It's just natural to me
Jones isn't the only former Cowboy now in Miami. Safety Kavon Frazier says his ability to fit the run has always come natural to him.
"Run fits to me is one of my strong suits. It just kind of comes natural to me," Frazier said. "During my time in Dallas, I was doing the same thing. I was down in the box a lot, filling in holes, filling in gaps, so this defense is just coming natural to me."
Frazier has 19 career run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage) on 173 run defense downs. That sure-tackling benefits him on defense as well as on special teams. With 17 career tackles as a special teams ace for the Cowboys, Frazier is ready to embrace whatever role the coaches in Miami have for him.
"It's definitely important (to earn reps on defense)," Frazier said. "But if they want me to play strictly punt and just coverage units, I'm cool with that. If they need me in on defense, I'm going to be ready for my opportunity when it comes."
Tight end Durham Smythe is well-aware of the glory – or complete lack thereof – that comes with the territory of playing the blocking tight end role in the NFL. To date, Smythe's played 662 offensive snaps with only 207 as a route runner. One of the focal points of a Notre Dame offense that led the nation in rushing during his senior season in 2017, Smythe isn't new to the unheralded nature of his job.
"You kind of throw yourself in the same boat in terms of not getting the recognition, just with the o-line, because those guys always say you only get the recognition when something bad happens," Smythe said.
The Dolphins ran 12-personnel (one back, two tight ends) 24 percent of the offensive snaps last season. Smythe paired with fellow 2018 draft pick Mike Gesicki on the majority of those snaps. According to Smythe, the two are leaning on each other to round-out their respective games, but also eliminate tendencies for opposing defenses to key on.
"I've kind of benefited from being in a room the last few years with guys who have natural talent in different ways," Smythe said. "I think with me and Mike (Gesicki) going into our third year here, we kind of took a step back after last year, and thought 'How can we benefit this offense by something more than just what we're good at personally?' I think we worked this offseason a lot on trying to become more versatile – more multiple – which I think will eventually kind of eradicate some of our tendency-based things within our offense."
Without an abundance of 11-on-11 plays to digest, we look at some of the standouts during the one-on-one portion of practice, which pits receivers and tight ends against defensive backs and offensive line vs. pass rushers.
- Davon Godchaux blew through the line on two occasions
- Zach Sieler has been a constant issue for his opposition, notably with his heavy hands
- Ereck Flowers is a rock – pure power and technique in pass protection
- Ted Karras logs a lot of wins, evident by his 3rd place finish in PFF pass blocking grade among centers over the final six games
- Shaq Lawson and Christian Wilkins seem to have developed a nice chemistry working on games creating rush lanes for one another
- Isaiah Ford consistently creates separation; and when he doesn't, he makes as many contested catches as anybody
- Preston Williams put a defensive back on the ground with a wicked release and route combination
- Opposing defenses probably shouldn't cover Matt Breida with a linebacker; he's slippery
- Noah Igbinoghene had two impressive reps that showcased his athletic profile and seamless change of direction ability
- Adam Shaheen and Kavon Frazier split a pair of reps against each other
Attendance, injuries and roster updates
Wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Preston Williams were back on the field Wednesday after missing Tuesday's practice. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was on the field for the second-consecutive day after leaving Monday's practice early.
Running back Patrick Laird and wide receiver Kirk Merritt didn't practice Wednesday. Running back Kalen Ballage and linebacker Sam Eguavoen left practice early, and offensive lineman Jesse Davis finished the day on the exercise bike.
Next time out
Thursday is a well-deserved day-off for the players; they'll be back on the field Friday. Tomorrow, we will hear from the Dolphins assistant coaches as they meet with the media.