Today’s practice had a significant focus on the red zone (plus 20-yard line), getting the spacing and timing needed to be successful in this area on both sides of the football. The defense seemed to hold the upper hand again today because of the speed and athleticism of the front seven, with the linebacking unit closing the windows in the passing game. That’s not to say quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have some success finding tight end Dustin Keller, who looked good getting open and finding some open space in the passing game.
Here are some of my takeaways from today’s workout:
1) Playmaker Surfacing - When you get to this level, it’s very difficult to dominate every practice because of the competition level is so high. Players need to grind through the long workout, trying to keep their consistency high and not allow fatigue to alter their performance. One of the players that achieved that today was tight end Dustin Keller.
The veteran tight end found creases in tight quarters and consistently gives the quarterback clean windows to deliver the football. I believe that his presence complements the weapons on the outside and will allow Tannehill to wear out opposing defenses that overlook his talents. Today confirmed to me that his importance to this offense will not only be as a vertical threat, but he could be a significant target as the offense moves closer to the goal line.
2) Defensive Front - It’s not a secret around the NFL how talented the Dolphins are on the defensive front, but the way they are practicing so far during training camp, this group might rank right at the top! It all starts in the middle with defensive tackle Paul Soliai and the combination of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. Soliai has shown he’s been difficult to move in the middle and his play allows the other tackle more one-on-one matchups.
Cam Wake is a headache for all offensive tackles, and the emergence of defensive end Olivier Vernon gives this unit speed and strength opposite Wake. As a group, they have been just as good versus the run as they are getting pressure in the pocket, and we haven’t even talked about rookie Dion Jordan’s addition to this group! The athletic play of the front seven only complements the addition of the playmakers at linebacker (Ellerbe, Wheeler and Misi) and will enhance the pass coverage behind them.
3) Work In Progress - The praise over the past two days has been mostly on the defensive side of the ball. The offensive as a whole has some catching up to do, and that’s not a surprise seeing that the defense usually dominates the first couple of days in full pads.
Tannehill bounced back from yesterday’s workout, showing better chemistry with the receiving unit, and time is on their side to get it done. He looked to be sharp mentally during the blitz pick-up period and completed multiple passes where he purposely threw the ball to the receiver’s back shoulder where the pass couldn’t be defended. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson looks completely comfortable in the slot and should help this entire passing game, much like Keller will at tight end.
Some Quick Hits:
- Rookie running back Cameron Marshall grabbed his left hamstring during a kickoff return early in practice and didn’t return to the field.
- Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan got his first chance to get involved in team activities on the kick return unit today. Jordan was part of the front line on the return team and this staff looks to be easing Jordan into practice reps.
- Reserve quarterback Pat Devlin had his best day of camp today, completing a high percentage of throws.
- Marcus Thigpen took the first reps in punt and kickoff returns today. Players also returning kicks with Thigpen: defensive backs Nolan Carroll and De’Andre Presley, wide receiver Jasper Collins and running back Lamar Miller.
- Rookie place kicker Caleb Strugis handled all of the placekicking today inside the bubble, going one for three, making it from 40 yards out and missing two attempts to the left from 49 yards.
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