The Dolphins continue their offseason this week with four more practices followed by a minicamp the week after that. And some of what the team is hoping to do during that time is improve some players in a manner that is difficult, if not simply impossible to accomplish.
The Dolphins, you see, are not just trying to improve players but, in some cases, trying to change people.
The Dolphins are hoping to adjust some players’ personalities.
And while there’s hope that can be done and there are even hopeful signs some changes are taking hold, I’m skeptical on such things because I’ve come to accept some things during my years of covering the NFL. And one of the things I’ve accepted is that people are who they are.
They don’t often change at their core.
Yet, here are the Dolphins trying their darnedest to adjust the way some players tick.
The Dolphins are hoping defensive tackle Jordan Phillips suddenly becomes a mini-me of Ndamukong Suh. No, they don’t expect him to play as well as Suh does because very few defensive tackles in the league can do that. They just want him to play as hard as Suh does.
The Dolphins want Phillips to play with passion and urgency and desire. They want him to do it on almost every play. Like Suh.
Phillips talked about this at length last week and said he is working on becoming more “headstrong” so that he can become a try-hard player who doesn’t loaf or take plays off.
The translation to that is Phillips is trying to not quit in the face of adversity, not slow down when work gets harder, not lack urgency, passion and plain old heart.
The Dolphins hope that transition can happen because Phillips, a gifted athlete, could be a beast if he’d play hard every play. But Phillips came to the Dolphins with a college reputation for not trying hard all the time, and here we are about to start his third NFL season and the Dolphins are still hoping he can shed a reputation for not trying hard all the time.
This will require a drastic metamorphosis from Phillips, and my advice is don’t expect the change. Because I don’t believe passion can be practiced into a player in one offseason.
Phillips isn’t the only player the Dolphins are trying to sort of recast internally.
The team wants an upgrade from right tackle Ja’Wuan James. The Dolphins want him to play with more aggression. They want him to be more detail oriented so he’s always on point with his technique. They want more grit and tenacity because if coupled with a greater focus on details, James can become a premier offensive tackle.
Here’s the problem: James has never played with a ton of aggression. He is not Ron Heller. James is a nice dude. He’s smart. He’s also kind of laid-back.
So, basically, the Dolphins are asking James to be someone that seems to collide with his personality.
Jarvis Landry’s personality struggles with no such nicety issues. When he’s on the field, he’s a crazed assassin. Landry is so full of fire and passion and that he can become the heartbeat of the offense.
So in that regard, Landry was born to play football.
Football is also a thinking man’s game. It is a game of details.
So sometimes when Landry is aglow with his amazing passion he doesn’t think about the details. That’s when some routes are not run with precision. Some assignments are not carried out as scripted. Sometimes, the technique is not quite right.
That’s frustrating because Landry is very good. He caught 94 passes for 1,136 yards and four TDs last season. But the reason this is frustrating is because if Landry tightened up his technique and hit his marks with greater precision he might catch 110 passes for 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns instead.
The Dolphins are asking Landry to grow his attention to details without losing his fire. That’s hard for someone to do. That’s impossible for some people to do.
And yet the Dolphins are hoping Landry can make the adjustment.
The Dolphins would love Walt Aikens to be more of a factor on defense. He’s 6-1 and 218 pounds. He’s fast. He has the look of a premier and versatile defensive back.
To be that, Aikens has to become more a student of the game. He has to know where he’s supposed to be all the time. He has to understand what opponents are trying to accomplish.
That’s been too much for Aikens in the past.
Now, in his third season, Aikens should be “getting it.” So the Dolphins are asking him to do more and think more.
Can a player who has relied mostly on physical prowess but hasn’t shown great football aptitude suddenly start diagnosing offenses?
The Dolphins are not asking something new of their players. NFL teams ask players to improve their strengths while masking weaknesses all the time. But when those weaknesses are inborn or inbred, the request to mask is asking a lot.
Remember the Cleveland Browns spent a lot of energy asking Josh Gordon to stop taking drugs, and he could not. JaMarcus Russell couldn’t stop eating. Johnny Manziel couldn’t stop partying.
The Dolphins don’t face such acute personality problems now. But they are nonetheless trying to adjust the makeup of some players in the name of offseason improvement.
Good luck with that.