Addressing the issues
Balance is everything, especially in these contentious times. With plenty of work to get done on the field, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores used the first 20 minutes of Friday's practice to connect his team.
Before stretching began – which signals the start of another humid, competitive practice -- the team gathered around their coach. After Flores made the initial address, a variety of players and coaches took turns, speaking presumably about the recent events in this country. Byron Jones, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bobby McCain, Jesse Davis, Jakeem Grant, Ted Karras, Brandin Bryant, Kavon Frazier, Marion Hobby, Gerald Alexander, Davon Godchaux, and Raekwon McMillan took their turns at the proverbial podium before Flores concluded the roundtable.
In Flores' pre-practice press conference, the first question posed was about what to expect from the team in light of what's happening in our country.
"We all know and understand that things aren't where they need to be right now and we're going to meet later today and just talk about some things we can put into action so that we can try to make a difference, create some change," Flores said. "I've lived this. I grew up in this era. I've had guns pointed at me by police officers. This is not something I take lightly or this team takes lightly. I've had multiple conversations. They've spoken to you. There's other experiences that guys on our team have had that are unfortunate. We need change."
It's difficult to transition from a topic as paramount as social justice. Flores made that jump with a comment about what he's looking to take away from Friday's work on the field.
"Good fundamentals, good technique, good communication. We'll have the officials there, so we'll get a good look as far as playing the right way," Flores said. "We're a young team, so we're just kind of trying to build the continuity. A lot of these guys haven't played together. We're still in the beginning stages from that standpoint, so we've got a long way to go."
A good ol' fashion barn burner
Every day at Dolphins practice is a competition. Friday, the two units (offense and defense) took to their respective sidelines before a back-and-forth affair. The defense came out swinging but the offense responded in the second half of practice to score their fair share of victories.
After a long completion from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Preston Williams, the defense tightened the screws against any and all contenders on the Dolphins offense. New defensive end Shaq Lawson had two sacks on the day and provided the pressure on the aforementioned Fitzpatrick-to-Williams bomb. Lawson, who had a career-high 40 quarterback pressures last season, gets around the corner quickly with a deep arsenal of rush moves and ability to flatten and bend the edge.
Rookie safety Brandon Jones made a pair of tackles near the line of scrimmage and got his hands on a pass in the end zone. Jones closed down on an in-breaking route and beat the receiver to the football.
Lawson provided the pressure, Jones sniffed out the passing game, and Jerome Baker and Eric Rowe provided reinforcement against the run. Rowe consistently works to hold up blocks and put hits on the backs, while Baker has perpetually been in good position this camp against the Miami running game. Whether he's coming clean or fighting through a block, the Dolphins linebacker is making life hard on the team's ball carriers.
The running back returning the favor first on Friday was Myles Gaskin. Flores talked about his evaluation of the run game without live tackling earlier this week.
"There is contact defensively on our offensive and defensive lines, so you get a pretty good feel for who is getting yards, who would break what tackle," Flores said. "But at the running back position, are they making the right cut? The blocking, from a protection standpoint, has been good for the most part, at least as far as knowing who to block and where to go. In the pass game, I think they're doing a good job in the pass game as well. It's a good group, a lot of competition."
We'll check back in on Gaskin in the big plays segment.
After a couple of series of defensive wins, the offense came to life.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw back-to-back touchdowns to Adam Shaheen and Malcolm Perry. Both scoring strikes came from 15 yards out on well-placed passes.
Ereck Flowers rarely pops up in the notes, typically a sign that he's executing his job. He created a massive hole on a big run that we'll cover in the big plays segment.
Preston Williams caught a touchdown from Ryan Fitzpatrick in red zone work, and the Dolphins backs found pay dirt on several occasions with the wealth being shared. Gaskin, Jordan Howard, Matt Breida and Chandler Cox all had rushing touchdowns on Friday.
Dolphins defensive depth
With some spending cash and a boatload of draft picks, the Dolphins were an active participant upgrading the roster this offseason. In March, the team put a priority on improving the overall talent and strengthening its depth; plans that are bearing fruit so far in August workouts.
Each group has different players flashing every day.
On the defensive line, Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler made a handful of plays on Friday including a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
In the second level, Raekwon McMillan and Elandon Roberts continue to thump bodies in the run game. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Andrew Van Ginkel have shown a penchant for making plays in coverage and as rushers, while Kyle Van Noy and Jerome Baker do a little bit of everything.
In the secondary, Byron Jones and Noah Igbinoghene are among the most athletic corners – by testing metrics – in the league. Xavien Howard's physicality and ball skills are well-documented and the rest of the room (Nik Needham, Jamal Perry, Tae Hayes, Deatrick Nichols, Ken Webster and Breon Borders), have shown flashes at camp.
At safety, more plays were made on Friday. We covered Jones, but there might as well be two Bobby McCain's on the field this camp – he's been everywhere. Rowe's run defense has been an area of focus, but he had a big day closing down on short passes and running with tight ends as well.
On the second play of practice, Fitzpatrick dialed up a deep shot to Williams. Byron Jones was in perfect position but, as the saying goes, there's no defense for a perfect pass. The ball descended from the heavens perfectly into the breadbasket of Williams for a gain of 37 yards up the left sideline.
Fitzpatrick continued his aerial assault with a fastball down the seam to Jakeem Grant. Grant got down the field quickly, and Fitzpatrick got the ball out in similar fashion, as the speedy receiver flagged it down for a diving catch and a huge gain – roughly 40 yards.
Gaskin has scored from deep, short-range, in the air and on the ground this camp. He scored a pair of touchdowns in one period (one rushing and one receiving), showing his excellent vision and ability to transition as a route-runner and a one-cut slashing style of back.
Attendance, injuries and roster moves
Cornerback Xavien Howard was back for his first practice of training camp. He worked through individual drills but did not participate in the team period.
"He's progressing with obviously the COVID, the knee; so we felt like he was ready to get out there and participate in practice," Flores said. "And again, he's got a long way to go as far from a conditioning standpoint, drill work, communication with his teammates; so this is the first step."
Running back Patrick Laird also returned to practice. He was wearing a red jersey (no contact permitted).
Avery Moss re-signed with the team Thursday after being waived in July; he was back on the practice field Friday.
Wide receivers DeVante Parker and Kirk Merritt did not practice on Friday.
Next time out
We are back at beautiful Hard Rock Stadium for Saturday's scrimmage. As always, we'll have you covered both here on MiamiDolphins.com and on the Drive Time podcast.