The No. 1 misconception about the Miami Dolphins’ annual quest to “play with pace” is that they want to snap the ball earlier in the play clock than they have in years past.
Now, there are times that they do indeed want to run a hurry-up system. But more often, when Joe Philbin talks about playing with pace, he simply means how fast the Dolphins can get to the line of scrimmage and how fast a wide receiver in motion switches sides of the field.
And in 2014, the Dolphins offense didn’t move fast enough.
“I think playing with tempo, if you don’t do a good job coaching, you easily let slide,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Thursday. “It’s hard when the guys are tired to push them to get out of the huddle, get lined up fast, shift fast, motion fast. Or if you’re in no-huddle, to do it fast. Whichever way we choose to play, it’s hard. As a coach, maybe I didn’t do good enough a job stressing it.”
On Thursday, Lazor discussed his offensive philosophy with the most detail since being hired by Miami some 19 months ago. The short version: He’s not Chip Kelly.
Lazor spent a season as Kelly’s quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, and Kelly is the ultimate volume coach. When the Eagles had possession of the football last year, they got off a snap once every 22.7 seconds — a breakneck pace that wore out and confused opposing defenses.
When Lazor replaced Mike Sherman, most expected Lazor would bring the same rapid-fire approach to Miami. But that hasn’t happened — at least not yet. Despite controlling the ball for 55 minutes more than Philadelphia throughout the course of the 2014 season, the Dolphins ran 87 fewer plays.
But in Lazor’s mind, that wasn’t a failure. What was a shortcoming, in his opinion, was how efficiently his players used the time that they had.
“To me, there’s nothing wrong with using it all, as long as you’re using it for a purpose,” Lazor said of the 40-second play clock. “If you’re trying to evaluate the defense or check a play or if you’re trying to do a multiple shift in motion, that’s great, use it. There’s no one formula or one way to do it. I rarely pay attention to it, the number on the clock, because we rarely get to the point where it’s an issue.”
Lazor loves shifts because, if done correctly, they make a defense show their hand. Ryan Tannehill should know if a team is in man or zone coverage long before he takes the ball from center.
Pre-snap motion can also make a defensive front commit to their call — are they blitzing or just bringing four?
Don’t expect that to change. The Dolphins will remain a team that will use any advantage afforded to them in the rulebook. They just hope to do so faster.
“There were certainly times last year where I feel like we hadn’t gotten the standard of tempo of what we wanted,” Lazor said. “There were times even this year in practice where I feel like, ‘We’re getting it. We’re getting better.’”
Lazor added: “Some of it is the players like Mike Pouncey and Ryan, who are really our two play-callers on the field, it’s just happening faster for them. I’ve probably done a better job and the coaches have maybe done a better job. Maybe we failed last year in just getting everyone to understand what the advantage is.”
Other takeaways from Lazor’s 12-minute Q&A with local reporters:
▪ Even if DeVante Parker is cleared to play the opener, as the Dolphins hope, his usage will be “100 percent dependent on what his body is able to do, what his conditioning level is.”
Parker hasn’t practiced since undergoing foot surgery in June, but did resume full-speed running this week.
“From what we saw of him in the spring, I have no doubt that he has the physical ability, he has the mental capability to do it,” Lazor said. “As fast as he can come along, I think we’ll do a good job of not overdoing it, of hurting him. At the same time, when he’s ready to go, we’re ready for him.”
▪ Tannehill, who has completed more than 80 percent of his passes this preseason, is ready for the regular season to begin, Lazor said.
“He’s worked his butt off, physically doing it the right way,” Lazor said. “He’s worked his butt off mentally, in knowing where everybody is.”
▪ Lazor would not rule out the Dolphins keeping six wide receivers, which would be great news for Matt Hazel. Rishard Matthews is likely on the team as the Dolphins’ No. 5, leaving Hazel on the bubble.