There's a different energy at the Dolphins training facility when the pads go on. Everyone from the head coach to the person manning the front desk in the lobby smiles a little wider when the players hit the field in pads.
With only 27 days remaining on the countdown to kickoff in Week 1, everything is accelerated. Head Coach Brian Flores drills the importance of urgency in every workout, walk-through, meeting and practice. His players echo that message both with their hustle and their communication with the South Florida media.
"It's definitely time to get the pads on. Especially with just 27 days until we're kicking off, we need the work," said new Dolphins center Ted Karras. "We need to get our timing right and our fits right."
We heard from Karras, Flores and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jerome Baker on Monday. Sandwiched between those press conferences was a 90-minute practice session. Let's get to it with today's training camp recap.
New year, same message
"Let's focus on the technique and the fundamentals. It's the same techniques that we've been talking about except we're in pads," Flores said in his Monday press conference.
The structure of a Flores-led practice harbors no secrets about his emphasis on the fundamentals. The Dolphins' entire operation is a finely orchestrated machine with all the cranks and gears working in unison. Players know where to go, they get there with urgency and its wall-to-wall action during the practice.
Situational football is another staple of Flores' program. At one stage late in practice, coaches sounded the horn to move on from the 11-on-11 period to field goal work. Just as things were getting aligned, the horn blew again and the team rushed back into the live 11-on-11 period for one more play – a surprise challenge that the team responded to appropriately.
Discipline is another point of emphasis. Last year, the "T.N.T" (takes no talent) wall provided the roster with a reminder that without taking care of the basics, the rest can become a moot point. That focus produced the fourth-fewest penalties in the NFL a season ago.
A physical game
"They have more protection and we're going to let them go a little bit more today," Brian Flores said regarding a fully padded practice.
Flores is never short on intensity, but the meter cranks up a few more notches when he gets to talk about the on-field product. Last summer, Dolphins camp was a physical grind and the second year under Flores has a similar look. In between the 11-on-11 sessions, the Dolphins were competing live in a variety of drills, including open-field tackling.
Flores' preference for a physical team that can control the point of attack on either side of the ball is hardly a secret. The team spent free agent resources and draft capital to get bigger and stronger up front in the offseason. We saw the fruit of that offseason labor play out on the field with a smashmouth brand of ball.
"I think we have a really big team and big, physical players all along the line of scrimmage – even off the ball," Karras said. "It's a pleasure to go in there and cut my teeth with them and get better."
The Dolphins second level on defense – the linebackers – took turns defeating blocks with authority. Elandon Roberts had perhaps the most significant moment when he cleared a lane for Eric Rowe to strip the football for a Dolphins takeaway. Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Kyle Van Noy, Vince Biegel and Andrew Van Ginkel were all active in this regard.
Shaq Lawson, another new face on the Dolphins defense, made an immediate impact. He earned some praise from the sideline and had a chance to flex for a string of plays where he won in both elements – the run game and pass rush. Lawson swooped off the edge for a likely sack on one play, then held the point and created an opportunity for a teammate to make the next play; the latter the inspiration behind a Hulk flex in the offensive backfield.
Van Noy, an offseason acquisition, talked about the additions on defense including Miami's free agent defensive end signings in Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah.
"I wouldn't just say those two guys because collectively it takes the whole 11 – guys covering, to have the secondary like we have, to have the linebackers that can cover like we have, it takes all 11 of us to be on the same page, covering and rushing," Van Noy said. "I think if we just get it going on the same page, at a consistently high standard, I think we'll be alright. Those two guys are big dudes and I think they're going to get after the passer pretty good this year."
The Dolphins added a lot of beef up front on defense and along the offensive line, which sprung some lengthy runs on Monday. Two of the runs came from interior blocks by Ereck Flowers and Solomon Kindley – a pair of linemen that combine for 682 pounds.
"Everyone on our o-line is very talented and we're pushing each other and working very hard," Karras said. "I think as these next four weeks go, the best five players are going to play and obviously that's a coaching decision. I have nothing to do with that except working my hardest to make sure that I'm one of the five."
The tone for the entire practice was set when the receivers went up against the defensive backs in one-on-ones. The cornerbacks were aggressive early controlling the reps. Ken Webster scored a number of wins and Noah Igbinoghene showed the same competitiveness that his college coaches at Auburn praised.
The receivers took back the drill when Preston Williams ran a strong in-breaking route and caught it in traffic, then again on a deep shot with a one-handed catch.
The main event matchup
The receivers vs. defensive backs battle provided the most intriguing, repeated matchup of the day.
DeVante Parker and Byron Jones went head-to-head on three occasions in one-on-one coverage. All three reps were tightly contested by both with the Pro Bowl potential of each player on display. Jones scored a pair of wins but Parker got the best of Jones on the third with a slick corner route that was laid in perfectly by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Jakeem Grant made the play of the day when he ran under a beautiful, arcing 80-yard bomb from Josh Rosen. Grant got downfield quickly, Rosen saw it early and let it fly before Grant was beyond the defensive back. The execution was perfect from the route, the timing, the throw and the finish.
Grant caught another long touchdown in the one-on-one portion of practice hauling in a deep shot from rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Parker got in on the act in the scrimmage portion (11-on-11) of practice. HIs double move created separation downfield as he and Ryan Fitzpatrick rekindled the magic they made a year ago with another leaping catch for a chunk of yardage.
Three different Dolphins running backs sprung big runs. Jordan Howard showcased the vision that has produced the third-most rushing yards in football since his 2016 entrance into the league. Matt Breida showed his patience and NFL-leading Next Gen Stats speed each of the last two years with an outside run that kept him untouched for 10 yards. Myles Gaskin showed the same one-cut ability that produced four straight 1,200-yard rushing seasons at the University of Washington as he ripped off a big gainer up the gut after an intentional stutter at the line.
Rowe forced a fumble on a running play. An offensive lineman and another defender went to the ground for the ball but no signal was given regarding the recovery.
Christian Wilkins push the pocket for a would-be sack in the final 11-on-11 period.
Every player on Miami's active roster was available for practice. Cornerback Xavien Howard remains on the COVID-19 list
The quarterbacks were sharp. There weren't any failed exchanges from under center, the football was rarely on the ground, and decisions were made quickly across the board with all three players (Fitzpatrick, Rosen and Tagovailoa).
Isaiah Ford showed off his craft by creating separation for a couple of uncontested receptions in one-on-one drills.
Jakeem Grant showed his explosiveness in the same drill with an impressive comeback route after selling the corner on the take off.
Safeties Kavon Frazier and Brandon Jones were downing punts inside the five-yard-line left and right, courtesy of Matt Haack's consistent dimes off the left foot.
We'll be back at it tomorrow – same time, same place.