By: Jason Sarney
Five months after the Kansas City Chiefs were crowned NFL Champions at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, and following the most unique off-season in football history, the 2020 season is inches away from officially beginning...sort of.
While protocols and player safety issues have been the early issues around NFL Training Camps over the weekend, the league seems to be working on the fly in terms of creating the most health-conscious and safety oriented environment, this of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What happens in the next month or so is still very much a work in progress, as there still is not a definitive number of pre-season games, if any, set in stone for August.
With literally days and in some cases hours until certain players report to camp, there is a palpable feeling of uneasiness and nervousness. With the hope being that the NFL and the players association come to agreements on the safety of the players and their families first, the game we crave is hopefully weeks away from true action and even less time away from actual real life sports.
With that hope, a universal word of extreme importance these days, we will take a look at what should be discussed this week; that being the 5 Questions Heading into Miami Dolphins Training Camp.
Who will make up the Miami offensive line? What positions? How fast can it be fixed?
In 2019, the Miami Dolphins rotational bunch of offensive linemen, collectively allowed a league worst 58 sacks, tied with Carolina. They also allowed the most quarterback hits in the NFL with 154 and the Dolphins were tied with the Jets for last in yards per rush at 3.3. Needless to say a change, or several, must be made.
The line could be completely overhauled, as three rookies were selected in Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley to join free agents Erick Flowers and Ted Karras. Veterans Jesse Davis and Michael Deiter will have their work cut out for them to earn a spot on that 5-man line, and both could be worked at multiple positions.
What to watch for is the tutelage from Karras to Deiter, as the Wisconsin second year potential future center can learn a massive amount from the veteran free agent signing from New England. Karras is a one-year contracted player, and someone who has a coaches/mentor-ship mindset to help young players progress.
What will the Miami loaded secondary look like?
Perhaps the toughest, intriguing, and most exciting question of the training camp process, the Miami defensive backfield is closing in on becoming a stellar group league-wide. With incumbent lock-down specialist Xavien Howard becoming a pair with Byron Jones thanks to the former Cowboy inking a Miami free agent deal, this is a super-team of cornerbacks reminiscent to the Dolphins Dynamic Duo of Sam Madison and Pat Surtain of the late 1990’s early 2000’s.
Second year undrafted free agent, and lock-down cover man in his own right, Nik Needham, will look to build on a 12-game rookie season that had him collect 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack that Sam Darnold is still recovering from.
Rookie corner Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn was a 1st round selection for the Dolphins in April and another true lock-down minded defensive back who can thrive with the coaching of Head Coach Brian Flores. Miami has talent at the cornerback position beyond these four, and it will be interesting to see what happens to a veteran or two in danger of not being a part of the 53-man roster.
Who will be the next great safety for Miami?
Brian Flores loves the “slash.” Meaning, he loves players that are defensive ends SLASH outside linebackers. A cornerback SLASH safety. The point is at the moment, the middle of the defensive backfield is a question-mark. No more Reshad Jones, a traded Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback converts like Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain.
The Dolphins added depth, competition and potential starters in Texas rookie Brandon Jones and free agent safety/special teamer, Clayton Fejedelem. This is another group that flexibility of “true position” will be key for the overall success of the unit.
Is there another conversion going on we all don’t know about yet?
What will the line-backing Corp. look like, and will there be a veteran in trouble?
A noticeable pattern this off-season was the addition of a certain type of player. Simply put – “Flores Guys.” This is evident with three former Flores disciples from New England in the same position group all signing with Miami this past off-season.
Kyle Van Noy, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Elandon Roberts are all now Miami Dolphins and all share rings with former Patriots defensive mastermind, Flores. This trio joins a pair of young linebackers fighting for reps in Andrew Van Ginkel and breakout from 2019, Vince Biegel. Throw in a pair of veteran Buckeyes in Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan, and suddenly, Miami has a defensive full of depth and training camp battles at all levels.
How good can Mike Gesicki be?
Exactly a year ago to the week, the 2019 Dolphins Training Camp was the inaugural Flores Camp. A new TNT wall to run to on mental mistakes was touched early by 2nd year tight end, Mike Gesicki on Day 1. Following that trip the to "Take No Talent" disciplinary device, I can’t recall the former Penn State alum making an error from that point on.
Prior to his mini-breakout season, mainly towards the second-half of 2019, Gesicki was a student of the game, and soaking up information and technique from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as former and then Dolphins safety, Reshad Jones. Following team drills, already hours into practice, in the sweltering heat, a drenched Gesicki worked on countless reps of endzone corner fade routes with Fitzpatrick dropping dimes over his shoulder, while Jones helped with technique to break off the line of scrimmage when split wide, against a defensive back.
This was a microcosm of what Gesicki is…a student of the game. He is going to continue to get better, work on his fundamentals and improve his faults. Finishing the season with a huge final month and a half, Gesicki is a tight end who could very well progress to be a poor-man’s Travis Kelce in year three or next year in season four. He is athletically gifted and faster than most tight-ends and has the hands and leaping ability to becoming a staple in the Miami offense, especially in the redzone and near the goal-line.
He finished with 51 receptions, 570 yards and five touchdowns last season with and those scores all came in the last six weeks of the season, so there is heavy momentum heading into 2020. That includes last season’s season-ending, game-winning touchdown reception that send the Patriots out of home-field playoff contention.
Back to the Kansas City correlation.
While new Miami offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, has not been known to feature the tight end, historically, he has arguably had just one tight end in his career that had enough athleticism and skill to be featured, that being Kansas City Chief Tony Gonzalez back in 2008.
Is Gesicki the next Tony G? Likely not, however, 70% of that production could mean a top-10 producing tight end in Miami, a position the Dolphins are sorely looking for a bona fide star.
Yes - there is one more pesky quarterback question...but that's a conversation for another day and article.
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