After stretching and warming up, the Dolphins begin every practice with ball-security drills. Defensive players punch at a foam ball while the offensive players try to hold on, or assistants use foam spikes to jab at the ball as offensive players make cuts. Running backs, receivers and tight ends — almost everyone who handles the ball regularly — participate.
That is, everyone except the quarterbacks.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin fielded questions Friday about why the team’s leading fumbler, Ryan Tannehill, doesn’t participate in ball-security drills.
“We work the quarterbacks all the time,” Philbin clarified. “There is drill work that we do, maybe not necessarily in the gauntlet with guys pulling at his arm and things like that, but in individual drills we work on that.”
Philbin laughed when asked if he wanted defensive players pulling at his quarterback’s throwing arm.
“Not necessarily,” he said.
Members of the media are only allowed to watch a brief portion of practice, and Philbin said Tannehill’s ball-security work comes later on in individual drills.
“Sometimes we’ll knock the ball loose from him,” Philbin said. “We’ll have a guy come back and knock the ball loose, and he’ll have to try to recover it. We want to try to teach him how to step up in the pocket, protect the football — those types of things.”
Third-year tight end Charles Clay has filled in admirably for free agent acquisition Dustin Keller, who was supposed to be the team’s featured tight end this year.
But Keller’s season-ending injury might have had more significant trickle-down effects than first thought.
In addition to losing Keller’s productivity, the injury might have limited the use of formations and personnel packages that feature two tight ends, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman indicated this week.
“When you invest in a package, you have to make sure you can continue to run that package if you have an injury,” Sherman said. “So maybe it would have been a little more of two tight ends, possibly.”
The effect is even more limiting given the Dolphins’ reluctance to use a fullback.
Of the teams who use a fullback less or as often as the Dolphins, only the Eagles and Packers employ two-tight end sets as seldom. As a result, Miami’s offensive personnel packages have become relatively predictable, using a three-receiver set with a running back and tight end 64.3 percent of the time, eighth most in the league.
Bills free safety Jairus Byrd has a reputation around the league of not only being one of the best at his position, but also one of the most likely to take chances to try to create a game-changing play. He has 18 career interceptions — two returned for touchdowns — in 63 career games.
While Philbin lauded Byrd’s range and instincts, he said it’s important to prepare for Buffalo’s defense as a whole without obsessing over the fifth-year safety’s propensity for improvisation.
“You just kind of judge what you see on tape, how they utilize him from a schematic perspective and take that into consideration in the game plan,” Philbin said. “But you can’t necessarily predict that he’s maybe going to play off-script this play and not that play.”
Byrd, who’s playing under the franchise tag, missed the Bills’ first five games with plantar fasciitis. He returned last week to play 41 snaps, splitting time with fellow safeties Da’Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard, and was not listed at all on the this week’s injury report.