There was a certain curiosity this time last year about how different the Dolphins’ offseason program would be under Joe Philbin. What would the first-time NFL head coach’s practices look like? Well, they’re fast. Really fast.
Take your eyes off the field, look down for just a second, and you’re going to miss something, because footballs are flying everywhere. Philbin set up team drills in a really outside-the-box kind of way, putting two groups back-to-back on the same practice field and running plays one after another, almost simultaneously. It was, by all accounts, an unprecedented display of practice efficiency — an innovative way to fight the time crunch created by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But the breakneck pace never really carried over during the regular season — the Dolphins practiced faster than they played. It was something the coaching staff lamented at different points last season.
With a handful of new offensive pieces, though, they will look to turn up the heat again. During Tuesday’s OTA, the team’s first of the year, there was a small adjustment to last year’s setup. The two practice groups still ran plays in rapid-fire successions, but now one of the groups was on the adjoining field, allowing the squads to work on deeper, more vertical routes.
“I think the biggest things that we’ve talked about is being able to move the chains,” Philbin said on Tuesday. “(That’s) I think really the one deciding things that gets you the opportunity to call more plays and play faster. So I think to that degree, the more weapons you have on offense you’ve got to believe that helps your percentages of getting more first downs and creating that type of tempo.”
If that’s the formula — more weapons equals more first downs which equals a faster tempo — than the Dolphins did well to acquire Mike Wallace, the type of deep threat that, in theory, opens up the entire field for Ryan Tannehill. That was a key issue last year — the inability to stretch the field and a lack of variety allowed defenses to cut off receivers too easily. The result: an offense that ranked 28th in plays from scrimmage. The offense was stopped, many times, before it could really get going, essentially.
But Wallace and Brandon Gibson could, potentially, help the offense stay on the field more — and pick up the tempo, in the process — by turning more completions into first downs. Miami converted 31.3 percent of Ryan Tannehill’s pass attempts into first downs, 27th in the league. Over his four-year career, Wallace has a 69.3 first down percentage. This doesn’t account for incompletions like the team total, obviously, but it’s still an impressive number.
By adding Wallace and Gibson to a unit that returns Brian Hartline, the offense may be better suited to look more like Philbin’s in Green Bay, tilting the field in the opposite direction, with three unique but ultimately interchangeable receivers.
If that happens, expect a quicker pace in 2013, similar to the one that Wallace and his teammates were running at during Tuesday’s OTA.
“It is really different just going out there and not really getting a break,” Wallace said. “It’s so up tempo and so fast paced, you just have to get used to it, be able to catch your breath and stay locked in because when you get fatigued things happen sometimes. You’ve just got to get in good football shape, even better football shape than I was before.”
For a team that was trying to install new offensive and defensive schemes last summer, maintaining a nice pace was certainly preferred, if not essential. That and laying the foundation for a quick in-game tempo are certainly effects of Philbin’s practice system, but those extra reps is not a bad end result, either. The more efficient a team practices, the more reps it can get. By working so quickly — even faster this year than last, Hartline says — younger players, everyone fighting to make the roster, will get a shot at some point this summer.
“Again, part of the reason that we do things on two different fields or in two different drills is to create that opportunity,” Philbin said. “Certainly sometimes in the recruiting process for free agents, undrafted college guys, I think guys who have been here will tell them they get reps. It’s not like some places where a free agent gets three reps in the whole practice.”
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